This is the first part of a three part series by Maggie Curran, Instructor for Create a Small Business Marketing Plan That Works. Her workshop will be held on January 31, 2015
I’ve been in business development and online marketing since 1998. I ran the first global Internet campaign for Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications giant, in 2001. It was a huge success, getting over 1 million unique visitors per week, plus enormous media exposure and a number of new customers for the company. I worked for the EU Trade Commission on a project to increase female employment in Europe. I’ve worked with businesses in almost every niche. My experience is very broad and deep, and I’m quite confident in being able to come in, see where the obstacles are, find new revenue streams and help people start from the ground up or re-visit their goals and the steps to achieve them.
Now that I’m back in the US and working with individuals and businesses of all sizes, I often focus on helping them cut through ineffective activities. I have to say most marketing is done without any strategy or connection to any other activities or goals.
Before I was in strategic marketing, I spent many years as a financial analyst. This bottom-line thinking has carried over into my work. For me, there’s no distinction between business development and marketing. They must go together or nothing significant will happen. There’s nothing fluffy about these activities to me because I analyze and measure the effectiveness of every activity, online or offline. I know what works and what doesn’t work.
Because I’m dedicated to supporting small & medium-sized businesses, especially women and minority-owned, I’ve put together some mistakes I see people repeatedly making, as well as some tips and tricks that I hope will help. My classes are filled with tons of money-saving advice, as well.
Here are the three most common, dangerous business mistakes I see people making:
I DON’T NEED MARKETING –
Maybe you’re an artist, musician or a designer – any small operation. Don’t you need business cards, flyers, DVDs or brochures of your work, a website or other online presence where people can see you and what you do? A place where people can hire you or buy your work?
When you’re small, you need to think about marketing much more seriously because it’s more difficult to break through and compete with people in your niche who are bigger, have been around longer, have more clout and control a bigger marketing budget.
In your case, you MUST be super strategic about your marketing spend, even if it’s just a very small budget. That’s the fun part of this work: being so laser-targeted and strategic, that every dollar counts. If you want potential customers to take you seriously, then you have to take yourself and your business seriously. That begins with marketing.
I had a summer intern a few years ago when I was SVP of Interactive & Online Marketing at an ad agency on the East Coast. He was a college student and he got a $75 coupon from Google for pay per click advertising. Those are the ads that you see online and when you’re searching on Google. That’s all the budget he had to start a business doing one-on-one basketball coaching. I showed him how to research the most commonly searched terms used by his ideal client (a 35 year old businessman). We also determined that this ideal client should live within 10 miles of his home. Rather than do what almost everyone else does, which is to spread themselves too thin, I convinced him to do the reverse. He would only focus on 2 keyword phrases, for example, ”individual basketball coaching.” Otherwise, the entire $75 would go on random clicks from people who weren’t really looking for what he was offering. A month went by and he kept telling me he wasn’t getting any clicks to his site. I told him to be patient. Two months went by. By the 10th week he got 3 clicks for which he paid about $2 each, from the $75 coupon. Each of these three guys signed up for weekly individual basketball coaching at the rate of $30 per hour.
As an online marketing agency, I can often get free coupons from Google for new pay per click campaigns, although the amounts offered vary. If they’re available, I’ll provide them to my classes.
I also show my students how to easily create for themselves a professional website with full advanced functionality, your own domain name and unlimited free webhosting for 99 cents. So, you can’t tell me you have absolutely no budget to get a decent start. There’s no excuse.
My son, who is now 18 and a top jazz pianist in the US, started with a website two years ago. He also has a logo, quality business cards, a strong Facebook Fan Page presence, Twitter, YouTube, Google +, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. All of these social networks are expected in the music business, but he’s the only one of his peers who started in high school, way before graduating college. His consistent online activities have brought him many high-paying opportunities that few musicians his age get because they don’t project the professionalism that he does. In fact, he’s been told several times that not even older players come across as professional and dependable as he does. Some might say that he doesn’t need to market himself, but even the colleges to which he’s applied are throwing scholarship money at him. They want to see the whole package in an artist. Art is a business, too, and the sooner one realizes this, the sooner one will be taken seriously.
The same will hold true for whatever activity you’re doing, even if it’s a hobby. I know a couple of guys who make several thousand dollars a month from a fresh water fish aquariums blog. It’s a super laser-targeted audience that they were a part of, they started blogging, and they filled a need. Now they sell all kinds of supplies for the fresh water fish community through ads on the site, while providing a needed forum to fish enthusiasts. Did this all happen by itself? No. When they realized they had a growing audience, they created a strategy to monetize the site.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running a non-profit organization or a government agency, you’re still in business. You still need find your target groups, whether they are donors, people in need or certain tax payers. You still need to determine where best to spend your marketing budget to get the results you want. Everyone has annual goals.
So, you say you have an existing business with long-term clients – do you know how often, in 35+ years in business, I’ve seen a business close down because their two big clients that they had for 10 years suddenly decide they need a change of vendor? Don’t put all your financial eggs in one basket. Your business niche could be changing around you, but because you’re stuck with old clients, you may not even realize it until it’s too late! An economic or other downturn could affect your steadfast clients. You should always be developing your business.
If you’ve got a medium-sized business with a marketing department – guess what? I’ve found that 95% of the time no one has a clue how much of the marketing budget and which marketing activities are actually bringing in customers! Most don’t know how much their competition is spending, what they’re spending on, and which activities are actually working for them. By analyzing them, we can cherry pick the most profitable activities and spend a fraction of their budget, while optimizing yours.
The key is to START now and start with quality.
I cringe when I hear “my son’s girlfriend’s brother’s nephew is going to make my site for free!” Set a strong, professional foundation that will sustain your activities for years to come, so that it grows with you as your business grows.
I also cringe when I hear “My son told me I should have a Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram page and he’s handling that for me.” Why? Because have you determined that your potential customers are on Facebook, Pinterest and/or or Instagram? Every social network takes an enormous amount of time to do correctly. It’s a waste of time if not done strategically and as part of an integrated marketing plan where all activities build upon each other and optimize the effects.
Here’s a tip that most every Facebook Fan Page needs: Facebook needs to be a dialogue between you and your potential customers. You need to engage them, so that they Like, share and comment on your posts. You need to understand who your typical customer is and what he/she is interested in. It takes creativity and courage to step out of the self-involved posting box, but it’s the only way to create a real and lasting relationship with your tribe.