As a small business owner myself, that focuses on Small Business Marketing solutions, my partners and I find ourselves in many conversations where owners and founders share the things that impact their business growth journey.
We’ve spoken to many in the design / build, e-commerce, subscription, real estate (and other) industries in Tampa Bay, Sarasota areas along with small businesses in other states and feel like we have a good enough census now to understand their pain points in marketing and customer acquisition.
As jump into 2022 we thought we could leave something in the ether here that may help someone who happens to read it. This article isn’t about tactics, it’s about setting your business up for the right thinking and mindset, and to make the right choices. Before you go further – READER BEWARE – please know that this is a lengthy article. It’s my style, I can’t help it!
Here are the top 5 issues, and what we found helped unpack, and then solve them.
1.Not enough knowledge to setup and run effective marketing
From the surface, it can appear to be relatively simple to build and launch advertising campaigns across Social Media platforms along with Search Engines. As soon as a small business owner starts, they soon find it hard to develop the right audience profile, develop copy/content, build campaigns, manage advertising platforms, and finally invest in the right ways to generate a return.
The challenge is separating yourself from the things you use everyday, such as Search Engines and Social Media, immediately thinking ‘I can do that’. Like your own business, if someone were to try to replicate it, you’d say “it’s not that simple”.
We promote that small business owners should give it a try and/or learn as much as possible (these in fact make for the best clients!). But as they grow their core business, it’s unlikely that a skillset that is as specialized as digital marketing is easy to learn, and spend enough time experimenting with, to drive the results they are looking for. In fact, it typically ends as a sunk cost, and they hire a specialist anyway.
2.Not Enough Time
As mentioned in our first bullet, small business owners lack the one resource you can’t make more of – Time. Considering they wear many if not all of the hats as they start out, time is a commodity they need to spend exceedingly well.
We recently spoke to a prospect who said it best, and this is a verbatim – “I’m great at making my product. I think about it everyday. I dream about it, and I believe I’m one of the best at it. I don’t have time to learn advertising and marketing, yet I need the customers, and I think they need me. Help me!”.
At some juncture a decision must be made to replace oneself in functions of the business where specialists are needed. The goal is to find the right sized company who can do what you need, within your budget.
Similar to other statements above, resourcing a business that’s in its earlier stages and even when it’s making upwards of $10M a year is a real challenge. Things we find our clients renting or replacing in their own businesses from a marketing perspective are:
• Creating Content that speaks to your customer in a tone they prefer
• Developing compelling messaging, an offer, differentiators, and a call to action
• Building and Launching Campaigns that are set up to perform well
• Optimizing and Reporting on Campaigns
• Iterating and Testing new Ideas
• Customers are online in multiple places. Whether that’s on the open web, social media, search engines – they are allusive, and finding them and then ‘meeting them where they are’ with compelling messaging is critical.
4.Lack of Support or currently Unreliable Support
This is maybe the most important piece of this blog. Finding the right digital marketing support that you can trust. After all, you’ve now made the decision to replace yourself in certain aspects of your business and pay for a resource to support your business. What you’re paying for is ‘peace of mind that performs’. If you feel like you’re getting anything but that, you should stop, halt, and replace. It’s ok to go on a few dates, and then decide. Here are some questions we’ve jotted down that help brands make the best choices:
Does the team at this company have the right background and experience?
Check LinkedIn, ask for resumes, ask them to explain and walk you through their experience.
Does the team or company have specific experience in the business that I run? Do they have case studies?
They should either be able to talk about it, have one ready to send to you, or can draft one up with references to validate their experience and work.
Do they have a proven process and a positive track record?
They should have a process. A way that they have predictably helped small businesses grow profitably through their services. For marketing specifically, this could be a data led approach. It could be a model that is continuously tested and works across many ‘like’ companies.
Do they have a strong point of view and can articulate that clearly and genuinely?
If they are relatively active on social media, and have a strong POV that you can trust, that may add validation to your search or decision to hire them.
Are they trustworthy? – this is the tricky one! Here are the things we believe you should ask for:
Transparent Pricing – know how the agency makes money.
Pricing based on performance – some businesses like this, where the fate of the relationship relies on performance.
Find out if there is a bait and switch – ask to ‘meet the team’. You’ll uncover whether you will be working with the right team who understands your business.
Have an easy ‘off ramp’ – if you’re locked into long term contracts, that’s not always good. There is a balance here, though. Some firms do much up-front work that they have to recoup and to make it easy to buy. Ask questions about when that is, and if things aren’t working, when the relationship can be ended. These terms should be easy to see, understand and agree to.
5.Not Enough Money
Now if you ask a founder or small business question about what’s the thing that’s most paining their growth, you may get this answer as the first in the line of the top five. But in reality (and in our experience), money is usually not the main issue as most business owners will have a healthy budget for marketing if they’re seeing a good return on investment by way of solid leads and new customers.
The money challenge can be temporary. With the right financial leverage using credit to garner customers, the hope is that the investment pays itself back over time. Without a customer generation engine working on your behalf, you’ll run the risk of losing top of mind awareness as well as fizzling out.
So said another way – if you stay in your foxhole, the platoon is at risk of being decimated (quote from a CMO we worked with).
To conclude….Solving these things, in part, comes with the right partnership that understands your business and your challenges. A partnership like this should grow at the speed of their business, and can generate profitable outcomes such as sales, leads, and bookings – is critical to get right.
We hope this helps! As promised, here are some runners up.
Slow to adapt to changing tastes and preferences – if you don’t have a pulse on consumer preferences, you can find yourself making things no one wants to buy. Or something that they used to want to buy, but don’t prefer it ‘today’. Marketing efforts and regular surveys should surface these things early on, so you and your business can pivot.
Hard to create, or reach, short and long-term goals – Create mini-milestones and achievable things. It has been said that you should start the day by completing a task, like making your bed. That leads to more tasks you complete, and more and so on. Small business ownership is a lot like this. The work piles up, so it’s on the business leader to break these into smaller chunks that can be accomplished in a day or a few days, vs. some enormous ‘To Do’ that feels like one step that will take a month to complete.
Feeling overwhelmed – finding the right balance of how you use your time, farm out work you can’t do that’s time consuming and doesn’t generate profit, is a good way to start. Then take online training on time management such as ‘time blocking’ could absolutely help! Finally, join groups – vent. Cathartic conversation doesn’t solve the problem, but it can help you find an outlet and maybe some advice to unstick you.
Mission Driven – companies that know their “why” win. If you can’t clearly articulate this to yourself and your team/employees, how can you expect a customer to understand your business? Sometimes you’re just too close to your business to see how you’re telegraphing (or not) its relevance to your customers.
Self Care – not taking care of oneself to remain healthy. As a business owner, it’s likely the business can’t function well if you’re not functioning well. Give yourself time to breathe, rest, recharge and then go again.
If you enjoyed this post, need some help, want to work with – we’d love to hear from you!