9 Reasons Small Business Marketing Stinks – And What You Can Do to Avoid Smelling Rotten

It has no strategy

I see so many small businesses who just basically throw darts at the board with their marketing and advertising with no rhyme or reason. What little marketing planning they do centers around advertising. But usually this is poorly planned. They take no thought in who their target market is, how best to reach them, where to reach them, when to reach them, or how to appeal to them and spur them to action IF they reach them. Did you notice that was a big if? Most of the small business ads I see really don’t get break through and grab the prospect’s attention. The other big problem is they are scattershot. There is an ad here, and ad there, they are done infrequently, and the target is poorly defined.

Don’t use a shotgun approach to advertising! Use a laser targeted pinpoint approach. This does not mean you only target one area or shoot using one gun (pardon the violent metaphor). It means you aim carefully at your chosen target and fire from multiple positions (PR, advertising, promotions, social media, etc.).

It has the mindset that advertising and promotion (or sales) is marketing

These are but one aspect of the marketing mix. FYI, if you don’t already know, the marketing mix consists of the 4 Ps- Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (where the product or service is sold or distributed). While promotion is a large part of the marketing mix it is not the only one and usually not the most important one. But it is the fun or glamorous side of marketing so it gets a lot of attention. Still, many fail to realize that there is a lot more to promotion than advertising or sales. Those are only aspects of the promotional mix. I will talk more about the rest of the promotional mix in future articles.

Get a big picture view of marketing and start with the basics first- your positioning and targeting strategies based on your product or service and ideal customers (market place) and let that direct your pricing, promotion, and distribution strategies.

Its copy cat or “me too” marketing

Many small businesses copy the same old garbage everyone else is using and you get the same bad results. Even if the marketing is good for one business, it may not be good for your business. First, you are not the same business so your goals and objectives, target audience, capabilities, etc. are not the same. Second, it does nothing to distinguish you from them. Why would a prospect buy from you if you are no different than your competition?

Give them some compelling reasons to do so by demonstrating that you have something your competitor does not. Be different by design.

It is practiced by the uninformed

Small business people are good at their craft. They are great plumbers, doctors, lawyers, store owners, beauticians, chefs, dry cleaners, accountants, etc. But most don’t know anything about marketing- and don’t have the time or patience to learn. And that’s ok. It would cost them more to learn and do it themselves than it would to pay someone competent to do it for them. I don’t want to fix my own broken pipes, draw up own estate plan, prescribe my own course of medical treatment, or cut my own hair. I’m no good at it. But these folks are. That’s why I pay them to do it for me. If this situation describes you and you agree with me, you can skip the rest of this article and call me now!

If you still insist on doing it yourself, then learn the basics of marketing and start with understanding your marketplace, finding a profitable niche, and defining your product or service to serve that niche. If you do this right, you will either find yourself with no true competition or you will stand out head and shoulders above them.

Small businesses think they can market like the big boys

The problem is small businesses don’t have the money to market like the big boys. The big boys can run branding campaigns and hire expensive Ad firms to design and produce visually entertaining and stimulating masterpieces that make you almost drool for that new iPhone or Cadillac STS (or is that just a guy thing?) But c’mon, how many of you have not licked your lips when you’re watching those Hardee’s Thick Burger commercials? J And they can run their ads repeatedly. These are meant to build brand awareness and reinforce brand perceptions as much (and usually more) as they are to create brand preference and create a desire to take action.

But most of you can’t afford this kind of service. You can’t afford to run image only ads. Your ads have to work hard to create awareness and generate sales or leads. So you have to market wisely and make every dollar spent be an investment that will produce a measurable return. This means finding your niche, creating products and services to fill that niche, crafting your identity to appeal to that niche and targeting that specific niche with your well crafted, well planned, and well timed promotions and advertisements. And these ads have to have a call to action to spur a visit to your store, your website, or generate a phone call. Do anything else and you risk losing money and ultimately failure in business.

It is too disjointed

They are trying random things not really knowing why or they are dabbling in marketing with no real goal, process, or system. As a result their marketing strategy and tactics are not connected to each other and working together in harmony. In fact, they might even be working against each other. Here is a case in point, suppose you are a professional with deep expertise in your field- medicine, dentistry or law for examples- and you are trying to appeal to a wealthy target audience by offering a specialized service. But you are doing it by running a price discount or coupon promotion! The tactics are out of line with the target audience and do not support the core marketing strategy.

