If you’re like most small business owners, marketing might seem like a bit of a crapshoot. It's time-consuming, overwhelming, and with so many options, it's easy to go into default mode, setting up a business page on Facebook and praying that the leads start to roll in. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, especially since many of our favorite social media sites are pushing their small business services further down the paid advertising path, which means that many of the posts you’re putting out aren’t necessarily being seen, even if you already have an established following.
So what is a small business owner to do?
You might have heard from your accountant or financial planner that it’s always a good idea to diversify your assets. Believe it or not, that same concept applies to marketing too. Putting all your time and effort into just one marketing activity such as social media is dangerous for two reasons: 1) you’re missing out on all the potential customers who aren’t engaged in that platform and 2) you risk becoming irrelevant once that trend starts to fade. You wouldn’t put the entirety of a 10 million dollar windfall into just gold, would you? If you’re smart, you diversify your investments so that if one market drops severely, your money is still safe. This same principle applies to brand building.
In marketing, there are five general categories to explore:
Small businesses love using social media because it's wide-reaching, inexpensive and offers instant gratification (Likes! Comments!). We love social media as much as the next small business, but because everyone is on it, it can be hard to get noticed and stand out from the crowd. Yes, social media can be hugely beneficial, but just be sure to pick the platforms that make sense for your business (accountants on Instagram is a tough sell) and take some time to build out a social media strategy to ensure that your content is relevant to your audience. If you’re putting tons of time and effort into social and not getting any return, it’s time to rethink your approach.
In addition to social media, there are tons of opportunities small businesses can take advantage of to promote themselves online. Email newsletters, online advertising, Google AdWords, your own website, blogs, vlogs and self-publishing sites such as Medium give small business owners plenty of opportunities to raise awareness for their brand. Using some of these tools in conjunction with social media is a great way to reach a larger audience.
Remember when you used to get 20 pieces of snail mail and five emails in a day? Good times. With everyone rushing to build a digital and mobile brand, it’s worth remembering how powerful a traditional marketing approach can be. Whether it’s a postcard mailer, business cards on the bulletin boards of the local coffee shops, an ad on the radio or a billboard, a bit of old-school outreach can be extremely effective.
Many start-ups and small businesses are so consumed by digital marketing that they forget the power of being seen as a living, breathing brand. Event marketing is a great way to get people to see, hear and touch your product or service, especially if your target market is concentrated to a local area. If you’re a new yoga studio, setting up a free class at the local park is a great way to attract new customers. If you’re a financial planner, attending networking events might be the ticket to drawing up new business. People don’t fall in love with profile pictures and posts; they connect with living, breathing human beings. So make sure your face and name are out where your customers are.
For decades, people have used the power and reach of the media to get their brand in front of potential customers. From seeing your product featured in a major magazine to enlisting an influencer to spread the good word, PR is a powerful mechanism for building a business. Sure, it’s not the easiest way to get attention, but because it’s widely recognized to be a non-paid endorsement, a nod from a well-regarded person or publication can easily be a major boost for your brand.
So now that you know five key areas of marketing, grab one idea from each category to help you build out your marketing plan. Here is a quick example. Let’s say you own a flower shop that delivers daily, pre-arranged bouquets to offices at a very affordable price. You currently use Instagram to showcase your bouquet of the day but you want to branch out further. Let’s try it:
Begin sending daily or weekly email newsletters which arrive in your customer’s inbox before they get to work. They can now see what you have available when they get to their desk and can look forward to freshening up their space with a beautiful bouquet.
Start putting up flyers in the local cafes and hand out discount or “first bouquet free” cards at the local farmer’s market. People who purchase their coffee from boutique cafes and buy groceries from farmer's markets care about freshness and quality which perfectly aligns with your target market.
Organize a flower-arranging workshop once per month to teach people about flower care and floral design. This enables you to showcase your skills and helps you to diversify your brand as both a product and service business. Plus, it offers an opportunity for beautiful photos and one-on-one time with potential customers and referral partners!
In addition to your current Instagram activity, use Facebook Events to notify your target market about your workshops and showcase those great photos and videos to get more people interested in attending future events. Don't be afraid to also add in some "how to" videos!
Invite the local paper along to participate in your workshops for a potential feature story. Begin building relationships with the local media so they know to come to you as an expert source. Start thinking about how you can capitalize off market trends to make yourself a regular media fixture.
These new initiatives might represent three months of marketing activities and along the way, you can monitor which channels provide the best results. From there you can decide which to repeat, which to tweak, and which to discard altogether.
Remember, there is no use putting together a marketing mix if you have no way to measure your results. The key to getting the best bang for your buck is ensuring that you ask the question “how did you hear about us?” with every new interaction. Otherwise, you’ll find it tough to decipher one channel’s results from the next.
If you need help planning your marketing strategy, don’t be shy, just say hi. We are here to help!