The 8 Elements of Small Business Marketing Success
If there one thing we’ve learned from working with numerous small businesses on their marketing strategies, it’s this: There is way too much noise and confusion. Business owners and marketing directors are bombarded with advice (often conflicting advice) and continuous sales pitches for the latest marketing solutions that are sure to double their sales.
If you ever feel overwhelmed by it all, you’re not alone.
In this post, we’re going to help you cut through the noise and help you focus on what we believe are the MOST IMPORTANT elements of the marketing mix for small to medium-sized businesses.
While it’s impossible to present these elements in a strict priority order that applies to all businesses, we have attempted to provide general direction through our order of presentation. In other words, as we consult with clients, there is often a similar and logical order in which they should proceed… we’ve tried to reflect that order here.
So shut out all the pitches. Resist the temptation to lose focus based on your Cousin Eddie’s advice. Stay focused on these 8 elements for the foreseeable future and we promise you’ll be on the right track.
1. Create a powerful website
We can’t overemphasize the importance of having a great website. It’s the reason we list this element in the number one position. Your website is the face of your company. It prompts those positive or negative knee-jerk judgements that prospects will make. It’s the first step in your “dating” relationship. It’s your window to the outside world.
Your website is also the central hub that supports most other elements of your marketing mix. It’s your toolbox filled with a variety of tools to turn casual visitors into interested prospects.
Honestly, we see WAY too many clients that have been spending WAY too much money sending traffic to terrible websites. This is (almost literally) like flushing dollars down the drain.
If you know – deep down in your gut – that your website stinks, here’s our advice to you: Be decisive, dial back your promotion now (as in RIGHT NOW – seriously) and put 100% of your efforts into creating a more effective website.
What’s an effective website?
Forget all the fancy design talk, here’s what you’re shooting for:
- A website that is visually engaging
- A website that contains strong sales copy that connects with people
- A website that converts casual visitors into sales leads
It all starts with this. Get your website right and all other aspects of your marketing will become easier and more effective.
2. Implement a Marketing Automation System
If your website is the central hub for your prospect-facing content, a marketing automation system is your “command center.” It allows you to establish and manage your entire lead generation process – things like forms to capture leads, a database to store and segment your contacts, integrated email marketing, individual lead nurturing campaigns, lead scoring, and task automation.
Your initial thought might be that a marketing automation system sounds too complex… something you should consider down the road. We see it differently; we view a marketing automation system as absolutely foundational, and something that should be considered a must-have for most small businesses. It was our first investment back when we started Higgins Marketing Group.
- It forces you to become “process oriented in your marketing”. That’s key to your success.
- It allows you to scale your marketing efforts without adding more employees.
- It can be implemented fairly easily and is affordable (in the range of $200-$300 per month)
With a solid website and a technology in place to automate your lead generation and nurturing, now it’s time to start filling the funnel!
3. Create “Lead Magnets” and Build Your Prospect List
The most valuable asset in a marketer’s portfolio is a list of interested prospects. If you are not currently building your marketing list, you are missing a huge opportunity. We’d encourage you to start right away.
One of the most effective ways to build your list is through the use of lead magnets… basically exchanging valuable content in exchange for prospect information (usually name and email address). Our use of the word “valuable” is key here. Just like your website, your content is a direct reflection on your company. Never take advantage of a prospect’s trust (i.e., their willingness to share their information) by providing them with crap content. It might work in the short term, but we can guarantee you’ll be in your prospect’s crosshairs as soon as they receive your first follow-up email… 3 – 2 – 1 unsubscribe… opportunity lost.
Instead, don’t be afraid to give them some of your best stuff! It builds credibility and trust. It also makes them more receptive to your messaging going forward.
One final note: Make no mistake, a purchased list is no substitute for organic list building. Yes, it’s easy to pay $1,000 for a list of 10,000 “targeted” contacts, but there is a huge difference between people who are familiar and interested in your company and those who are being blindsided by your communications. Organic list-building is a longer term effort, but the rewards are worth it.
4. Start Using Google AdWords
In our opinion, Google AdWords is the most powerful and flexible advertising tool that has ever existed for small business – that’s a big statement we know. We STILL find ourselves amazed by the power and flexibility of this tool for small business marketing. Just like email and social media have forever changed the way we communicate, AdWords has forever changed the world of small business marketing… IT’S THAT AWESOME!
So why is Google AdWords So Effective? Here are just the highlights…
- Unlike a print ad, email blast, or cold call, AdWords allows you to get in front of prospects at the EXACT right time – when they are in the buying mindset. And guess what? They happen to be looking for what you have to offer!
- You may be a small business, but for a moment in time, you own the exact same real estate and you have the exact same marketing opportunity as the big boys with multi-million dollar marketing budgets. Big or small, everyone plays by the same rules, and this is a huge advantage for small companies.
- You’re in full control… and in real time! AdWords is beyond flexible. You have complete freedom to define your target market, to choose the keywords you think will work best, to write your ad copy, and to dictate your daily budget to ensure a profit.
