14 Small Business Marketing Truths No One Bluntly Tells You

small-business-marketing

“It all ended when I decided not to accept a small second round of investment I had secured … I had run out of ideas on how to turn things around, how to make people buy our product.”

These were the heartfelt words of Michal Bohanes, Founder of  Dinnr, a failed ingredient delivery business.

Failing is never part of the plan for a small business owner but we see this happening every single day. For instance, in 2019, 30.7 million small businesses existed in the US. By March 2020, this number had dropped by an alarming 3.29% as 993,809 businesses closed shop. 

While there are many reasons for this high failure rate, poorly planned or executed marketing campaigns is a major culprit. The good news? You can learn how to do marketing right and succeed for a lifetime if you lean on key small business marketing truths.

We’ll discuss 14 of these marketing truths. Plus, we’ll share quick tips for applying them so you never run out of growth ideas and you start taking your business from surviving to thriving.

Truth #1: Marketing is a Marathon, Not a Sprint 

As a small business owner, it’s okay to want quick wins from numerous inbound marketing tactics. But you have to recognize that every tactic must tie into your long-term marketing strategy.

Think of tactics as quick sprints to hit Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and consider your long-term marketing goals as the marathon. I like how Terry Grier puts it:

  • Hosting a monthly webinar is a tactic
  • Acquiring three backlinks monthly is a tactic
  • Publishing five blog posts monthly is a tactic
  • Updating the navigation bar on your website is a tactic
  • Ensuring uniformity in your online local business profile is a tactic

These tactics lead to decent returns on some fronts, but to what end? That’s where your long-term marketing goals take center stage. 

Carma Levine, founder of Carma Social, shared some benefits of thinking long-term when it comes to marketing.

Here’s what Carma said:

“Investing in long-term marketing means people will recognize and understand your business. If it’s done well, you’ll attract your target audience to your brand and spend less on chasing them with advertising. Customer acquisition costs decline as people know your brand and understand what it stands for.”

Carma’s thinking is spot on and this is how it adds up. Let’s say you want to publish a certain number of blog posts monthly. The goals can be to increase brand awareness, drive a quantifiable number of your audience into your email list, convert some email subscribers to customers, and so on. So you see, when you identify and create long-term marketing goals, you’ll start seeing how your tactics come together to help you build a flourishing small business.

Tips for Creating a Long-term Marketing Strategy 

  • Identify your ideal customers
  • Carry out market research
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis
  • Create a marketing plan
  • Align your marketing goals with business goals
  • Decide on your priority and experimental marketing channels. For instance, SEO and Facebook could be your priority channels while LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter could be experimental. 

Truth #2: Put Your Customers First or Risk Your Business Grinding to a Halt

You’ve heard it before: Brands that win put their customers first. 

When you prioritize your customer base, you talk to them to uncover how your product or service can make their lives better. Dr. Tayo Oyedeji captures how you should think about your customers.

Take Benji Hyam and Devesh Khanal, for example. When the duo set out to monetize Grow and Convert, they thought the best way was through teaching teams how to be better at content marketing. 

After a few fairly successful stints at this, they hit a roadblock. That’s when they decided to talk to their customers to discover their needs. The result? They learned that their audience wanted an agency that could handle all-things content marketing. This realization drove their pivot into a content marketing agency.

Tips for Putting Your Customers First

  • Hang out where your customers reside so you know their needs
  • Offer products or services  in line with customer desires
  • Ask customers for feedback on your products or services
  • Train your team members to remain customer-centric

Truth #3: You Should Budget For Every Marketing Project

Your marketing plan may not come to fruition without a clear-cut budget. Harsh, but true. Granted, as a small business owner, you probably operate on a tight budget but allocating $0 to marketing is not the best way to grow

Several small business owners already spend on digital marketing and this validates that you should too. According to a survey of 529 small businesses, 37% of SMBs spend less than $10,000 on advertising and marketing and 20% spend between $10,001 and $50,000.

