The Marketing Challenge for the Small Business Owner

The challenge for so many small business owners is that they have little idea or time to make marketing actually work. The majority are experts in their fields, but they simply don’t have the time to become experts in the ever changing world of marketing.

So what happens? Rather than taking a strategic approach, most SME’s marketing efforts are the result of reactive decisions that usually come with unrealistic expectations. Their marketing mix looks can look like a mix of tactics and tools from a variety of in-house and external sources.  On a good day, the business owner doesn’t truly know what is working.  On a bad day, they feel like blowing it all up and cutting of the marketing investment all together!

If any of this sounds familiar, a very good option is to take a step back… and that “step back” involves creating a strategic marketing plan. Developing a marketing plan is, in my opinion, the best chance at success, and this is why.

It Provides a Guide

The best thing a marketing plan does for a small business is it provides a route, of sorts, to follow. It keeps you (and everyone on your team) on the same page when it comes to the direction your business is heading and how it’s going to get there.
So what does this guide look like? The specifics will vary, of course, but there are some basic components that I think every marketing plan should have:

SWOT Analysis – This is basically a snapshot of your business. Who are you? What is your unique selling proposition? What are your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition? These are all questions you need to answer.

Target Audience – Before you can start marketing, you need to clearly identify who your best customers are. You can break the information down into key demographics, such as age, sex, geographic location, etc.

Marketing Goals – It wouldn’t be much of a plan if you didn’t set goals, now would it?! Your goals should clearly state what you want to happen and by when; a sort of list of realistic objectives.
Marketing Strategies – Your goals are what you want to happen, your strategies are how you make them happen.

Budget – If business growth is a priority, marketing MUST have a dedicated budget.  Too often the small business judges everything marketing related on cost. Marketing is an investment NOT a cost!
Yes, there are ways to market your business for free, but those methods will only do so much for your business. Eventually you’re going to have to shell out some cash, whether it’s for Facebook ads, new business cards or a website revamp.

As mentioned above, budget is one of the main components of any solid marketing plan. You’re a small business owner, so you know just how important it is to have a budget and stick to it. It’s just as important when it comes to marketing, which is why creating a marketing plan is so critical.

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What to include in your marketing plan

Marketing plan is actually your how-to guide for your marketing, advertising and business development. This can be a few months or a few years depending on the purpose of the marketing plan and the company strategy so hang in there!

However you should be aware that not one universal marketing plan fits all businesses and all scenarios – Instead, I feel that the structure for any marketing plan for a business is based around the following planning elements:

Step 1 – The prospective target market or audience and the specific marketing objectives. In other words who your ideal customer is and what would you like to achieve – start as simple as that before you go into specifics of when, how often, where, how much etc.

Step 2 – The type and structure of your company will set the planning horizon as well as the marketing and business growth strategies and tactics.
For example, a small business requires a completely different set of tactics and approaches compared to a large global corporation that markets to customers in various market segments worldwide. The small business plan might be quite uncomplicated, specific and actionable in a few months because the small business is more flexible and adaptable whereas the large organization needs more time to change its marketing strategies because market development, product development, etc take months for bigger business. There is also the issue of internal communication i.e. the larger the organisation, the more the need for communication and “buy in.”

Step 3 – The market structure. You should carefully evaluate your key competitors and other stakeholders like vendors, legal, social influence…so that you have a clear picture of what you’re up against. Every market is full of “noise” so must know where to make yours and how loud!

The old adage of failing to plan mostly meaning planning to fail is very true when it comes to effective marketing.

 

Marketing planning and routes to market

Most small business owners know how important it is to have a business plan as a plan outlines your company’s course for success. However, one crucial element of that plan which is sometimes missing or hidden is the marketing strategy.

Marketing strategy can quite often be buried within the larger business plan and, as such, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

In my previous post, I outlined 4 core tasks to consider when developing a marketing plan, but you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. You need to identify a suspect, turn them into a prospect and then a client and quite often, your marketing strategy can just be to “sell” a meeting.

Anyway, aside from the 4 core tasks I touched on in June, there is also traditional print and broadcast media, but there are also two tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilise and hence, should be considered.

Social media
Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.
Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are
just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.
“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Email
Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. In fact, recent statistics show that 89% of millennial customers STILL prefer email as a communication route.
Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

With so many marketing routes to market, you’ll have to decipher the best ones to use via testing, but don’t discount anything until you’ve tried it and make sure that these routes are part of the larger marketing plan.