And the best ways to avoid them
Meredith Wood, Fundera
Small business owners know their product inside and out. Most could talk to you for days about their business model, their revenue projections, and their goals for the future. But as soon as marketing strategy comes up, more than a handful might look at you like you’ve asked them to explain string theory in Esperanto. Somehow, marketing best practices elude most small business owners, even though marketing is the engine that drives sales and publicity.
Not knowing how to market your small business is a problem, but implementing a faulty marketing strategy can be even worse. Small business owners who make marketing mistakes can end up wasting valuable cash on campaigns that don’t hit the right audiences, don’t reach engaged customers, or aren’t noticed by would-be clients at all.
Thankfully, the biggest mistakes business owners make when it comes to marketing fall into a few categories — each of which poses their own unique challenges. These common errors are easy to avoid once they’ve been identified and can be remedied quickly if you’ve already started off on the wrong foot.
Time lost, money spent: 7 mistakes that are costing your business
There are seven common mistakes that small business owners make. Some are tactical errors, such as spending too much money on underperforming ad campaigns. Others are strategic missteps, such as targeting the wrong audiences. Each of them can create different issues for your overall marketing strategy in the short- and long-term, chief among them being wasted time, effort, and money.
1. Not spending enough time on marketing
The biggest mistake small business owners make with their marketing efforts is not spending enough time on them in the first place. According to a recent survey, 92 percent of all small businesses planned to invest more time and money in social media this year. No matter how much time you’re spending on social media now, devoting more attention to social media and other marketing campaigns can reap rewards quickly.
Only spending a few hours every week on your marketing efforts won’t provide you with enough time to create, execute, and analyze your campaigns, let alone develop one that can drive qualified leads to your business. If you can’t devote more time to your marketing efforts, you’ll never determine what works for you and what doesn’t.
2. Not spending enough money on marketing campaigns
The second biggest culprit for marketing issues is not spending enough money on your campaigns to see meaningful results. Even though sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter suggest that as little as $5 can fund a meaningful social media marketing campaign, that amount of money doesn’t get you very far, especially if you want your ad to hit a significant number of potential customers.
The temptation to underfund your marketing efforts is strong, especially if you’re spreading advertising dollars across social media, search, and outdoor marketing channels. But the more you slice up an already small budget, the less return on your investment you can expect.
3. Spending too much on marketing campaigns
Spending too much on your marketing efforts can be just as bad as spending too little. Overspending can cause you to waste money on tactics that don’t work, just as underspending can deliver lackluster results. You also run the risk of diluting your marketing analytics by promoting your company to too large of an audience. This prevents you from gaining meaningful insights about who engages with your company and what your customer personas look like.
Some of the telltale signs of marketing budget overspending include a large audience size, too few targeted advertisements within a campaign, numerous subscriptions to social and web analytics platforms, and low engagement rates on your digital ads and promoted social posts.
4. Not diversifying your marketing efforts
Not every marketing mistake boils down to misspent time and money. Not varying your marketing channels and campaigns can be just as harmful as getting your spending level wrong. If you only stick to one or two marketing outlets, you’re only reaching a small subsection of your overall prospects.
There are more ways to distribute advertising than ever before. Whereas most of your marketing once went to print, radio, and television advertising, you now have the option of digital advertising, content marketing, podcast ads, and promoted search results. You’re leaving prospects out of the loop if you only target a few of these channels.
5. Targeting the wrong audience
We’re all used to hearing radio advertisements for products we’d never use. That’s pretty understandable, given advertisers can’t target individual listeners over the airwaves. But when you come across a social media ad that has nothing to do with your interests, it’s a bit more surprising.
The primary reason that people see ads for products they may not be interested in is improper audience selection. Social advertising tools allow you to hone in on specific user groups, usually defined by geography, interests, behaviors, or their affinity for your competition. Targeted advertising lets you serve advertisements to these smaller audiences, which means you’re looking for the right clientele and not wasting money by marketing to people who are unlikely to become clients.
6. Not running advertising tests
Social media advertising makes it easy to test marketing tactics. You can create two slightly different versions of the same ad and have it display to two separate groups within the same audience — a practice known as A/B testing. These tests can help you determine what messaging resonates with your prospective customers, which can help you create more impactful marketing campaigns in the future.