Here’s what Jeff Moriarity, the Marketing Manager of Moriarity Gem Art said about Advertising:

“Advertising allows us to go after markets and potential customers we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, which will help increase our brand awareness and overall sales in the area.”

Moriarity is just one of many small businesses that credit their success to marketing. If they had not created a budget and invested in marketing, they wouldn’t have had a story to tell. 

Tips for Creating a Marketing Budget 

  • Determine your priority marketing channels
  • Outline what you need to make each channel work
  • Write down who on your team will be in charge of each channel
  • Determine if you need to hire contractors to help
  • Estimate the costs of going all-in on the identified channels
  • Base your budget on a small percentage of your gross revenue

Truth #4: Marketing Cannot Fix a Broken Business

If your business rests on a shaky foundation such as a subpar product or a lack of product-market fit, no amount of marketing will make things better. 

Take it from Dinnr, a UK food and beverage startup that set out to change how people ordered food ingredients. The founders had raised £60,000 to build their business and reach more customers.  Unfortunately, the lack of product market-fit resulted in low product demand and profit margins. This caused the company to shut down in two short years.

In the words of Dinnr’s founder:

“… The number one lesson I will never forget and the absolute key to understanding Dinnr’s failure — we were not solving anyone’s problem.”

Dinnr’s failure shows the importance of conducting market research before creating products or deciding to offer a service. Of course, there are outliers. Companies like Apple identified a need people weren’t aware they had. But even in this case, there was existing customer demand for cell phones. Apple just tapped into a demand that other companies lacked the foresight to recognize.

Tips for Fixing a Broken Business

  • Gather customer insights to discover underserved customer needs
  • Tailor your products or service to fit those needs
  • Break into promising markets with growth potential

Truth #5: You Should Intensely Promote Your Business

No one will toot your horn unless you are Elon Musk. It’s up to you to put your business out there. 

According to social media marketing stats by Sprout Social:

  • 68% of consumers agree that social media platforms allow them to interact with brands and companies.
  • 78% of consumers are willing to buy from a company after having a positive experience with them on social.
  • 72% of companies use social media data to inform business decisions.

These stats gives you the green light to go all-in on social media channels and use them to grow your business. But Quora, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and even professional channels like LinkedIn are just a starting point. You can also attend industry events to connect with potential customers and business partners. 

Bottomline: Leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting your business in front of your customers. 

Tips for Promoting Your Small Business

  • Develop a social media strategy
  • Post engaging content on social media
  • Interact with customers on social media
  • Optimize your website for local SEO if you operate a local business
  • Create and publish content on your Google My Business (GMB) profile
  • Connect with industry influencers so they give shoutouts to your business

“Google My Business / Google Business Profile is so powerful for local businesses that we have built an entire agency just working with this amazing free Google tool – it’s a must for any local small business”  Corey Hinde – Good Oil Marketing

Truth #6: Without Solid Customer Relationships, You’ll Struggle to Retain Clients

The importance of building strong  customers relationships cannot be overemphasized. According to Adobe Digital Index, 40% of a business revenue comes from retained or repeat customers.

Also, The Bain and Company reported that the number of people customers refer to a small business increases with the amount of purchases they have made. For example, they found that after 10 purchases, repeat apparel shoppers referred 50% more people than one-time buyers. 

What do these data show? Repeat customers are great for generating recurring revenue and bringing new business. Want to turn your one-off buyers to repeat customers? Set up processes that help you delight customers at every stage of their journey.

Tips for Improving Customer Retention

  • Offer freebies once in a while 
  • Experiment with future-use coupons
  • Create a stellar customer experience by solving your customers’ problems fast
  • Use your small business CRM to follow up with customers via email or SMS
  • Keep up with customers by consistently publishing content where they hang out

Truth #7: Content Marketing Isn’t Just Blogging

Small business owners sometimes equate blogging to content marketing. 

TRUTH BOMB: They’re different.

