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What's your must-follow marketing rule?

Marketing can be tricky for small businesses without dedicated marketing departments. We asked small business owners how they stay on top of it, and here’s what they said.
Written by Emily Schwab

Want to get more tips directly from other small business owners and employees? Learn more about our new Small Business Community newsletter here.

Marketing has long been essential to staying in front of your customer base. With COVID-19 impacting the world in different ways, small businesses are changing the way they approach marketing to be more empathetic. These challenges give small businesses a chance to emphasize their personal touch, and we asked small businesses for their top marketing tips.

Plan your marketing strategy around existing relationships; build relationships before you market.

The most effective marketing happens when you can leverage an existing relationship. For small businesses, word-of-mouth referrals tend to be the "stickiest" kind of referral -- it follows that if you trust the recommendations of your peers, your prospects in the same industry would trust each other too.

Building a relationship with your prospects or clients prior to marketing to them strengthens your chances of finding and developing a company advocate. An advocate is someone that people trust, who actively promotes your company -- not because they're paid to, but because they want to. Having personal relationships with your leads and clients helps you turn them into advocates, and also gives you the opportunity to learn about what appeals to them.

"There are many things that cannot be accomplished in a discussion that begins with 'Hi my name is...'".
Invest in knowing people before you plan to sell them something. I learned this the hard way."
- Dennis O'Toole,  SWISSS Field Service Technologies

Marketing becomes much less intimidating when you not only know how your target audience wants to be marketed to, but when they also actively market you to each other.

Set a measurable goal for every campaign; identify what success would mean.

It's easy to think of every marketing goal as "more clients", or "more leads", or "more profit". But a lot of what you do with marketing is about turning knobs and pulling levers to see what can be tweaked to optimize an advertising campaign, an email newsletter, a webinar etc. It's impossible to know what knobs and levers you can manipulate if you don't have very specific goals or metrics that you are measuring. 

Resident marketer of LACRM, Eunice, recommends:

"Always identify a goal for your marketing campaign, and determine the metric that lets you know whether or not you have achieved that goal."

Here at LACRM, we never start a marketing or advertising campaign without first setting a very tangible and measurable goal. Here's an example. At LACRM, our customer journey is straightforward:

Small biz owner/employee -> Prospect -> Trial user -> Subscriber

Every marketing campaign that we do targets just one step in this journey (if not, it's too broad). The goal is always to either increase the number of people in a specific stage, or increase the likelihood of movement from one stage to the next. If my goal is to increase the number of trial users, one example metric for success would be for my advertising campaign to increase website visits by 2x a day.

We only count that marketing campaign as a success if we hit that 2x visit goal. If not, let's tweak.

Use tracking links to measure your returns on investment; analyze your results to determine where to spend your marketing dollars.

Once you start investing money into your marketing efforts, the next big thing to know is whether or not that money was well-spent.

Tracking can be a bit of a beast because it can sometimes require a little technical skill (if you're doing website and link tracking), but it's the only surefire way to let you know if your marketing initiative is effective. It's worth taking the extra time to learn about how your advertising system or marketing tool lets you see where your leads are coming from, to ensure you can make the most of your results. 

"Make sure that your marketing dollars are ACTUALLY getting you a positive Return On Your Investment by making sure it is trackable! I've always put my business on the line by telling customers that if what I do is not making you money back after 90 days then don't do it! I'm not in business to take people's money, I'm in business to make people money!"
- Shane Copeland,  970VIP

If you've got a small marketing team, or are doing your own marketing, start small. It's much easier to track how a campaign is going when you just have one to stay on top of. Some things to think about:

What is the maximum amount of money you are willing to spend to get one new lead? (Called "cost per lead")

(Say you spent $100 on an ad campaign and the cost per lead you've calculated is $10. If you receive fewer than 10 leads from that ad campaign, this was not a cost-effective campaign for you.)

How many touches, on average, does it take for you to convert one lead into a client, customer, or advocate?

(If you're crafting an onboarding campaign for your leads for them to get to know you, this helps you make sure you have enough emails in your campaign to keep leads interested!)

How are people finding your website, or hearing about your company?

(Start by marketing to where your existing relationships are, and where you already have a lot of traction. If a lot of people are hearing about you through LinkedIn, focus on LinkedIn marketing first.)

Consider the answers to each of those questions when you approach each new marketing campaign. If you make it halfway through a campaign and aren’t getting the conversions or results you need, take the time to adjust now. Making subtle changes to your marketing strategy can get you closer to your goal, and helps familiarize you with what types of changes make impacts on your marketing strategy.

Set a consistent marketing schedule; it's easier to maintain a relationship than to start one afresh.

Keeping to a consistent marketing schedule was the tip of the day with our community members. Whether it be in-person meetings or regular emails, consistently making sure that your audience knows that you're still around is not only a way for them to keep up with you, it's an open channel that you are providing for them to reach out to you.

"I have to be consistent with my marketing. My clients have to know that I am still there with content that relates to them and where they are in the current mental, physical, and social atmosphere."
- Judi McCormick,  Judi McCormick Jewelry

Too small to have your own customer support team or onboarding strategy? Let your marketing fill the gap. You'd be surprised at how often our own email marketing doubles up as customer support.

Plan out and track what schedule is most effective for the type of marketing you choose to do as well. An email a week might be too much for some industries, and might be much too infrequent for others. The key to knowing how much is too much? Leverage your existing relationships with your clients and leads (as per Dennis' tip above) to learn about how you fit into their lives.

Some tools to have at hand? A CRM, an email marketing tool (Mailchimp, Drip, Constant Contact), and a social media post manager (Buffer, Hubspot).

"Keep your contacts warm. Stay in touch, visit, express interest, or follow up twice a year, quarterly, monthly, or weekly depending on the relationship and current projects.
I came to this after discovering several times that it was much harder to restart a connection than to have kept it warm in the first place. LACRM has been an invaluable tool to help me stay on top of this."
- Natalie Settles,  Natalie Settles Studios, LLC

Marketing shouldn’t be too hard as long as you take things slow. Remember to approach each campaign with a specific goal, and build from there. Use a CRM or other tool to make sure you know who you’re marketing to, and let your empathy shine through the content.

All of our tips today came directly from readers and contributors to our Small Business Community Tips newsletter. This is a newsletter community for small business owners and employees to ask questions and get answers from their peers. If you like what you've read and would like to contribute questions and tips, and read more future issues, click here to join the newsletter.

Posted on May 1, 2020
Filed under Small Business Tips
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