Small businesses have few resources, so they need to get a lot of mileage out of what they do have.
How do they generate successful marketing campaigns that generate revenue and a long term position in a market without breaking the bank?.
Following are 13 ways that I have found to be successful in 20 years of advising small businesses. It is also fair to acknowledge that 20 years ago, the astonishing range of tools now available were barely in the minds of science fiction writers. There has been a revolution, and small businesses suddenly have the opportunity to look like and act like large ones, while retaining the advantages of being small.
1. Hone your elevator pitch.
You need to be able to engage a prospect in a very short time, sounds easy, but is very hard. The pitch is rarely about the product or service you have, although this is the subject of 9/10 pitches, the successful ones are about the outcomes your product can deliver to the prospect.
Small businesses have great opportunities to collaborate with others with complementary products and services. The shoe shop with the dress shop, the florist with the liquor shop, the chiropractor with the gym, and so on.
3. Leverage social media.
I am often asked about the value of Social media, and can only respond by observing “that is where your customers are, so why would you not be there?”. However, managing social media can however become a burden if you try and do it all yourself. Listen to and believe many of the pundits with a silver bullet to sell, and you risk finding yourself lighter in the wallet, but no further forward, but trying to do it all yourself consumes considerable resources. The advent of digital marketing tools has not changed the basic foundations of marketing at all, just made them more accessible, and so outsourcing the bits you do not know how to do offers great opportunities for leverage.
4. Have a digital presence beyond a Facebook page.
If your marketing effort is all about Facebook, you have missed the boat. Facebook is a fantastic way of connecting, but it is only one, and it is not the best place o transact business, or cover the final step prior to a transaction, that is best done on a website. Social media delivers a set of great tools to drive people to a website, and start the process of engagement, moving them through a “funnel” towards a transaction, but it is only one of the tools needed. Refer above.
5. Foster creativity
The management structures of large businesses are designed to ensure the repeatability of process, so that they are not dependent on the knowledge and commitment of individuals. Therein lies their weakness, as another way of looking at a process is that it delivers multiple opportunities to say “no”. Find ways to foster the creativity of those in your networks, or out of them currently who have expertise and knowledge that can be applied to your sphere of operations.
Network relentlessly. Get out of the building, create networks and friendships that know about your businesses, what it does, its “Why” and it will enable over time organic growth.
6. Open envelopes.
A colleague of mine once said disparagingly about a mutual acquaintance that he would “go to the opening of an envelope”. On talking to this bloke on another occasion, he laughed and indicated that it was right, so long as he could wield the letter opener, meaning, he had an opportunity to put a point of view, and be the focus of some attention, even if only for a moment. I always thought it a good idea to take every opportunity to speak, as it builds credibility, and as a result, builds a business organically. It follows that you also need to be a competent public speaker, so if you are not, get some training, or opening envelopes at the local “toastmasters” group would be a good idea.
7. Seek referrals.
The most powerful marketing is word of mouth. When someone we trust tells us that a particular product or service is good, we tend to believe it, and will try it out when the need arises. Referrals are now hackneyed, as many web sites have them from people we have never heard of, and often we think the site owner probably wrote his own, but that does not diminish the power of the personal referral. Seek the personal referrals out, ask for them, post them, and build “social proof” in other ways.
8. Be the expert.
Whatever is your niche, make sure that you present yourself, and indeed are, an expert. The world is full of experts, but for a small business, if you are the expert in your local area, and those around who may need you understand you are the expert, who will get the business as it evolves?
9. Build relationships.
People buy from people, not businesses. I know that sounds odd with all the stuff being sold on line, but look at the sites that are successful, beyond the mega sites like Amazon and Alibaba, they all have a human face, and a personality. You might be sending your money via a credit card to a business you are not familiar with, but 9 times in 10, you would have looked at the profile of the “face” of the business, looked at the products they sell and endorse, sought some sort of social proof. You get to feel that in some way you know them, then you might buy. An old mentor of mine used to say, “Success comes to those who build many bridges, and never burn one”
Most small businesses are local by their nature, be sure that your customers know where you are, that they can get their hands around your throat if necessary, but more importantly have a cup of coffee with you wen all is going well. Local, and the human touch that brings is enormously valuable. Even large businesses are localising. I rang the customer service lines of one of the banks recently, with a complaint, something they had done which had (presumably) unintended consequences on me, and I was nit happy. The first call was answered by a call centre, clearly not in Australia, the first hand-off was to the supervisor, again clearly nowhere near Australia, by which time I was getting really annoyed, but the third was to someone in a local call centre, who handled the problem quickly, easily, and in a language we both had as our first.
11. Offer incentives.
Most times these words are uttered, the first thing that springs to mind are discounts. These may play a role, but are far from the only ones. Time limits, quantity limits, guarantees, freemium, there are all sorts of incentives that do not require you to make a sale at a discount, many of them when used creatively will actually increase your conversion rates by adding some urgency to the selling process.
12. Everyone is in sales.
In every business, particularly small businesses, everyone in the business needs to recognise that they are in sales, that their job relies on selling, irrespective of the title they may have on their business card. This particularly applies to some of the marketing people out there who seem to think their job ends before accountability begins.
13. Promise the world, then deliver + Mars.
Under promising then over delivering used to be an effective strategy, but it has lost its gloss. Promising the world is easier than ever, and there are more people than ever making those promises in your space. Today you need to be known as the one who promises the world, like all the others, but then delivers with more than was promised. In effect it is an over delivery on the expected over delivery.
If you can do all of these, even a majority, the world is your oyster.