- With AdWords, there is complete accountability for every dollar you spend. With proper analysis, you gain instant insight into what is working well and what is not. This means you have a great opportunity to improve your advertising over time and get more bang for your buck.
Bottom line, make sure AdWords is part of your marketing mix. If you need help from a Google Certified Expert, make sure and visit us at www.higginsmarketinggroup.com.
5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
While Google AdWords (and other pay-per-click platforms) can get you to the top of the search results page for your desired keywords, you don’t want to be 100% reliant on this traffic over the long haul.
That’s where search engine optimization becomes important. It helps you rank in the organic search results… and that’s a big deal. In fact, in a study conducted by GroupM and Nielson, search engine users overwhelmingly click on organic results on Google and Bing by a margin of 94 percent to 6 percent! Which odds do you like better 94% or 6%?
SEO has changed significantly in recent years. At least for most search terms, gone are the days when a smart marketer could make a handful of changes to their website and see rankings soar. Today, successful SEO is more complex and involves a host of “on-page” (on your website) factors as well as many “off-page” (things occurring outside your website) factors that measure your site’s overall relevance and credibility.
Of all the elements we’ve outlined in this guide, you can expect search engine optimization to lead the pack when it comes to cost. In general, you can expect to pay in the range of $1,000 – $2,000 per month for a reputable SEO firm to help secure local rankings. You can expect to pay in the range of $2,500 – $5,000+ per month for a reputable SEO firm to help secure rankings for national (non-local) search terms. While the costs can be a significant percentage of your overall marketing budget, the potential rewards are very high.
6. Blogging and Social Media
If you’re serious about carving out an online presence in your niche, communicating with the outside world has become an absolute priority. Social media has rapidly become a core part of the marketing mix – acting as a valuable “gateway” for new prospects to connect with you. It helps to establish your credibility, allows you to promote your services, and positively impacts your SEO efforts. And there’s more good news… social media usually represents a relatively low hard-dollar expense in the overall small business marketing budget.
There’s a catch, however. Being successful with social media requires a commitment to producing high-quality content and promoting that content (and others’ content) on a continuous basis. We recommend our clients produce and share at least one SEO-optimized blog post per week – anything over 400-500 words of content per post will avoid what Google considers “thin content”.
It’s important to view your social media efforts as a long-term proposition. Blogging is NOT the magic bullet that will immediately lead to a stream of qualified leads – it’s just not going to happen. By producing high quality content over the long-term, you will gain and engage your followers and you will gain credibility… it’s at that point you will start to see the hard work pay off!
7. Securing testimonials and online reviews
Although it’s rarely explicit, at some point in every buying process your prospects will cast a vote on whether they believe they can trust you. It’s your job to help them cast a favorable vote. One of the most effective ways to gain the trust of your prospects is by providing genuine testimonials from folks who’ve been happy with your product/service in the past.
The concept is a no brainer, but many small businesses fall down when it comes to execution. This is so important to marketing success that we advise our clients to create a formal and systematic process around securing testimonials from clients (if you use a marketing automation system like we mentioned earlier in this guide, you can even put the entire process on autopilot!).
Once you’ve secured the testimonials and permission from the client to use them publically, get them out there for the world to see! Again – make this part of your ongoing process – not a one-off activity when you get around to it. Aim to feature your testimonials:
- On your website
- On your social media profiles
- In press releases and newsletters
- On review sites like Google+, Manta, YP, and Yelp (you’ll want to ask clients to post these)
- In a stand-alone “testimonial library” that can be provided to prospects
- In online, print, and radio ad
8. Asking for Referrals
So we’re referencing a page from old-school Sales 101. Why? Because it’s as relevant and effective today as it was 100 years ago. If you don’t have a process in place to ask your existing clients for referrals, you are overlooking a valuable source of high-quality sales leads.
Maybe you feel a little uncomfortable asking for referrals. Our advice is to quickly get past that thinking. If you’ve done a great job for your clients, they’ll be your biggest fans! You’ve absolutely earned the right to ask for referrals. It’s a simple and tactful ask, and in most cases clients are happy to introduce others who might also benefit.
Our advice is to send an email or place a personal phone call to every single client 14 days after they have made a purchase (or you’ve delivered your service). Companies often pair a referral request with a customer satisfaction survey. While that might be easy, we advise against this. From our experience, you will have more success by treating your referral request as a separate (and important) request.
So here’s OUR ASK.
You’re initial impression to this post may be, “OK… makes sense, but I’m aware of these things.” However, we challenge you to view this as a roadmap for your execution – literally working down the list from top to bottom and optimizing each element in the proposed mix.
You may be a sophisticated marketer and this roadmap only requires a few weeks of tweaking. You may be starting from scratch and this roadmap represents a year or two of work. Whatever the case, it’s fine. The important thing is to keep this post as a resource and work through each element one at a time and in priority order.
Like most things in life, there’s no silver bullet to marketing success. It’s a combination of hard work and using the right tactics. Based on our first-hand experience working with small businesses, we’ve just offered you the right tactics. Now it’s time for the hard work! If the team at Higgins Marketing Group can support you in any way, we’d be honored.