So often overlooked…but fundamentally the most critical element to the success or failure of any business….your marketing strategy.
Does the word ‘marketing’ scare the pants off you? If so – you’re not the only one. For many small business owners, the term ‘marketing’ refers to having to spend a great deal of money on advertising that is entirely hit and miss and probably won’t yield any addition to their bottom line.
What you may not realise however is that ‘marketing’ doesn’t just refer to advertising it’s so much more than that. Furthermore, you don’t need to have a huge budget to market your business successfully.
The main thing when it comes to marketing is that you do it continuously – when you’re trying to build your business, you market it, when things are going badly you hit the marketing…and when things are going well…guess what…you need to keep marketing. Now, it may seem kinda crazy to suggest that you should still spend time trying to gain more business when you’re already overstretched but, trust me, it’s important. The type of marketing you do may change slightly but if you don’t continue to market your business when things are going well then you’ll struggle so much more in any lean times ahead.
It can be difficult to know what marketing you should do, how much, what type and when…but fear not – by the time you’ve finished working your way through this article you’ll feel very much in control of your marketing strategy – and hopefully excited about the growth potential of your business.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what you should include in your marketing plan I’m going to teach you some of the fundamentals of marketing. I’ve put it into a question and answer format so hopefully it’s easier to understand.
How long should I spend on marketing?
To begin with, try to set aside a couple of days to get your marketing strategy worked out and then find a 90 minute slot each week. That time will ideally be when there is no risk of being distracted by phone calls, emails or visitors – and that means switching off social media too I appreciate that even that might seem out of the question but you’ll probably find that in this time you will streamline activities you are currently spending several hours a week into so give it a go and see how it can benefit you. Once you’ve got the initial work done you will know how much time you have available and how much realistically you need to spend on marketing. Having completed your marketing strategy the time you spend on marketing will become much more efficient so you should be able to get a lot more done in a shorter period of time.
How do I know who to target with my marketing efforts?
In the early days a small business grows through a combination of hard work and recommendations. Unfortunately without an active and well thought out marketing strategy growth can be quite stop start with periods of more work than you can cope with, punctuated by spells where you have very little to do. Neither situation is ideal. This is often caused by a period of considerable effort on the marketing front which results in a big influx of business and therefore work required, during which time no marketing is being done so when that work is complete there is a lull until the next marketing effort can take place.
Commonly the marketing efforts involve contacting as many customers as possible in one go – perhaps through an email shot or posted mail shot – in a panic to bring in business. This unfortunately has numerous pit-falls. In addition to potentially bringing in more work than you can handle all at once, you are effectively spamming your clients, and after one or two blanket mail shots or email shots they may not pay too much attention to your communications.
So how do you avoid these peaks and troughs? You need to develop proactive, robust marketing campaigns that specifically target the people you want to communicate with at that time. To do this you need to identify ‘your target audience’. Your chances of success are much higher if you target the right people and market your business appropriately.
To define your target audience you need to start with a relatively generic list of the type of people (or businesses) you think would be interested in your products and/or services. Once you have that done you need to break it down a lot more. So for example, if you are a sports physiotherapist you might start with leisure centres – but you would then break that category down a lot further by adding more detail such as location, perhaps size of the centre or the services they currently offer. If you are a plumber then you may break your target audience down into groups such as businesses / domestic and then break that down further with locations, and maybe details such as whether that area use gas or only have oil available etc. Be as specific as you can.
When deciding who your target audience is you need more than guesswork – you need to be confident that the type of people you are targeting have a need for your products and/or services.
The reason for doing this is that to get the best possible results you shouldn’t treat all your potential customers in the same way with the same marketing messages. Their needs will be different and if you aren’t addressing their needs then you are unlikely to make them your customer now or in the future.
If you offer business to business services or products then once you have created your defined groups, you will want to identify the businesses within those groups. The internet is an obvious place to start. Depending on who you are planning to target, local press is another place you could look. You may find my article on building a marketing list helpful.
