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Three frequent marketing problems all small businesses face and how to fix them
Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes. But regardless if they’re manufacturing a product, selling a service, or doing a little of both - most face similar problems, especially when it comes to marketing. Here are three problems we see commonly, along with possible solutions.
1) You don’t have enough time for marketing
Running a small business is a challenge, and your attention is pulled in many different directions. Marketing isn’t always a priority until a crisis occurs (i.e., sales slump, bad customer experience, etc.). Or sometimes time isn’t the true culprit; sometimes it’s simply an aversion to marketing because the business owner is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with what to do or how to do it. So it simply falls to the bottom of the list and subsequently isn’t given any time.
Make the time. It’s a simple solution in concept, but can be very difficult to carry through unless you really put in some effort. Dedicate a block of time each day or week to doing nothing but marketing. Start small but commit yourself to it, and keep at it to see results.
Or, if you’re truly unable to commit time to marketing (or if you’re loath to do it) then offload it to someone you trust. This could be a spouse, a child, or a trusted employee. Empower them and put them in charge of your business marketing and give them the tools, budget, and leeway to accomplish something. This can be a difficult leap of faith since more than likely they’re going to ask you to do things you’re uncomfortable doing or unfamiliar with - but you have to commit to it, and then hold them accountable if things fail. But you’ll never fly if you don’t jump first.
The other option is to hire an outside firm to handle your marketing. The challenge here is managing the risk vs ROI and pulling together a marketing budget. You can’t really hire a marketing firm and then expect them to work with no available funds. So plan accordingly. And again, it’s ok to hold the outside firm accountable. If they’re not delivering then boot them.
2) You offer the same thing as everyone else in your niche
The first step towards solving a problem is admitting you have one. Unfortunately, many small business owners guzzle their own kool-aid. Enthusiasm is good, but blind allegiance to your product or service isn’t helpful. One of the biggest challenges is remaining impartial when looking at your business and knowing when you need to differentiate more. Why is this critical? Because if you offer a similar service or similar product then you’ll generally end-up with only one negotiating point - price. And that’s a slow race to the bottom.
So step one, you need to look objectively at your business. Do you really offer something that’s unique or different? Chances are you don’t. And that’s OK. But you have to realize it before you go down the same path as every other entrepreneur who believes they offer ‘top quality” or the “best service.” Once you embrace you’re not unique, you’re on your way to finding a way to make yourself appear different – so you truly stand out.
Find the thing you do differently or that you do better and that isn’t “claimed or touted” by your competitors – and then use that to differentiate your business. It can be as simple as actually doing something that others merely claim. Take for example, Zappos; they sold shoes online. So did tons of others. But they built their business on their remarkable customer service. Competitors claimed to offer good customer service - but Zappos actually provided it. They excelled at it. And they’re still known for it - to the point that people write long complimentary posts and shares about just how wonderful Zappos customer service truly is. So they’re walking the walk, and that’s how they differentiated - even though others sold shoes and said they had great service too.
But don’t just limit your thinking to the standard business platitudes. Think bigger. Think different. Did you open a frozen yogurt shop in the vicinity of twenty other chain froyo stores? Don’t worry. Evaluate your competition and see how you can be different. Can you market yourself as a Mom & Pop / family operation that helps the local community? Can you cater to teenagers or commuters? Paint your interior purple and market yourself as the purple people eatery for frozen yogurt? The key is to find some way to stand out and to market on this distinction.
Take my first suggestion - a local family business that helps local community. Do that and do it well. Contact your mayor’s office, local representatives, and have them come in for a visit to hold a community “town hall” talk… with frozen yogurt. Contact local charity organizations and arrange donation events. Contact schools, local sports teams, and sponsor them and hold fundraising events. Become involved in the local community and walk the walk.
3) Your business needs to pivot but you’re resisting
Sometimes you start out doing well and then the market or consumer tastes shift. Other times you start your business based on one idea but discover that consumers want something a bit different. Again, this is ok. Few business can function and maintain themselves in the same way they did when they were founded.
Change is inevitable. But it shouldn’t be feared. Too often business owners that had success or who are strong willed will be resistant to change - and will cling to doing business as usual. Phrases like “It’s worked for years” or “that’s how we’ve always done it” are strong indicators that you’ve got a problem. And it may be just a simple pivot in your business can reward you with success - but you have to be willing to pivot.
Have the courage to recognize when a change is needed and the fortitude to actually do it. Again, it’s easy to say it but often herculean to accomplish. You’ll face resistance from yourself and from others. But if you see a change is necessary - or if others are suggesting it again and again - then you need to pivot. Sometimes it can mean changing dramatically - but if business as usual isn’t working - then a drastic change is probably required.
If you’re unsure or unable to recognize that change is necessary then you can always hire an outside professional either temporarily or long-term. Lots of business owners retrain business coaches or have a cadre of trusted advisors they can turn to for advice and guidance. The challenge will be having the willingness to listen and to heed their advice, and to pivot before it’s too late.
Jan 14, 2016
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