While blogging is a subcategory of content marketing, the search landscape has evolved beyond written content and the ‘life updates’ blog of the early 2000s.

If you want to win with content marketing today, you need to get beyond blog posts. Start including SEO into your marketing mix. Explore content creation formats like videos and newsletters. Invest in new channels that are coming up like the rise of TikTok in marketing. 

Create a content schedule and follow it religiously. Do all these repeatedly and you will win no matter how competitive your space is.

Tips for Getting Started with Content Marketing

  • Decide on your preferred content format to start with. Begin with the easiest format like “text.”
  • Highlight your KPIs for measuring content performance
  • Outline channels for promoting your content 
  • Create a content publishing schedule 
  • Set content marketing goals

Truth #8: Marketing Goes to Shit Without a Plan 

“Goes to shit” is vulgar. I know. But that is exactly what can happen when marketing campaigns kickoff without a strategic plan.

Say you decide to partner with influencers with whom you have a shared target audience to promote your products or services. How do you handle it? 

First off, you want to find influencers who’ll generate the biggest impact for your business. Afterward, you need to allocate a budget for the influencer marketing campaign and identify influencers on your list whose costs align with your budget. 

Are you done? No. 

You need to write the goal of the influencer campaign, key objectives, deliverables, timeline, and many more. And when you finish, you have to organize all of these data in a spreadsheet or doc. Take this template courtesy of Klear, for instance. It highlights everything there is to an influencer marketing campaign.

With every detail outlined, you have a bird eye view of how long you’ll see results from your campaign and whatnot. The result? You don’t prematurely end campaigns just before the results starts rolling in. Here’s a quick guide by the good folks at Entrepreneur on creating a small business marketing plan

Truth #9: Measure Everything

You can’t know the effectiveness of your online marketing strategy or tactics if you don’t track them. Monitoring every marketing activity helps you know what’s working, what’s not, and what you can improve.

As a small business, some essential marketing metrics to track are:

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Website traffic
  • Social media engagement
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)

There are several tools you can use to track these metrics. You can check your website traffic on Google Analytics and measure social media engagement with tools like Sprout Social or Hootsuite. 

Truth #10: Marketing isn’t a One-Size-Fits-All

There are tons and tons of marketing best practices and playbooks. But here’s the thing:

Trying to adopt someone else’s playbook may not be a good idea. Why? What worked for one business may not work or apply to yours. 

That aside, you can use the playbooks of other businesses to unlock inspiration, general guidelines, and ideas for your small business. Keep in mind that the insights that form the core of your marketing strategy should come from your own research and experience. This is key to understanding your ‘why’ and prevents you from blindly following a plan that doesn’t align with your business goals. 

Truth #11: Marketing is Way More Than Advertising

Running Facebook ads, Google ads or paying for ads in your local newspaper is a huge part of marketing but it isn’t all there is to it. 

First off, relying on ads as a sole source of revenue is not sustainable. Click Fraud happens on a daily basis, Google ads cost or cost per click is getting high, many searchers skip ad results, and the list goes on and on.  

Advertising will help you get your product or service in front of a particular audience but organic marketing will do what advertising does and more.

Sure, when you market your business organically, you may have less visibility compared to ads that scream at our faces. But here’s the upside: marketing your business organically makes you more likable, creates more trust from your audience, and reduces buyer objections when they are ready to purchase. 

Tips for Doing Better Marketing

  • Gather customer feedback and use it to inform your organic marketing strategy
  • Try less intrusive forms of marketing like email marketing
  • Use marketing automation to reach more customers
  • Focus on understanding your target audience
  • Personalize your marketing messages

Truth #12: Effective Communication Goes Beyond Words

One of marketing functions is to promote and sell products or services through effective communication with customers. This goes beyond mere words and extends to the communication format, including channels you use to spread your message.  

For example, pictures and videos work well on Instagram but written threads are more effective on Twitter. Even if you’re passing the same message, you have to do so in the format that works best for either channel. Here is the finest way to convert video and compress mp4 file.