Your marketing tactics have to be connected to (indeed lead by) your marketing strategy and your marketing messages need to be integrated so that your website is consistent with your brochures or press kit, which is consistent with your social media profiles and business listings, which is consistent with you elevator speech, with is consistent with your business card, and so on. Tactics must be aligned with strategies and support your goals. Every piece of marketing communication must be integrated with your brand and marketing strategies to be consistent and produce desired results.

It is not built around a complete system

Most small businesses have no system in place for marketing. There is no plan for properly evaluating the marketplace and finding profitable niches. There is no system to help position or reposition their products or services to serve those niches. This is especially devastating when the marketplace rapidly changes. There is no system for promotional campaigns and activities. A coupon tactic is tried one month, a sales promotion another, maybe some print ads are tried another. But there is also no monitoring and measuring plan in place to know what is really working, if anything, and for making changes to the plan as needed. All of these systems must be put into place and used regularly or no real progress will be made. Perhaps you could get away with this in boom times, but not in bust times like we have recently been experiencing and not in the foreseeable future.

Put systems in place that will give you a goal to know where you are going and direction to know how to get there. Then continually work your systems and monitor your progress to make sure you are on track. If not, make some course corrections (change your tactics) to see if that works. However, if you make repeated course corrections and nothing works, it’s time to either call for professional help or change your strategy- or both.

There is no follow up

Many small businesses, particularly B2b firms, have leads that go un-nurtured and un-converted. Not because they were bad leads but because they didn’t follow up with them. Chances are, if the lead was not ready to buy right then or at least have a sales person talk or visit with him right then, the lead was pushed to the back burner- where it withered up and died. Or the consumer that visited the store once, or even purchased once, never returned and was never contacted with any type of follow up marketing.

If your business relies on generating leads for you or your sales staff to turn into clients/customers, then you need to have an automated follow up system in place. You need a system to capture their contact information to send them follow up emails and newsletters and contact them by phone or in person to keep in touch with them and nurture them through the sales cycle. You need a system to get to know them and their needs so you can send them selectively targeted promotions that will cut through the clutter and make them pay attention.

It is not automated

This leads me to a related point- much of the follow up marketing tactics are not automated where they can be automated. This makes it time consuming. Pretty soon business owners get so busy following up there is not enough time for doing and managing the rest of the business. Business owners in this situation probably are not taking the time to measure the results of their marketing so they do not know what, if any, results it produces. This leads to frustration, anxiety and wondering if marketing is really helping their business at all. They start questioning their time and effort spent on marketing and pretty soon they are doing no marketing at all. Which virtually guarantees their business will not grow- and makes it highly probably that it will not survive for very long.

So spend some time now setting up systems and processes that can be automated and save yourself time and stress- and money- later. There are many good CRM and auto-responder software programs available to help with this, some simple and reasonably priced, and some sophisticated, which the price reflects. I would suggest checking out AWeber or Campaigner- which I personally use- for simple, affordable auto-responder options and use either Excel or Access if you already have Microsoft Office for a simple CRM solution. You also might try some free or very low cost solutions such as Sugar CRM or ZOHO. For a more robust option I have heard people rave about Act! and I know many people love it. Others don’t so do your home work before purchasing anything. For lead management and nurturing you might also try salesforce.com or geunius.com. There is one combination auto-responder and CRM solution that I have used in the past that is very good at automating and managing the follow up process and has other applications as well-but it is not cheap- called Infusionsoft.This might be a good solution for you if you generate lots of leads and need to rely on an automated process to reduce your time spent following up and to make sure that leads are actually followed-up with and nurtured. You can get more resources for marketing by visiting the resource page on my website.

A Sample Business Plan for a Small Business May Not Be the Best Way

You can find a sample business plan for a small business in all kinds of formats. There is a sample business plan for a small business where you basically fill in the blanks or you can have access to a sample business plan for a small business where you can pattern yours from it or you can develop a business plan that is centered on what you want for your dreams and your life.

I don’t know of better way than to let your business give you what you want for your lifestyle. Whether it’s a sample business plan for a small business or one where your business gives you a plan, it should tell you what is needed to take you where you want to go and when and how you can get there and it should be in clear simple terms, supported with all the specifics.

