Hottest 2014 Marketing Tip for Small Business? Put Aside a Budget!

Over 50 percent of the working population (120 million) work in a small business, and that trend is growing. According to the SBA definition, there were nearly 28 million small businesses in 2013, and 6 million of those had employees beyond just the owner

Over 50 percent of the working population (120 million) work in a small business, and that trend is growing. According to the SBA definition, there were nearly 28 million small businesses in 2013, and 6 million of those had employees beyond just the owner.

Judging from the number of small business attendees at webinars, online and at events and conferences on how to grow your business, they’re craving solid marketing advice. But unfortunately, it seems no one told them that marketing takes time, costs money (more than you’d think!), and doesn’t pay out instantly.

So I dedicate this blog post to all the small business owners out there who want some solid marketing advice—for free. Here are eight marketing tips that every business, no matter what size, should take to heart:

  1. Create a Clear USP
    This is the secret sauce missing for many companies—your Unique Selling Proposition. What makes your business different from the next guy’s? Why should I do business with you at all? If you’re a dry cleaner, it’s all about location and ease of access (including parking). But if you’re an accountant, how do you distinguish yourself from every other accountant? Are you more current on tax codes? Are you faster and therefore more efficient on the preparation of my tax return? Think about why you started your business in the first place and what makes your customers loyal—those can be good foundations for a marketing platform.
  2. Build and Maintain a User-Friendly Website
    Your website is the face of your business, and too often there hasn’t been enough time, effort or thought given to this critical calling card. Broken links, typos, lengthy copy that rambles on and on (without a point), too many navigation options, poor design choices (tiny type, or worse, tiny type reversed on a dark background) are all the hallmarks of a bad first impression.
  3. Create Marketing Solutions Based on the Business Problem You’re Trying to Solve.
    There’s too much emphasis these days on generating new leads. Take a look at your existing customer base—is there an opportunity to sell them more product or additional services? Examine your sales funnel—where’s the drop-off point? Why do people start a dialogue with you and then discontinue? I worked with one company recently who focused their entire effort on “new lead” volume, but after auditing their sales funnel discovered they weren’t adequately following up with leads after a key decision-making point in the conversion process. Once we adjusted that process, they doubled their sales (even though they maintained their lead level).
  4. Smart Marketing Costs Money
    Many smaller businesses hire a marketing person and expect them to understand marketing strategy, planning, art direction, copywriting, HTML, SEO, SEM, printing techniques, database design and management, analysis, web design, and email blasting. But the reality is, most marketers at this level are simply good project managers. As a result, the creative work is unsophisticated and the strategy non-existent. Different aspects of marketing should be handled by different professionals—I have yet to meet that “jack-of-all-trades” who is also “master-of-all-trades.”
  5. Respect Marketing Professionals
    If you do hire help, fight the urge to ask your friends and neighbors to review/assess the marketing advice/creative recommendations you’ve received. If you’ve spent the time and energy to vet professional help before you hired them, then trust them do their job. If they know what they’re doing, they should be able to develop a strategy (which you approve) and work with other professionals to develop the media and creative to support that strategy (with rationale). You don’t need to rewrite headlines, make color change recommendations or choose your favorite font. That results in bad, disjointed work … period.
  6. Social Media Is Not the Answer
    While there’s plenty of good that can come from social media marketing, it’s highly unlikely that it will keep your business thriving by itself. You can spent a lot of energy generating Facebook “likes” which result in $0 sales. Instead, think about your target audience and their media consumption habits. Then, as the cliché goes, fish where the fish are. And yes, that means spending some money.

So here’s the big “AHA!” that’s missing in most marketing efforts: It’s called a marketing budget.

Want folks to find your website? That means your site needs to be optimized for Search (SEO)—and you need to some money on key words, banner ads, etc. Think about the role that Yelp might play in your business and consider an ad campaign on Yelp.

Just because you build a business doesn’t mean they will come. It will take time—and money—to drive traffic to your doorstep. Visiting your website is only half the battle, so you’d better be diligent about figuring out how to convert that traffic into buyers or all the effort you’ve spent to drive them there will be wasted.