It’s no secret that small businesses face a plethora of challenges.
If you started your own business, you were probably faced with lots of “I could never do that” statements from friends and family. And they might be right! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of U.S. small businesses fail before making it through the first year. And the marketing challenges for small businesses are substantial.
You’ve clearly proven you’re up for the test, so let’s dive into some marketing challenges you’re likely facing — and how to minimize them.
Lack of resources is the number one barrier for most small businesses to expand or even begin marketing. For all businesses, operations tend to take priority over marketing because the business needs to run! It’s a horrible catch-22, to get sales, you need to market, but to market, you need to have fewer sales to give more bandwidth.
Let’s go over some of the ways this cycle hurts your bottom line and how you can start to break out of it.
1. Lack of marketing budget
Budget constraints are a problem in all areas for a small business. But the biggest mistake owners make is not earmarking some budget strictly for marketing. You’ll read tons of articles on how marketing in the social age is “free,” which makes entrepreneurs feel like they should be able to get tons of customers for the low, low price of $0.
Unfortunately, nothing in this life is free and especially not marketing. Even if you don’t plan on spending advertising dollars upfront, time is money, and marketing is time-consuming. Whether you’re doing the marketing yourself or pulling in someone to do it on top of their other responsibilities, someone has to spend less time on other areas of the business to make marketing happen. Make sure to budget for the time someone will be spending.
2. Small marketing teams
Even if you have a small and scrappy team who can wear a lot of hats, there are still only limited hours in a day. With the incredible number of marketing tactics in front of you on top of day-to-day business operations, trying to do it all with limited resources can leave business owners feeling frustrated with lackluster results.
Marketing isn’t very helpful when it’s treated as a side project, which means outsourcing certain tasks can be the missing piece to start turning brand awareness into sales. Make use of independent contractors and freelancers until you’re in a position to hire. These types of workers can be brought on temporarily or by project to help move things along.
3. Trying to DIY it all
Especially now in the digital age, we use many of the same channels for personal reasons as businesses use for marketing. This is a huge benefit to business owners because even if you aren’t a social media maven, you can still learn to use the platforms yourself. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s that simple!
Social media marketers use audience-building techniques, work to increase engagement rates, and watch top-performing content to create campaigns that convert. Email marketers test content, understand email privacy regulations and watch site traffic to ensure campaigns lead to sales. These are just a handful of pieces of the marketing engine, and it’s difficult for even an experienced marketer to do it all alone. Keeping a hand in marketing is great, but learning how to outsource talent will lead to growth.
4. Inconsistent or sporadic marketing efforts
Not having a dedicated marketing person can lead to inconsistent marketing. Teams jump on the chance when they have the time, but as soon as a different priority pops up, marketing has to take the back burner. For a business, this might not seem like a big issue, but for a customer, it’s a different story.
Consistency is part of building brand trust with customers. If prospects are receiving emails at unpredictable intervals, not seeing any new posts after following on social media, or never seeing the brand name pop up again, it will be hard for them to remember or trust you. To avoid this, try building out a promotional calendar ahead of time or start thinking about incorporating marketing automation to fill the gap when time is short.
5. Limited availability of content
Inbound marketing is king when it comes to strategies. This means that depending on your goals, you’ll need content that is useful, helpful, or entertaining to your customers. Inbound marketing relies on putting content out into the world that then pulls in your ideal customers to your brand.
Content can be articles, blog posts, photography, videos, or even webinars. However, if you’re not in the business of creating content, this ends up being the biggest hurdle to overcome for most small businesses. If content isn’t your strong suit, look to contracting with a content strategist who can lay out a whole plan for the quarter or even the year. Those pieces can then be outsourced or handled in-house.
6. Staying on top of marketing trends
When you can only dedicate limited time to executing marketing efforts, forget about staying on top of trends! Especially in the digital space, new technologies pop up constantly. While it’s not worth chasing every trend, some are game-changers that transform the space. For example, early adopters of email marketing automation are now sitting in a better position to offer personalized customer journeys while other companies are trying to catch up.
This does not apply only to digital but traditional marketing methods as well. Are you up-to-date on the best practices for mailers? Do you know the average costs for sponsoring an event? Time constraints will make it difficult to keep up, so remember to consult with a specialist or research before jumping into anything.
7. Finding the right talent
Owners and staff at small companies wear a lot of hats. It’s not uncommon to find the back office manager also running the Facebook page or the customer service representative also running Instagram. While that might need to be the short-term fix, it won’t help the business grow. Think about it. If you run a bakery, you wouldn’t hire someone to help customers, package goods, AND be the head baker, right?
Tasking important marketing activities to people with little to no marketing experience will get you exactly those kinds of results. To grow, you will need to find marketing talent. But if you’re not a marketing expert, how are you supposed to know how to hire one? If you’re not hiring through a reputable freelancer hub, make sure to vet the online presence of any applicants and have a simple test they can do to showcase their skills.
8. Consistently seeing results
When there’s barely enough time in the day to squeeze in marketing at all, there’s definitely no time to report on and optimize those activities. Entrepreneurs too quickly give up on marketing because of a perceived lack of results.
However, it takes time, know-how, and set-up for most marketing strategies to show direct ROI. Many businesses struggle because they can’t tie marketing actions directly back to sales, and marketing ends up on the backburner yet again.
Investing in a marketing person or freelancer to assist with tracking and optimizing efforts so that you can see conversions is not only the best way to start getting results from the investment but is also a way to put your mind at ease that the marketing engine is running and customers are coming in.
Small businesses may always have to struggle with resource constraints, but don’t forget that all big businesses started small at one point. If the goal is growth, then taking a long hard look at how you can invest in marketing is step one.
Some things to keep in mind:
- You can’t do it all yourself! Learning to outsource and leaning on trusted marketing specialists will help you see results a lot faster.
- As you grow, marketing becomes more complicated and a bigger time investment. Start hiring people who know how to show a return on it.
- Look into tools and technologies to help offload the need for more people. Marketing automation is helping lots of small businesses remove some manual tasks to free up time.
With a new mindset on marketing, you’ll be ready to start smashing those revenue goals!