So using a sample business plan for a small business is just one of many ways to make a business plan but frankly I think designing one that will have your business give you exactly what you want is by far the best way.

So, why not start out with what you would like to have in life for you and your family? Then develop a business plan that could show you exactly what your business would need to do to give you that life style. If you think about it, there is no other way where you have more control over what you want in life than letting your own business do it for you. If you work for someone else, you’re sure not going to have as much control over your future.

So how would you go about making a plan like this? Well if you know a fair amount about business, you can. It will take some special calculations and some work but if you know how to put together a Profit & Loss Statement, you can probably do it.

You would first do a P&L for the present year for your existing business and the first year and as many years after as you would like to have your plan cover. Your existing business financials will be the foundation for building yourself a business plan for as many years out as you want. This data will tell you a number of things but first if you want to build your plan around what you want in life, you would need to decide some things about your life:

1. You would need to decide how much income you would like to have for yourself for each of the years you plan for.
2. You would need to determine what kind of profit margin you would want from your business for each of the years.
3. And by combining these 2 things into a P&L format you can develop a financial business plan that can extend as for into the future as you would like.
4. The first thing it will show you is how much sales you would need each year to give you the income and profit you would like. Once you see the sales needed, if you know your business well enough, you should be able to estimate those additional expenses needed to overcome capacity constraints that will occur as your business grows.

With this information you can actually predict not only what your sales will be, but you can see how much your fixed and variable expenses will be, what your labor cost will be, your material cost, and your profit.

1. So let’s first look at what exactly are fixed expenses? They are exactly what they say they are; they are fixed. This simply means these are expenses that are ongoing whether you have a lot of sales or “0” sales. They are expenses like utilities, taxes, rent, salaries other than the wages used in the making of the actual product or doing a service, business fees, telephone, etc. See how these expenses would continue on even if you have 0 sales? Any expenses that fall into this category are fixed expenses. Far too many small business owners never divide their expenses into fixed and variable. As a matter of fact, if you could have a business that had “0” fixed expenses; this would be the best of all worlds, why? If you had “0” sales, you would have “0” expenses. So the closer you could get to this the better you would be.

2. Variable expenses are those expenses that track directly with sales. If sales stop they stop. These are expenses like supplies used to support in the making of your product or doing your service. Such things as shipping cost for raw materials for your product or service. If you have no sales then you’re not going to be purchasing materials so your shipping cost for those materials will stop as well. As an example, if you have a lawn mowing business and there are no lawns to mow, then you wouldn’t be buying gasoline to travel to your lawn mowing site. These kinds of things are variable expenses. If you’re producing a product, it would include supplies used to produce that product like sand paper, glue, finishing materials, cutting tools, etc.

3. Labor and material costs are also directly proportionate to sales. These are things that go directly into the making of the product or into doing the service.

a. Labor cost is the actual direct labor used in the making of product or doing the service. The cost would also include all the fringe benefits like social security, payroll taxes, vacation pay, holidays, sick pay days, etc.
b. Material costs are all the materials used in the making of product or in doing the service. In the lawn mower service as an example it would be the gasoline used in the mower and any other materials used directly in that service. For producing a product it would be all the materials used in the product that is sent to the customer including all the packaging materials.

Average Selling Price

Now when you calculate your average selling price which is your cost of sales (material + labor) divided by (1-gross profit), you can determine how many customers you would need and then come up with what you think your conversion rate would be for converting leads to customers, you can determine how many leads you would need. Then from this and with the aid of the U.S. Census Bureau and some basic research on your own you can actually have a pretty decent idea of what size your market is and is going to be in the future so you can see if it will support your business plan or not.

So if you can put this all together, you can have a complete business operating plan that would show you exactly what your business would need to do to give you the income and profit you would like to have and a rough idea whether your market would support it or not. All you would have left to do would be to figure out how to make it all happen.

It’s like planning backwards.

1. Determine what you want in life
2. Figure out what your business would need to do to give you that life.
3. Figure out how long it would take you to reach it.
4. Figure out how big of a market it would take each of the years you’re planning for.
5. Then see if that market is big enough.

Isn’t this a much better way to go about planning your business? Shouldn’t your business be designed to give you want you want instead of you working yourself to death just hoping for the best?

So how would you go about calculating all this?