Few small business owners conduct A/B tests, despite how easy they are to set up and how valuable their insights are. These tests are no more expensive than simply running a single advertisement and hoping it resonates with prospective customers — and yet, they can help you spend more wisely as your marketing campaigns mature.
7. Not consulting with experts
Operating a small business rarely means you have leftover money to throw at consultants. Most entrepreneurs would rather reinvest in their own company than hire professionals to help develop marketing strategies — even if those marketing strategies can expand their company’s clientele and prominence in the market.
Marketing can sometimes seem too opaque to make a major capital investment seem worthwhile. Your investment in professional marketing help can pay dividends.
How to avoid the biggest, most common marketing mistakes
There are plenty of common mistakes companies can make with their marketing efforts. In fact, we’ve only scratched the surface of what could lead to underwhelming advertising results. But there are tactics that every small business owner can employ to avoid these and other missteps. Most of these tactics only require more time and effort (and perhaps a little extra money but more on that later). Here are the introductory steps to consider if you want to make your marketing efforts more successful.
1. Develop a marketing plan
This might seem self-evident, but only 51 percent of small business owners said they created a marketing plan for their companies, according to a 2016 Wellness Index from Manta. As the old saying goes, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Not developing a marketing plan ahead of your actual marketing efforts leaves you without a clearly defined set of goals, strategies, and performance indicators that can help you track your success.
It’s not hard to create a rudimentary small business marketing plan, even if you’re a novice with little to no experience. Start with small goals and modest targets. Determine where you want to focus your efforts, what you want to accomplish, and how you intend to reach your goals. You can always revise and adapt your strategy as you go along, but starting with a comprehensive plan is essential.
2. Spend more time on marketing
There is an abundance of small business marketing advice out there. Not every article you read will be useful for your company, but with enough time and patience, you’ll come across tactics that might make a big impact on your own efforts. The crucial takeaway here is that your marketing strategy will improve over time, as long as you’re willing to invest the effort required to set aside more time to tend to it.
Digital marketing evolves so quickly that most marketing professionals are learning on the job. The principles and practices they learned in college or in an MBA program become outmoded quickly. Many of the articles and whitepapers you’ll come across are the same ones they’re reading, too.
3. Fund your marketing campaigns effectively
Throwing money at advertising campaigns can be intimidating. You don’t know how effective your marketing efforts will be, and the tangible benefits of spending money elsewhere loom large in your mind. But with enough marketing prowess, you can make informed decisions about where and how to allocate your budget.
And if financing your marketing campaigns seems daunting, remember that even a $50 social media campaign can work wonders for new business acquisition. Better still, you could take advantage of 0% APR credit card offers to finance your campaigns, which is akin to getting an interest-free loan to acquire new customers. Just be sure to read the terms and conditions of these promotional offers to make sure you don’t spend more than you can pay back before your introductory APR expires.
4. Be a (marketing) scientist
Experimentation can be your best asset when it comes to digital marketing. A/B testing and audience segmentation let small business owners test out different strategies on current and prospective customers. Think of these tests as mini focus groups, without the stale coffee and cookie platters, of course.
By thinking like a scientist, you can gain customer insights that will lead to better advertising down the line. Every time you’re able to see what works and what doesn’t, you’re able to better hone your messaging. Best of all, the more successful your ads are, the less they usually cost per impression.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Working with marketing consultants can give your efforts a head start while freeing up your time to focus on the other components of your business. It might feel difficult to make the investment in marketing professionals, but the short-term cost creates long-term revenue opportunities that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It’s equally important to find the right consultants for you and your business. You need to find individuals or agencies that fit your personality, understand your business, and genuinely care about the end result. There are hundreds of self-proclaimed marketing gurus out there who may not deliver on what they promise (or worse yet, flat-out lie about what they can accomplish). But the right consultants will work with you, your budget, and your goals.
Taking on the challenges of small business marketing can feel intimidating for even the most seasoned entrepreneurs. But as soon as you’re able to identify what isn’t working, you can correct course and develop tactics that make the most of your marketing budget. All you need to do is keep an open mind, invest time and funding, and be open to new ideas.
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer. Her advice consistently appears on such sites as Yahoo!, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, AllBusiness, and many more. Meredith is also the Senior Financial and B2B Correspondent for AlleyWire