Last night as I was working out (and admittedly a little bored with my routine and lamenting my lack of results), I realized that marketing a small business is a lot like trying to lose weight. It takes a sustained effort. Results don’t happen over night (or after just one workout or one healthy meal) and they are a bit unpredictable (why did I lose weight from there when I was working out this body part?). You have to be diligent – you can’t skip a month and expect to pick back up where you left off without consequence. And without a plan, you’ll flit from one thing to the next without much success.
That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? It would be so much easier if we didn’t have to put in the work. If there was an easier way. And while some marketing ideas are easier than others, it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and your phone begins ringing.
Yet as small business owners we’re lured by the next shiny idea. The promise of easy, over night results. We’re easily distracted. We fail to understand that we need to be disciplined about our marketing efforts if we want to succeed.
Here are a few guidelines any small business owner should follow when it comes to marketing:
1) Stick to it. Just like exercise and diet, the best marketing ideas don’t result in immediate sales. It’s the slow drip over time that builds gets you results. Yet many small business owners want instant gratification. And with online media that show us instant results like click through rates, open rates and instant feedback, it’s easy to think that all marketing efforts should follow suit. But they don’t. And many very successful marketing efforts don’t give you this kind of immediate feedback. Don’t move on to the next ‘get results fast’ idea before you have given your marketing activities an opportunity to work. A good rule of thumb for seeing results with traditional marketing efforts is at least 3 months. If you don’t see results after that, you may want to move on.
2) Stop looking for the magic pill! You may disagree, but in my experience there isn’t a magic weight loss formula. And similarly, there’s not magic answer to marketing your small business. You have to try a lot of things. You have to invest your time and your money in marketing a business if you want it to grow. You aren’t going to get too far exclusively using ‘free’ tools.
3) Measure. (but not obsessively). Those who count calories see the greatest weight loss. Why? Because they are more aware of what they are putting in their mouths. People who weigh themselves regularly (but not daily) know where they stand. Measure every single marketing effort you spend time and resources on. Find out where clients are hearing about you when they come in the door and when they call you. Track it. Measure what is working over time and what is not. Are auctions steadily bringing you new clients, but are they the lowest value clients you have? If so, you may want to rethink your strategy with this type of marketing.
4) Mix it up. Just because something has worked for 10 years, doesn’t mean it will continue to work. Your body, just like your customers, grows immune to the same old, same old stimulus. Keep your customers engaged and excited with new promotions, new products and new ideas. Over time it’s harder to get their attention. Have a plan to ramp up your efforts regularly to get their attention.
Like diet and exercise, some marketing efforts will work better for you than they do others. That’s normal. Marketing is a science. We’re uncovering new things every day. It changes. What’s your best marketing idea? How has it worked for your business?