Attention small business owners
You know that terror that seems to consume you, that fear that the world is out to steal your customers, lower your revenue and destroy your hopes of retiring to the mediterranean?
Well, you can stop worrying about it, because the great news is, your worst fear has finally been identified.
Now, before you roll your eyes and bemoan the waste of 10 seconds of your life, let me explain ...
1. You think that growing your business is about keeping everything secret and making your customers pay for everything
Sound familiar? Small businesses start with a bright idea and a passionate founder. In my experience the age of the entrepreneur plays a big part in determining what happens next.
According to the FT, record numbers of over 50's in the UK are starting their own business. Often it's their first experience of life as the boss and they approach their new challenge with a mindset shaped by years in corporates, smothered by layers of bureaucracy.
Today, customers expect companies to be generous. We search the web for information, read reviews, look for star ratings and generally form our opinions about brands based on third party endorsements and discussions. Businesses can no longer be faceless entities, they need to have personalities. People still buy from people, but now we can do it virtually so perception counts more than ever. Do you want to spend your money with the mean, hard to deal with company, or the benevolent and helpful one?
Think about what you could give away to gain visibility and ultimately more customers. It doesn't have to have a physical value - kindness, time and effort all count Just as free samples draw the crowds at the farmers market, downloads, tester kits and trial sessions give customers a chance to experience your brand without risk and hopefully keep them coming back for more.
2. Your marketing is stuck in a time warp
- It's all about you
- You never contribute of even mention third parties
- There's no need for a marketing plan
- You equate professionalism with business speak
You know who you are. Once upon a time, all a company needed was a website. This gave them a one way system, to tell the world all the fascinating product features that would have them lining up to buy. Fast forward a few years and a website is the least you should have, customers are self educating and only third party endorsements will persuade us to part with our cash.
The best ideas need visibility and an audience if they're to spread. Your story is not about you anymore. It's about your customers - their wants, their needs, their values. This brave new world means that companies need to think in terms of the problems that they solve, answering frequently asked questions, showing how they compare with the competition and demonstrating beyond any doubt, that your product is the only one worth buying.
Despite multiple examples to the contrary, marketing should not be regarded as another name for sales prevention.
3. You've got a Facebook page/Twitter account [insert any social platform here] but you don't know why or how to use it.
This is you, if your Facebook page is only liked by your mum and your Twitter icon is an egg. I exaggerate a little, but we've all seen those social media pages with all the signs of a well intentioned new years resolution - one post and minimal details. Encouraging? I think not. Would you leave your shop window empty?
Social media provides a set of new tools to do old jobs. In the past you might have kept a journal, now you blog. You used to call friends to share news, now you post a Facebook update. It's all just human to human interaction, so stop worrying and start engaging.
Consumers use social media to make conversation and connections, to follow trends and to find information. What does your company provide in response?
4. You never measure or monitor your results - what is analytics anyway?
Guilty as charged? Then how do you even know who your customers are?
Having any form of online presence (website, Facebook page etc.) means that you can now collect and use data to understand what's working and what's not. This is commonly known as analytics and every social platform provides them.
Spending money on your business and not measuring the return on that investment is madness, especially since it's now so easy to access. You may not consider yourself to be a data dude, but spend twenty minutes a week looking at the graphs, charts and numbers available and you'll be amazed by your new found knowledge.
These are really helpful articles to get you started.
Google Analytics (websites)
5. You always undervalue what you've created
If you've recognised your business in any of the points above, there's a good chance that you're not as confident in your abilities as you should be.
Smaller companies are often scared to grow. They apologise for their size and lack of knowledge rather than doing anything about it. They expect customers to overlook bad design, lack of attention to detail or poor customer service, because they're a new business, or a freelancer or a family firm. Endless excuses mean that great products are overlooked and undervalued, so nobody wins.
Remember the passion that caused you to start or join your company and think about all those things which make you buy particular brands over others. Tiffany jewellery is just as famous for the little blue box as it is for the diamonds inside. Make sure your customers appreciate what you've produced and stop selling yourself short.
Time to take action?
I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes and love helping them understand and use marketing to grow. You can leave me a comment here or ask me your burning marketing questions on Twitter @VLindsay.