Here are some must-know stats on content formats and social channels:

  • 86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool. (Wyzowl)
  • 73% of customers prefer to learn about a product or service through short videos. This is followed by 11% who prefer to read an article or blog post. (Wyzwol)
  • TikTok is the fastest-growing social network with a staggering 105% user growth rate in the US over the past two years. (Emarketer
  • 44% of users shop for products on Instagram weekly and 28% of those shopping activities are pre-planned. (Instagram)
  • 37% of consumers trust the product recommendations of other users. (Bazaarvoice)

Tips for Communicating Effectively 

  • Share your messages where your customers hang out
  • Publish clear and well-written content
  • Supplement written content with images, videos and infographics

Truth #13: Consistency is a Marketing Superpower

When you’re consistent in marketing your products and services, you not only build more brand awareness, you gain an insane amount of mindshare from your audience. Others may jump on the next shiny marketing trend, but if you’re consistent, you’ll follow your plan through. This is not to say you can’t change your strategy if the current one isn’t working. What’s important here is that you give your strategy enough time for results to show.

For example, it typically takes businesses 3-6 months to see results from SEO. So if you decide to invest in search engine optimization tactics, you have to stick to consistent publishing of SEO-optimized content to test this idea in your business.

Tips for Staying Consistent

  • Break your plan into small action steps
  • Batch create your content. For instance, you can create and schedule your social content so you don’t have reason to be absent from social media. Do the same for your blog posts
  • Set achievable milestones. Overly ambitious milestones that remain unmet can subconciously make you feel incompetent
  • Set a realistic timeline for reaching your milestones
  • Outsource tasks if you lack the time or expertise to execute them
  • Manage your tasks with a project management system
  • Commit to only a few tasks at a time, don’t try doing everything at once 

Truth #14: You Have to Hire Help at Some Point

In early 2021, Khe Hy, founder of RadReads announced he was pivoting from solo entrepreneurship and would be building a team. 

He cited the need to build a proper company in-line with RadReads mission, looming burnout and loneliness as some of the reasons for his decision. 

Just like Khe, you likely wear several hats as a small business owner. You’re the founder, chief marketing officer and even customer service manager.  

But as Khe stated, if you want to grow your business beyond YOU, you have to consider outsourcing some tasks. A good starting point is to subcontract tasks that you lack the expertise to execute. If you find yourself fumbling through your website’s code because you want to improve your site’s ranking, that may be a sign that it’s time to hire a developer or get SEO help.

Thanks to the internet, outsourcing is easier because you can hire qualified freelancers and contractors from all over the world. 

Tips for Hiring Contractors/Freelancers

  • Identify the tasks you need to outsource
  • Create a budget
  • Post a job ad or reach out to your network for referrals
  • Request for samples of applicants’ past work
  • Assign paid tasks to the best fit applicants
  • Hire the best fits
  • Assess the results of your new hire’s work 
  • Continue working with the contractor if they do a good job
  • Rinse and repeat

Conclusion

We don’t make light of the fact that building a small business requires hard work. Afterall, some small business owners put their best foot forward but they unfortunately go under when they can no longer cope. 

Now if you’ve managed to keep your small business afloat or you’re just starting out, kudos to you. Your next step is to rethink your marketing approach and apply these truths. We know everything you read is a lot to take in. But you don’t have to apply every truth in this article immediately. Pick one or two that will be most useful to the current state of your business and implement them.

While doing all of these, you’d need a place to organize your sales and marketing activities, including customer service. There are numerous standalone tools that either focus on sales, marketing, or customer service. Relying on these tools implies you’d be jumping from software to software, plus the costs can escalate rapidly when you need more features. This is where a cohesive all-in-one CRM solution like EngageBay truly shines. 

EngageBay has a functionalities for marketing, sales, and customer service all in one place. The best part? It’s free to use. So as you apply each of these truths, be sure to sign up for a free forever EngageBay plan so you can effectively power the revenue engine of your small business.

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