It’s a common assumption among small business owners and new entrepreneurs that if they make a superior product or provide a superior service then their market will find them. There’s plenty of logic behind this assumption; people have needs and they seek to meet those needs. But the problem humans face in the modern, developed world is not finding ways to meet their needs, but finding too many options for meeting their needs. We are bombarded with choices, and even if your product or service is unique or objectively the best, no one will choose it if they cannot see it and remember it long enough to seek it out.
This is why marketing is so important to the success of a business–it’s the mechanism by which you cut through the deluge of options and lodge yourself into peoples’ memories. And yet, a shocking number of small businesses and start-ups drop the ball when it comes to their marketing. Because we at Iconic don’t want you to be one of those ball-droppers, we’ve compiled a concise list of the most common mistakes we see businesses make with their marketing.
1. Not Making Marketing a Priority
The biggest mistake small business owners make in marketing is…not doing it. While this might be a bit surprising at first, it starts to make sense when we think about all the other things entrepreneurs, especially new ones, have to do. They are worried about having the best quality products or services, assembling the best quality team, learning to delegate effectively, securing start-up funds, and planning a budget. As wildly important as it is for businesses to tell people about what they offer, it’s no shock that owners often end up neglecting marketing because they are so busy creating and financing their offering.
It also turns out that just being aware that marketing is important is not enough to keep owners from falling into this trap. A case in point: Justine Leconte is a fashion vlogger and entrepreneurial designer known for her ethically sourced fashion line and her brilliance at exploiting social media. This is a business owner who clearly knows exactly who her customers are, and she’s got a well-defined brand that appeals very strategically to those customers. But when it comes to effective marketing, even Leconte admits she isn’t bulletproof. She recently released a vlog in which she shared some of the mistakes she made in starting her business, and one of those mistakes was not spending nearly enough time on marketing. She visibly cringes in the video, saying that she was so focused on acquiring quality products that she missed many opportunities to get the word out about her new line. And, get this, Leconte’s professional background is in…marketing. Her regrets solidify just how easy it is to get overwhelmed by the other aspects of owning a small business, but it also acknowledges how crucial of a mistake it can be. Leconte herself says at least 50% of a business owner’s workload should be devoted to marketing, if they are doing it themselves.
2. Not Building a Website
Again, in the digital age, this might seem like an impossible mistake, but research reveals it to be a prevalent one. According to the non-profit organization, SCORE, only 51% of businesses have websites. Many businesses rely on word-of-mouth, and certainly signage and print forms of marketing are still important. But the fact is that 96% of buyers search online for their products and services even when they are searching locally, according to Forbes Magazine. So not building a website is the modern equivalent of not having a door on your business and forcing all your potential customers to crawl through the window. They might be interested in what you have to offer, but they’re not going to crawl through a window for it. So you end up cutting out a lot of potential customers, which in turn, cuts out a lot of potential revenue.
While there are some small business owners who might truly believe having a website isn’t important, most of us neglect website creation for the same reasons we neglect our marketing in general: a; we are unsure how to do it, and b; we are too busy to spend the time to figure it out.
But it is absolutely crucial to put a door on your business.
3. Not Building a GOOD Website
Often times businesses will get as far as putting a door on their business by making a website, but then that door will have a weird handle that you have to jiggle a little, while you push really hard.
This is the purely informational website that most businesses have.
It’s good to have your location, hours, and what you offer clearly shown on your website. But if your website is only designed to convey information, then you are still not getting the most out of your website. After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of creating a website, that website should be doing all the work it possibly can to get customers to buy. Therefore, websites should be designed for conversion, not just as information delivery systems. According to Neil Patel, businesses with websites that are designed for conversion are “twice as likely to see a large increase in sales.”
Designing for conversion involves considering a number of factors. For example, making your value proposition very clear, very quickly. You’ve got 0-8 seconds to convince your audience that you have what they want, and they can’t get it anywhere else. Other important components involve creating effective calls to action and headlines and creating content that tells a story and creates social proof. Effective web design is more than just a website that is aesthetically pleasing and gives relevant information. That alone is not enough to convert.
Creating a great website is a challenge, but if you can manage it, there are significant rewards. After crafting and testing your website to effectively target your audience, you can increase conversion rates up to 300%.
4. Not Knowing How to Gather Marketing Data (And Use It)
If you have no way to assess who you are reaching with your marketing, how can you be sure you’re reaching anyone at all? How can you be sure you’re reaching the right people, people who actually care about your product or service? The answer is, you don’t.
