The Real World Struggles of Small Business Marketing

I just got back from the dentist earlier this evening. Final visit of 4 (thank god!) and I have finally been given a clean bill of dental health. 🙂

While I was waiting to see my dentist, I got talking to the practise manager and we started discussing promoting a typical small business (like a dentist) in the 21st Century digital age.

I’ve had probably 5-10 dental clients in the past, so I’m pretty familiar with what it takes to get them up and running successfully on AdWords.

It was fascinating to me how busy this practise was just doing the dentist thing, that marketing themselves (particularly online) was such a low priority that it sounds like it’s at the bottom of the to-do list, yet they DO know how important it is to their future success. For them, it was part time-challenges (what small biz owner isn’t super-busy) and also a complete lack of any practical knowledge on what to actually do, that has held them up tapping into the power of online marketing.

For me, it was horrifying that marketing would be relegated to the bottom of the list, but I guess when you work in an industry, you get so deep into it that it’s difficult to be impartial or unbiased about it.

Because I came up through the ranks the hard way (so to speak) in my earlier sales career, I am intimately familiar with how tough it is to find your own sales prospects when you can only do things like telemarketing (which a lot of businesses still do).

The first time you get a qualified lead given to you from an ad campaign, it’s like all your Christmases have come at once, and it gets very easy to become addicted to it the more it happens.

For the last 8-odd years, I have seen businesses struggle to get and keep a steady stream of leads coming to them, and the big difference a well executed marketing campaign can make to them. Suddenly the stress and aggravation of having to cold call and chase people for business is reduced significantly, and you’re getting decent quality enquiries from your website.

You can now afford to be a little choosy about whether you take on anyone as a client.

After all, not all clients are worth having, right?

C’mon, you can admit it. You HAVE had the client/s from hell, just like I have as well.

People who seem determined to make your life a misery, and are so obnoxious that they make you want to pull the plug and move to the swamps in Florida (with tha gators’n rednecks 😉 ).

Well, when you have a solid pipeline because your lead generation system works like a rockstar, you can afford to turn away those prospects who you don’t think will be a good fit for your business.

Even better, if they seem good to start with, but turn feral on you a couple of weeks in, you can take joy in sacking them (with prejudice), knowing you’ve got plenty of good quality prospects ready to step up and take their place. 🙂

Life’s too short to put up with obnoxious people, let alone obnoxious customers!

Anyway, back to my dentist…

They finally have a website up and running, thanks to Sensis (god forbid!), but it’s taken a YEAR to get the content on it and live on the web!

As for any sort of actual promotion online, that may take another 3-6 months at the current rate of things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not having a go at them. I TOTALLY understand where they’re at.

They’re always busy, and more importantly, they really don’t know what to do.

Online promotion & marketing is still very much a foreign language to them.

They just don’t know what the best way forward is, and I guess that’s a big part of the go-slow situation they are in.

I would lay a large wager (and I am not a gambling man by nature) that there are a HEAP of other small businesses out there in this exact same situation.

They know it’s important to tap into the opportunities online, but they are almost paralyzed with fear and indecision, simply because there are too many options (facebook, twitter, SEO, AdWords, pinterest, social media, blogging, email marketing, PR, video marketing/youtube, etc etc etc) and they really don’t know what the best way forward is for them.

So, how do you get past this situation?

How do you put a plan into place to get your small business cranking online?

And, who can you trust to help you get there (cos that’s a biggie)?

While I don’t think there is one perfect answer to this situation, here’s my recommendations to get you moving forward.

1) Just do it! (props to Nike). Clichéd as it is, the journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step, so you just have to make a start.

Do 1 thing a day, even if its really small, to move towards a goal of online success.

2) Read and learn. Winners are readers (gods, another cliché, but true!) and lifelong learners.

Your local book shop, library, online bookstore (Amazon.com is my favourite) has the wisdom of ages available for practically nothing. All you have to do is start reading – there are HEAPS of great books on marketing your business online, whether you are a total newbie or a grizzled old veteran like me. I still order a couple of books on marketing from Amazon every month or 2, depending on what topic I am interested in at the time.

You could spend 3+ years at university learning a topic like marketing, or just buy the 20-40 best books on the subject and start reading, and before you know it, you would be a pretty good starter marketing genius.

3) Build yourself a website and get to work practising with it. The quicker you put your own site up, the quicker you can begin to take advantage of what the net has to offer for small business. If you have no idea how to build a website, go download my FREE ebook on how to build your own site and get started. Seriously, if you follow the simple instructions, you will have your very first website live on the interwebs in 1 hour!

Best part of all, you can build as many sites as you like (I have HEAPS of sites out there), once you get the hang of it. They can be your learning center – where you test different ideas out and get familiar with the net. AND, if we use my dentist as an example, they could build multiple sites designed to promote the different services they offer, each as a stand alone funnel back to 1 central site.

For example, 1 site could focus on cosmetic dentistry, another could focus on dental health/hygiene, 1 on teeth whitening, and 1 on crown & bridge work, etc.

Each site is its own cog in a large wheel. These sorts of sites can sometimes be easier to market online than 1 big site that covers everything they do.

Note: SOMETIMES, not always! 🙂

4) Network with other like-minded small business people to share the journey with. Sometimes we just need a friend who understands that this stuff is tough and can give you encouragement when you need it. Heck, I do this – it’s TOUGH being a lone voice in the wilderness out there. You have to connect with other people sometimes just to keep your spirits up and keep yourself focussed.

If  you have no idea how to do this, go check out meetup.com – it’s an awesome site to meet other like minded people:

Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.

Just here in Perth where I live and work, there are lots of meetup groups focussed on small business people, entrepreneurs, marketing, startups, etc. If there’s 1 meetup group in your town or city, there’s probably 20, 50, even 100 – so get searching for people to connect with (or start your own group!)

I run a local meetup for foodies in Perth, so if you’re in Perth and reading this, look us up and come along to an event. No, it’s not marketing focussed, but it is good fun. 🙂

5) If you have staff working for you, get them enthused with helping to promote your business. They can ALL contribute something to helping market your business, if you give them a good enough reason to get involved and enthusiastic. Many hands make light work.

6) If you don’t have staff, outsource some of it to an expert, BUT don’t just hand them the reins AND the horse. You should keep a close eye on things and guide things carefully. Don’t micromanage them though – just keep a close eye on things and make sure it follows your vision.

Sometimes business people are really just too busy to do all this stuff and outsourcing it makes sense. However, don’t use being busy as an excuse to not take responsibility for YOUR business’s success, or you will likely regret that sooner or later.

OK folks, well it’s 11.08pm and I NEED to get some shuteye! I hope the above thoughts and suggestions were helpful to you. Please post any questions you might have below, and if you have any recommendations for great books that would be helpful for small business owners, managers and entrepreneurs, mention them below for everyone to know about.

I will do a post soon on my favourite business and marketing books just to add some value to this post.