Ideally you will also identify the decision maker in each of the businesses you wish to target which you can do either by finding the information on their website (if available) or by making a quick call to them. Sometimes there is more than one person involved in the decision making process.
When it comes to putting together your marketing plan you will include which groups you intend on targeting at which time using which methods.
Reviewing what you’ve done so far – Your Marketing Sense Check
Before going any further it’s important to review any marketing that you’ve already done. Whether it’s worked beautifully – or been a total waste of time – it’s all useful information to drive into your future plans. Often a small business owner will pursue one method of marketing simply because they don’t know any others or what they’re doing wrong. If this sounds like you – don’t worry, you’re in good company – and the right place to get back on track.
Even once you’re working to a strategic marketing plan you still need to review your marketing activity at least on a yearly basis so you can see what has worked for you and what hasn’t so you can adjust your marketing plans again for the following year.
Write down a list of all your marketing efforts in the last 12 months – mailshots, events, blogging, networking, social media, your website, local advertising….anything and everything that you have done. Include any costs involved and approximate time you spent working on it if you can recall. Note anything you can remember about successes or failures of the tasks – such as an increase in phone calls, traffic to your website (if you use web stats, these may help), increase in sales or revenue etc. It’s not going to be exact as if you haven’t been keeping track of these things to date you’re unlikely to be able to remember everything you’ve done or the cost or return from it.
Going forwards, before you spend any time or money on a specific marketing activity ask yourself:
- How much is it going to cost and what do you want to get back to make it profitable/worthwhile? Remembering of course that each new customer potentially has a lifetime value that far exceeds what they initially spend with you.
- Will the activity reach your target audience?
- It it in your marketing strategy? If not, why not? And if you go ahead which marketing activity will you be replacing?
How to put together your Strategic Marketing Plan
I’ve already mentioned that to be successful you need a committed approach to continuous marketing. A challenge I know, but however well..or otherwise…your business is doing, it’s essential to continue to implement your marketing activities to impact both existing and prospective customers. A huge part of making that easier to achieve is by having a Strategic Marketing Plan. I’ve attached a template document for you to this article to help you get started. It’s done in a spreadsheet and may seem simple but it’s a very effective way of keeping track…and keeping ON track of your marketing activities so is well worthwhile.
Your marketing plan should include a list of groups of people that you are going to target (as discussed above). Your communication plans for each group over the coming 3 months (ideally you should review this plan every 3 months and plan for the following 3 months based on the results you have had). You’ll also include tasks that need to be undertaken to enable the activity to take place – getting leaflets printed or a sales letter drawn up for example. You’ll also use it to monitor the success…or otherwise….of each campaign.
Your marketing plan can be altered as you go along of course. If you feel it needs changing in light of the response of one particular campaign go ahead and do so – the point of the plan is not for it to be set in stone but to a) ensure regular and consistent marketing and b) to ensure you are monitoring the response from each campaign.
How do I know what types of marketing will work for my business? Do all businesses market themselves in the same way?
This is probably the most tricky part of marketing. Not all types of marketing will work for all businesses. You can throw thousands of pounds at a Google Adwords campaign but if that type of advertising doesn’t suit your business then no amount of money will yield good results. The same goes for Facebook advertising. For example – my washing machine broke down recently. I needed an engineer and so I turned to Google to find one. It’s entirely possible that a washing machine engineer had been advertising his services on Facebook in the week before but because I didn’t need an engineer then I didn’t notice! In the same week, I noticed an advert on Facebook for half price lego. I wasn’t looking to buy lego but my son loves lego and Christmas is coming up and so I clicked through and made a purchase.
Think about your company – what you offer. If you were to purchase your services or products how would you most likely be influenced to buy them? Are your services/products local or national?
Some options for your marketing activities include:
- Facebook paid campaign
- General Facebook activity
- Google Adwords campaign
- LinkedIn activity
- Local advertising in publications or through leaflets
- Cold calls
- Email shots
- Posted letter approaches
- Networking events
- Website activity
- General networking
Don’t forget to track your results though!
If you’d like to chat through the best option for marketing your business, feel free to give me a call on 01487 815588 / 07502 251079.