10 reasons why small businesses fail at marketing

Common small business marketing mistakes

What emotion comes to mind when you think about marketing your small business: Frustration? Confusion? Anxiety? Envy? These days, owners know that marketing is important — non-negotiable, in fact. That hasn’t made the challenge any easier, though. A strong work ethic and ambition isn’t enough.

In the work we do for our clients, we’ve noticed some trends and habits that stand in the way of small businesses achieving marketing success. Read on for our list of the most common small business marketing mistakes we see and what you can do to address these holes in your customer journey.

Reason 01: You can’t articulate your marketing goals or your plan to achieve them.

How do you define marketing success? Of course, the end goal is sales. But … how many sales are you aiming for? How many leads do you need to bring in, so that you can close that many sales? What do you consider a good cost per lead?

Answer these fundamental business questions and then devise your marketing plan. Not doing so will leave you and other stakeholders frustrated, no matter your results. Without clearly articulated goals and a plan of action, your marketing is doomed to become an afterthought among the hundreds of other tasks and responsibilities of your team.

Reason 02: You haven’t put systems in place to measure your results and, by extension, ROI.

Determining the ROI of your marketing efforts is an age-old challenge, and we admit it’s tempting to rely on vanity metrics to evaluate your progress on social media, in particular. Luckily, free, native tools like Facebook’s Ad Manager and Google Analytics are beginning to make attribution easier and more accurate.

At minimum, research the benchmarks for your industry, including cost per click, click-thru rate, conversion rate and cost per action. Also, take the time to learn about and use features like Facebook’s pixel, Google AdWords conversion tracking and Google Analytics’ goals and events.

Reason 03: You change your strategy every few weeks.

Are you plagued by oh-shiny syndrome? You try the newest social network or the hottest ad format, only to abandon it a few weeks later. That itch to move on to the next tactic … strategy … thing … is all but irresistible.

It can take weeks or months for a new digital strategy to gain traction. Finding that sweet spot of the right audience, the right timing and the right content for your specific business takes time and testing.

We encourage you to tinker and explore, but temper your efforts through intention. If you’re running a Facebook campaign, for instance, kill, revise or scale ads based on performance; don’t abandon the campaign because you aren’t seeing conversions three days in.

Reason 04: You market only to prospects and ignore your current customers.

It’s easier to sell to a current customer than it is to earn a new one. If your marketing strategy is focused only on generating new leads, you’re ignoring the audience segment with the highest sales potential. Set aside a percentage of your marketing budget to focus on (1) cross-selling, (2) upselling and (3) building customer loyalty.

Email marketing, Facebook or Google remarketing campaigns, influencer programs and content marketing are all excellent avenues for providing value to and selling to current customers. Done well, you’ll turn them into advocates for your business, and they’ll refer you to their personal networks.

Reason 05: You aren’t collecting email addresses or engaging your list.

If you run a business, you must be building an email list. Yes, social media gets all of the attention these days, but you do not own your audiences on those platforms. Email is the most direct and reliable tie to your network of prospective and existing customers.

Having an email collection form on your website isn’t enough. Dedicate a portion of your monthly ad budget to run a Facebook campaign focused on collecting email addresses. If you have a physical retail location, train your staff members to ask for customers’ email addresses using collection or comment cards.

Of course, having thousands of email addresses collecting dust does you no good. Engage your subscribers with a monthly newsletter and weekly promotional broadcasts that deliver a ton of value to them — and earn you sales.

Reason 06: Your website is outdated or nonexistent.

Your website is your digital hub; everything extends from there. So, if your website still reflects design and SEO best practices from five (or even two) years ago, you’re in need of a redesign. Is your website mobile-responsive? Easy to navigate? Does it load within two seconds? If not, you’re costing yourself conversions.

You’re also limiting your referral traffic, as Facebook begins penalizing businesses with poor mobile website experiences.

Reason 07: You have a one-trick-pony advertising strategy.

Let us be clear: Boosting your Facebook posts does not constitute an advertising strategy.

Paid search and social selling have deepened in complexity over the past two years. Whether you choose Google, Facebook, Yelp or another platform — or, better yet, a combination thereof — you need to be taking advantage of their robust targeting features. These include geographic targeting, remarketing and Lookalike Audiences (or Similar Audiences in AdWords), just for starters.

Reason 08: You ignore your online reputation.

Online reviews are an unavoidable reality given today’s digital landscape. We know a negative review feels like a blatant attack your business, but that’s no reason to bury your head in the sand. A proactive approach gives you a say in how you’re perceived online, say, by prospective customers researching you. And, remember, some bad reviews are statistically good for business.

Reason 09: You offer poor incentives.

A bad offer will not help you differentiate your business and rise above the noise. No, you can’t give away the store — but don’t be stingy either. What makes customers want to do business with you? A free cup of cheese dip that you normally charge $0.50 for doesn’t cut it.

Consumers are looking for value. That can take the form of a free resource or infoproduct, a significant discount or a complimentary service. Whatever you choose, just be sure it’s aligned with the desires and demands of your target audience.

Reason 10: You try to do it all yourself.

You already wear a lot of hats. Can you afford for marketing to be one of them? If you believe in the power of marketing, you know the answer is no. After all, large businesses have entire departments dedicated to the endeavor. How can the 1 percent of your day you have to spare stand up to that?

No, you may not have the luxury of hiring a Mad Men-esque ad agency, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t professional resources out there that you can afford. Finding the right agency, freelancer or staff member for you may take time, but their contribution will help you improve your bottom line.


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