You might not think you have the resources (time or money) to track and analyze engagement with your marketing, but the reason that tracking and using this information is so critical is precisely because small businesses don’t have resources to waste. If you can’t see where your marketing is falling short and rectify the problem, or you’re spending money to market to people who aren’t interested in what you have to sell, then you are wasting resources. If you have a small budget for marketing you want to make sure every penny is working for you.
Plenty of software exists for finding and tracking leads. However, these tools have to be used strategically to optimize their effectiveness, and being able to do this requires a foundation in how marketing works in general. Some small business owners have this foundation, and some don’t. Which brings me to the next common mistake….
5. Not Doing Foundational Research in Marketing
You’re probably an expert about whatever product or service your business is offering the public. You’re an incredible chef or you’ve been making custom bicycles since you were nine or you’ve been in school ten years becoming a lawyer. You did not just wake up one day with the skills and knowledge you have now. You worked hard, practiced hard, and educated yourself about the thing that you are an expert in.
But for some reason, many experts like you who start businesses try to do their own marketing without even cracking a book on marketing. If you intend to tackle your own marketing, you will need to educate yourself in marketing strategies, techniques, and theories in the same way you educated yourself about whatever you are an expert in as a business owner. If you’re here then you’ve at least begun to dip your toe into the information that’s out there, and that’s great! But it is only a toe dip…before embarking on starting a small business, you should read at least three or four books about marketing and internalize the information. Anything by Seth Godin is a great place to start–they’re short, simple, and easy to digest.
After doing your research, you’ll need to create a written-out marketing strategy, just as you created a written-out business plan. There are many guides and templates available to help you do this, but the process of writing this out is not exactly a fill-in-the-blank type of exercise. You want your plan to work for you, so you’ll need to invest a fair bit of time and thought into writing it out and knowing how you will use it to guide your marketing choices.
6. Not Setting a Reasonable Budget for Marketing
If this is starting to sound a little overwhelming, there’s a good reason for that. Marketing is hard work, and there’s a lot riding on it.
Earlier I mentioned that Justine Leconte advised small business owners to put 50% of their efforts as start-up entrepreneurs into marketing. This is, of course, not hard data, but it is consistent with what successful small business owners report spending in terms of time and energy on marketing.
However, what if you don’t have 50% to give?
If you don’t, you’re not alone. As we’ve already discussed the vast majority of us can’t give 50% of our time and energy to marketing because our business demands our attention, and, at a certain point, we all have to sleep and eat and maybe talk with our loved ones. If this is the case, you should consider outsourcing your marketing.
The benefits of doing this are two-fold. First of all, you will reclaim that 50% of your time and energy for other tasks. Second of all (and this is not a dig) a good marketing agency will likely do a better job of marketing you than you would, simply because they are experts with experience. Even if you have educated yourself in marketing and read your four books, this won’t equal out to the same level of expertise (not to mention manpower) that a marketing agency can bring to the table.
Gene Marks, owner of the successful tech consulting firm The Marks Group PC, often says in interviews and talks he gives that one of his secrets to success is delegation. He says when he started hiring people to do certain jobs because he couldn’t do it all, that experience also taught him that he really shouldn’t be doing it all, even if he could. That is, he was doing jobs that he was bad at. “I just sort of learned the hard way,” he says. “Focus on what you do best, and delegate the rest.”
Now on to the harder data.
If you do decide to outsource your marketing, you’ll want to set a reasonable budget for doing so. The US Small Business Administration suggests that in 2020 you will want to spend 7-8% of your gross revenue on marketing. Other figures indicate that the amount you spend on marketing should be proportional to how much you wish to grow. Therefore, the suggested percentages for new small businesses tend to be closer to 13-20%; new businesses want and need to establish themselves and gain customers. 13-20% might sound like a lot, but you’re getting strategists, graphic designers, content writers, search specialists, and social media gurus that are experts. Having all these positions in-house would be very difficult for a small or new business; usually the choice is between having the owner do it all, or outsourcing. In fact, ⅓ of small businesses outsource marketing, precisely for the reasons above: efficiency and access to expertise.
Everyone has to determine what budget will work for them based on their industry and resources, but at the end of the day the investment you put into marketing is just that…an investment. Good marketing has a direct, positive effect on how much money your business generates.
However you choose to handle your marketing, we encourage you to have faith in your business and give it the investment and chance to thrive it deserves. Good marketing is what takes your business from being good, useful, or even wonderful, to being iconic.
Best of Luck!