Throughout my career, I’ve spent 10 years specifically in small business marketing. During that time, I’ve learned that small businesses have much different challenges than big businesses. One of the most common is in the area of resources. It’s so hard to know how to define boundaries and where to put your time, energy and money. A great example is headcount. A small business owner can spend so much of their time working on things they aren’t good at doing. But when the options are D-I-Y vs. P-A-Y, jack-of-all-trades it is.
My word of advice to small business owners - just because you created the business doesn’t mean you have to be good at everything for the business. When you find yourself spending most of your time trying to figure out something that would have taken someone with a more targeted skillset half as long, it means you’re actually working harder not smarter rather than the reversed rule of working smarter not harder.
Small business is much more like family than big business. Hiring employees and letting them go is much more personal. The right people doesn’t generally happen using careerbuilder.com or LinkedIn, although unicorns do exist. Hiring candidates for small business usually happens through conversation and reputation.
Over the last decade of so, I’ve seen few key mistakes that can make or break a business. It truly hurts me at my core to see businesses that have such great potential not make it. And sometimes these things are to blame.
1. Being too broad with your offering.
I start this with a disclaimer because, depending on the size of your town, this rule has exceptions. Meaning, if you have 300 people in your town, then being a store with everything is probably a necessity. Generally speaking, being all things to all people isn’t a good thing when it comes to small business. Have you ever walked in a store and been completely confused? Like office supplies with a bridal registry? Sometimes you can overwhelm the customer to the point of no return. So, find what you're good at and stick with it. Offer products that suite your customers needs without trying to have it all.
2. Being too narrow with your offering (applies to brick and mortars).
Yes, I realize I’m contradicting myself, but there is definitely a threshold of offering something a service so narrow, that perhaps owning a store doesn't make sense for what you do.If you’re so selective on products and service, that you serve a very defined and small population, you may want to consider making the majority of your investment into online sales and saving money on the brick and mortar.
3. No online presence.
No matter what you make or do, there’s a shopper out there that can’t get in your store that needs your product. Having an online presence gives these people a way to shop with you either by clicking or calling, and this can significantly impact your business. A website and social media pages are critical in this day and age.
4. Not marketing investment.
Of course I would say this, right? But honestly, I hear that so many people “have no budget” for marketing, and they turn away all opportunities because they made that decision. Skipping out on marketing your business means you’re skipping out on profits. Keep in mind, investing in marketing doesn’t necessarily mean a huge financial investment. Facebook and Instagram are FREE! Take the time to contact your local paper about an event you’re hosting. As a customer to share the story of how happy they were with your service on their social media page. Give away snow cones on a hot day. Honing in on where to spend your dollars is where things get critical.
The best advice I’ve ever received when it comes to marketing appropriate for your business is to imagine your target shopper. I’m talking draw the person out on paper and stick it somewhere visible. Name him/her, know her favorite haircut, how she likes her coffee and her favorite type of jeans. Then, craft most of your messaging and what you do to that person. It seems silly, but it will 100% help you focus on #1 and #2 on my list above – knowing exactly what products to offer.
Marketing for small business isn’t easy, but it sure is fun. Take the time to do an assessment of your shopper this week. I guarantee it will help make some decisions much easier!