Small businesses regularly face many challenges. As the business owner, you are tasked with hiring the right people, increasing sales, making payroll, filing taxes and providing quality customer service.
Then there’s marketing!
You know you need to market your business to become or remain visible to your target audience. But like most small businesses, there are more pressing priorities of operating a business that demand your attention. Your time will be spent on operational issues and you will struggle to find the time to do any marketing at all. Unless, of course, you suddenly notice a lack of sales.
According to research conducted by LeadPages and Infusionsoft, 47% of the small business owners surveyed handle the marketing efforts on their own, struggling to track their return on investment to understand whether their marketing activities are effective.
Small Business Marketing Challenges
The 7 marketing concerns small business owners regularly vocalize are:
- Lack of resources (budget / people / time)
- Increasing visibility and generating quality leads
- Choosing the right social media platforms
- Consistent execution of marketing activities
- Producing and delivering content
- Keeping up with trends and technology
- Who to trust when outsourcing marketing activities
Notice most of these challenges are tactical. The good news is tactical challenges can most often be solved with a little planning and focus. So, how can you conquer these marketing challenges and successfully market your business?
Create a marketing plan
Creating a simple marketing plan will help alleviate many of your marketing challenges.
A simple marketing plan:
- Guides your efforts based on your goals and resource constraints.
- Enables you to more effectively market your business to your ideal client.
Without a plan:
- Everything looks like an opportunity and now you are chasing the shiny object.
- You most likely will look at your competition and copy what they are doing.
In either case, you will most likely waste time and money with little to show for it.
A marketing plan will focus your efforts on attracting your target audience and help you determine if you are veering off track and what you need to do to reach your destination (or marketing goals).
Your marketing plan will help you address the first 3 challenges.
- Determine your marketing goals. Focus your goals on increasing your brand visibility and generating quality leads so your activities help you overcome those two challenges.
- Define your marketing strategies that will help achieve your goals. Be practical about what you can and cannot do based on your resource constraints.
- Outline what activities you will use within each strategy. There are many activities you can use. Figure out which ones make sense for your target audience and will work for you in terms of resources.
Create an action plan and editorial calendar
Once you have your marketing plan in place, then you should create an action plan and editorial calendar, addressing challenges 4 and 5.
- The action plan is a schedule of each step leading up to successful execution of an activity. For example, if you plan to do webinars, you will need a schedule for finalizing the presentation and promoting the event across various channels.
- The editorial calendar will set the schedule for what content needs to be produced by whom and by when. This helps you achieve consistency in your content marketing efforts.
Setting schedules for tactical execution and content creation points out whether you may be trying to do too much at once. Deadlines help keep you on track as to what you can get done on your own.
Remember, marketing is not an event, but a process that has to be consistently executed to achieve success.
Outsource tasks when necessary
Small businesses and solo professionals have resource constraints. We normally lack people, rarely have a huge budget and there are only 24 hours in a day. With the many marketing strategies available to you, trying to do it all is overwhelming.
This is why the marketing plan is so critical. The plan should take into account your resources and provide you with the most effective strategies that you can do given your limited resources.
Once you are focused, you can then determine where you need help and what you can do yourself:
- Need a website refresh? Find someone who can deliver a well-designed responsive website that supports your marketing goals.
- Need help with social media? Partner with someone who can manage your visibility on the right social media platforms.
- Aren’t proficient writing your blog posts? Hire a writer who can turn your knowledge into quality content.
Who to trust when outsourcing marketing activities?
When outsourcing, be cautious. The Internet has leveled the playing field for small businesses to compete with large, but it has also lowered the barriers of entry for many disciplines, especially marketing. Many small businesses have listened to the advice given by self-proclaimed experts in social media, web design and online marketing and suffered the consequences of their bad advice. Just because someone knows how to use social media, doesn’t mean they know how to use social media for marketing.
How do you know whether the person you plan to work with to market your business really knows what they are doing?
- Check out their online presence. Search for their name and business name and see what comes up. Unhappy customers will post negative reviews that can warn you before you get into a relationship that is hard to get out of.
- Review their website. Do they practice what they preach? Have they had a long-time career in marketing?
- Get references, meet or speak with them multiple times, and ask them a series of marketing questions to see if they understand marketing at all.
Keeping up with trends and technology
This is a much harder challenge for small business owners. The rate of change in marketing tools and technology is staggering. But with all the new tools and technology, marketing really hasn’t changed. You still need to:
- Understand your target audience and what problem/need they are trying to solve or fulfill.
- Understand what makes you different and why your target audience would want to do business with you.
- Craft a compelling message to make your target audience take some action.
- Develop the right strategies to reach your target audience with your message.
What has changed is how you deliver that message to your audience.
Traditional marketing reaches your audience via channels such as print advertising, television and direct mail.
New media marketing uses the tools of the Internet to deliver your message. Online channels include your website, digital advertising and social media, email marketing and landing pages or purpose-specific web pages.
Yes, the tools and technology keep changing, but marketing strategy does not.
So trends are important but you don’t need to dwell on it regularly. You want to be aware of new ways to reach your target audience and what will appeal to them, but the new shiny object may not be relevant to your business.
Listen to the following podcast that discusses small business marketing challenges:
Part 1 discusses: What’s new in marketing? Who can you trust when outsourcing marketing activities? How has marketing changed? What is remarketing?
Part 2 discusses: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the small business owner? What is your web presence? What is reputation management? Introduction to inbound marketing.
Part 3 discusses: How to help businesses get unstuck when it comes to marketing? How to use inbound marketing to create visibility and generate leads?
Part 4 discusses: Why having a mobile responsive website is important? What’s one piece of advice for small businesses who are stuck? How to find quality resources in order to outsource your marketing activities?
Does your company face these marketing challenges?
Debra Murphy is a marketing coach and consultant who helps small businesses navigate the complex maze of online marketing. Experienced across all traditional marketing channels, Debra specializes in inbound marketing, a combination of search, social media and content marketing, to help small businesses effectively utilize this new media to gain visibility and generate inbound leads. Debra regularly writes about small business marketing on her Masterful Marketing blog and contributes to thought-leading resources like Business2Community and Social Media Today.