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The 7 Deadly Sins of Small Business Marketing

Everybody makes mistakes, but some mistakes are worse than others. Some mistakes are almost deadly—to your marketing, at least.

The following seven mistakes are dire enough to make your marketing fail. But the good news is once you know how to spot them and avoid them, your marketing has a dramatically better chance of success.

So keep reading, apply what you learn here, and carry on. You’ve got a business to promote!

1. You’re underfunding your marketing

It is possible to do some marketing for free, but you’ll almost always pay in time, even if you don’t pay in money.

So how much money is enough? The Small Business Administration advises that “small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7 to 8% of their revenues to marketing,” but not nearly enough businesses are meeting that goal. In fact, 71% of small businesses are investing less than 7% in their marketing, according to our latest research. Forty-two percent of them—nearly half—invest 3% or less, including some who make no investment at all.

We all know the old adage, “It takes money to make money.” This is especially true for marketing.

So if you’re underfunding your marketing, don’t be surprised if it’s not working. Despite some talk about guerilla marketing or the very rare people who can make marketing work with slim to no resources, most of us have to treat it like everything else in our business: We have to fund it properly.

2. You’re trying to do it all yourself

Here’s an interesting stat: 54% of small businesses outsource graphic design and website design, but only 14%  outsource marketing, public relations, and advertising.

It’s fine to do things in-house, of course. But if you pair this lack of outsourcing with the lack of funding for marketing as mentioned in the last point, it compounds a serious problem: Marketing doesn’t get enough attention.

The good news is you can outsource many simple marketing functions safely. For example, you could hire a virtual assistant to set up an email newsletter and send it out every week. Most VA’s are also good writers, so they can write some content for your newsletter, your website, and your social media accounts, too. Many VA’s are also good at paid search engine marketing, simple search engine optimization, and Facebook advertising.

A little strategic outsourcing might be an excellent way to finally get some marketing work done.

3. You haven’t learned the basics of modern marketing

While I encourage you to outsource as much of your marketing work as is feasible, I also want you to be a smart buyer—and to be a smart buyer, you need to know what you’re buying.

You don’t have to be an expert (that’s what we hire people for), but if you’re clueless about marketing, you’re less likely to hire the right expert. To use a metaphor, if you know utterly nothing about cars, you’re more likely to buy a lemon.

Fortunately, the solution to this is pretty easy: Get educated. And there are plenty of marketing education resources available. Start with best-selling books, then work down to reading the top one to two sites in each major marketing category.

4. You aren’t balancing consistency and variety enough

I see a lot of small business owners go from one extreme to another on this issue. Either they try every single marketing tactic that comes along, or they try too few tactics (like less than five), try them very briefly, and then give up.

You need to find a middle ground here; you simply cannot do every marketing tactic that’s out there. But at the same time, marketing is evolving rapidly, and you do need to test new things now and then.

This is why I like the approach Coca-Cola takes with its content: 70% is “low risk, not overly time consuming, and . . . pays the bills;” 20% is “new, innovative, and deeply engaging with specific audiences;” and 10% is “high-risk, high-reward.” While this 70/20/10 model applies to Coca-Cola’s content, it works for small business marketing, too.

So how do you apply this approach to your marketing? Start by picking two to three marketing tactics that consistently work for you. For example:

Having a great website
Sending weekly email newsletters
Investing in about 10 hours of social media marketing per week

These are your low-risk, “pay-the-bills” marketing bread and butter. Put 70% of your time and money into these projects.

Use the remaining 30% on more experimental things: 20% should go toward things that are a stretch, but a pretty safe stretch (e.g., getting a mobile app made for your business or creating a video series); the remaining 10% should go toward something really experimental (e.g., creating a chat bot for your business, launching a simple loyalty program, or partnering with a complementary, but not competitive, business).

An approach like this keeps your marketing profitable, but not inflexible. Things change, as you know, and so it’s smart to have a repertoire of effective marketing tactics.

5. You aren’t doing any marketing at all

The single biggest way to fail at marketing is to not try at all. Not too surprising, right? But incredibly, many small businesses are making this mistake. They aren’t doing any marketing: No digital marketing. No print marketing. No loyalty program. No direct mail. No . . . you name it.

Now, I know many owners would tell me that marketing doesn’t work for them. But clearly, they aren’t trying very hard. And marketing doesn’t have to be hard, either. You could start by simply making your business easy to find. Just having a presence on Google My Business and Yelp are ways to get started.

We’ll talk about your website next.

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6. Get a website

It’s hard to believe people like me are still saying this in 2018, but unfortunately, it still needs to be said: Nearly half of all small businesses still don’t have a website. In our own WASP “State of Small Business Report,” we found that 44% of small business owners still don’t have one for their business.

Your website doesn’t have to be a complicated, expensive thing. Even a one-page website with your hours, location/s, major products and services is a great start. Add in a section about your employees and your hiring needs if you want, or get even “fancier” and have a contact page.

And if you already have a website, take a look at the following graphic to see how your existing site compares:

How small busineess use website

Image source: 2017 WASP Barcode Technologies “State of Small Business Report”

7. Separate your business and personal social media accounts

Most small businesses are already doing social. That’s great, but they are also making a dangerous mistake; they aren’t separating their personal and business accounts.

Our survey of small business owners found that 37% of small businesses use designated business social media accounts to reach their audience. That’s great for them, but it means that 63%—nearly two thirds—don’t have a designated business account.

Think of this as just good housekeeping, if you want, but it’s important to separate business and personal on social media. Your customers don’t need to see your comments about a friend’s new baby, and they certainly don’t need to know your reactions to politics. It’s just too easy to fire off a Facebook post, or like a tweet without thinking things through. And it’s Murphy’s Law that just one dumb post could get you far more attention than you ever imagined.

So don’t risk alienating your customers. Create a business account for every social platform you’re active on. It’ll also make selling your business much easier, too.

RELATED: What 10 Years of Content Marketing Did for This Startup

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