There is quite a bit of calculations and you should know a little about business principles but it isn’t that complicated. So first let’s look at figuring out your future needed sales with this formula:

Projected sales = fixed expenses divided by (1-(var exp % of existing sales + mat cost % of existing sales + lab cost % of existing sales + desired net prof %))

So, let’s say you existing sales is $850,000 annually, your fixed expenses are $275,000, variable expenses is $55,000 or 6.5% of the $850,000, material cost is $236,000 or 27.8%, labor cost is $109,000 or 12.8%, and your existing profit margin is $175,000 or 20.6%.

Now let’s say next year you want to have a profit margin of 25% so what would your sales need to be to give you that profit margin? Now you might think you would simply tack on 4.4% more to sales (25% – 20.6%) and you would have it. Well not quiet. it doesn’t work that way because you are going to have the additional variable expenses, material cost, and labor cost too. Remember, the more sales the more each of these expenses and cost will be.

So here is how you would do it:

Projected sales = fixed exp ($275,000) divided by 1-(6.5% + 27.8% + 12.8% + 25% (your new profit margin) = $896,057 (new sales)

You can do this for as many years out as you want. Obviously this is based on your first year’s fixed expenses remaining constant and no consideration of depreciation, inflation, or taxes.

But most likely you would need to increase your fixed expenses because you’re going to probably have more rent, utilities, or such as your business grows. So, you would simple put in your new fixed expense number in place of the existing one for each of the years you would be planning for.

So, you see if you decided you wanted a 35% profit margin at year 5 then you could see how much sales it would take to give you that.

Now it’s also important to know how many more customers you would need as well so you should always look at that unless you have another way of growing your sales other than with new customers.

Let’s say your average selling price for your service is $925.50 and you have one transaction per year per customer.

Using that first years sales example we used above, you would calculate it this way.

$896,057 divided by $925.50 = 968 customers needed for the year. Now if your average transactions per customer are more than 1, then you would need fewer customers. As an example, let’s say your average transaction per customers per year is 2.5 then 968 divided by 2.5 = 387 customers per year.

Now let’s say you estimate your conversation rate to be 3% of turning leads into paying customers with the advertising method you’re going to use, how many leads would need to contact to get 387 customers? Simply divide 387 by 3% and you get 12,909 leads you’re going to need to contact.

Then the question is; is your market going to be big enough to provide you with 12,909 leads for the next year and how many will you need each of the following years?

It may be easier than you think to figure this out. You would do some research and with the aid of the U.S. Census Bureau you can roughly determine whether your plan can be supported by your market or not.

So what do you think? Is it better to build a business plan around what you want in life then see how your business can maybe give you that or is it better to use a sample business plan for a small business where you are probably guessing?

I’d love to help you some more. Please go to http://www.StrategicBusinessSolutionsLLC.com and see what might be available.

How To Get High Quality Sales Leads Fast For Your Small Business

September 2008 will forever be remembered in American history. That was the historic time frame when the Government of the United States began bailing out major banks and the Big 3 in the auto industry. That’s when the word recession creeped its way into Americans hearts and minds.

Ever since that dreadful month countless small businesses have closed down. Many entrepreneurs, business owners, sales people, really people from all walks of life have been affected by this recession. They have not been able to adapt to the drastic change in the short amount of time.

Those that have are rapidly chipping away at their golden goose egg that has kept them a float for the past few years. But once used to be a nest egg for retirement has turned into just a few months of money to live off of. Any person that is involved with their community will tell you that small businesses are the back bone of America.

That being the case how do we help solve this problem of so many of them closing down for good? Go into any small or large town and you will see small businesses that have been around for decades no longer open for business. In my observation and speaking with a handful of business owners I am convinced of the main reason they are not succeeding in this new economy.

They have failed to adapt to the new way that customers are doing business. Simply put these small business owners are not putting their product in front of the right customers. They are not marketing. And to be quite honest most can’t afford to spend a single dime on marketing efforts.They are too busy pinching pennies as it is.

So what is the solution to this epidemic? The answer is simple. Leads. Sales leads. But not just any sales leads, high quality sales leads. If you are a small business owner you may be thinking that you can’t afford to buy any sales leads. Trust me I understand.

What if there were a way you can leverage technology to produce targeted leads for your business in an instant?

I’m not suggesting you spend a single dime on these leads. I want to show you how you can possibly save your business from closing down and start generating positive cash flow again.

If you are already thinking that you can’t afford to pay someone to market your business and get these leads have no fear.