Marketing is an expense, but it can also be considered an investment in the success of your small business. When done correctly, it can build your brand, draw prospective customers to your website or store, and ultimately drive revenue.
To make the most of your marketing dollars and successfully promote your small business, you’ll want to avoid the following mistakes.
1. Not making market research a priority
Market research, one of the first stages in the marketing process, is used to confirm demand for your business’s product or service, identify its target market and assess competitors.
“If we think of marketing, it’s not only the promotion of services, the promotion only of products. It’s the creation of products. It’s the creation of services. It’s connecting with people,” says Islam Gouda, a marketing scholar and author. “As a small business, I want to understand how my customers are thinking about different aspects in terms of their wants or their needs.”
When researching your target market, consider the platforms and channels they frequent and market your business there.
”Make sure that you’re really focusing on how people are going to find you,” says Jennifer Fortney, president of Cascade Communication, a PR and marketing communications company based in Chicago. Beyond the largest, most popular platforms, Fortney suggests also looking into niche publications and local magazines.
2. Brand inconsistency
“Always have consistent branding across all your channels: your social media, your LinkedIn profile, your website, your brochures, your fliers, whatever it is,” says Vanessa Castillo Bell, a consultant for the Arizona Minority Business Development Agency. “Once you have consistent branding all across your channels, your customers will recognize your brand.”
Establish brand guidelines for the logos, colors, images and text you’ll use across your marketing materials. Consistent branding creates a brand identity that looks professional and can offer benefits such as increased customer trust and loyalty — which can all lead to higher revenue for your business.
3. Not having a clear website strategy
There are many platforms on which to market your business, but your website is especially important. “Businesses own their website. That’s their online home,” Castillo Bell says. Therefore, you have complete control over what information you provide and how.
Castillo Bell recommends learning search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and identifying keywords that your customers would use to search for your products and business. Including those keywords in blogs, newsletters, white papers, videos and other types of content marketing can help your website appear on search engine results pages and gain traffic. Optimizing your website for mobile — since many consumers search online using their phones — is another key step, Castillo Bell says.
You’ll also want to make important details about your business easily accessible to website visitors. “If you’re a local business, be very specific about your location, what areas you serve, and put all of that information on your website,” Fortney says.
4. Expecting immediate results from marketing
Building an effective marketing strategy requires patience; however, a mistake many businesses make is that “they are looking for a quick process,” Gouda says. “They are looking to generate revenue on the spot. They do not wait for return on investment,” he says. Ultimately, “they confuse marketing and sales.”
In reality, the results from your marketing strategy may not be noticeable for months. Researching your target audience, creating consistent messaging in all your marketing materials and exploring free marketing ideas can all help you stay the course.
5. Using too many social media channels
From Facebook and YouTube to Instagram, TikTok and many more platforms, social media is a great place to market your business. However, trying to build an online presence on multiple channels doesn’t guarantee success.
“Just because a social media outlet or a social media platform exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. If you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll do none of it well,” Fortney says. “Own one. Pick one that’s the best for your business and your product or service, own it.”
After you’ve become successful in managing one platform, consider whether you want to add another social channel to your marketing strategy.
6. Not utilizing free resources
Before paying consultants to help with your marketing strategy, “one resource you should take advantage of is your free agencies,” Castillo Bell says.
The U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Centers, Minority Business Development Agencies and community development financial institutions, as well as nonprofit organizations for women, minorities and veteran small-business owners, can all be good options when you need free or low-cost help with your marketing plan.