As a small business owner, spending money on marketing is risky. With all the different types of marketing and technologies out there trying to sell you on the best and fastest ways to grow your business . . . it can get really overwhelming really quickly over which type of marketing solutions are right for you and your small business. Yet, you recognize the benefits of a well-executed marketing, as well as the expensive consequences of poor marketing choices. Being a small business myself, there are just certain marketing investments that wind up costing far more than the carrot dangled in front of us.
There are plenty of great, effective ways to spend your hard-earned marketing dollars (which I’ll share next week), but let me share the seven things you may want to table or avoid as a small business.
1. Print Advertising
Print advertising is expensive and there is no way to track the ROI of a quarter page ad in a business journal or trade magazine that can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Don’t be lured by fancy demographic sheets that promise to get your brand in front of your ideal customer. In order for print advertising to be most effective, ads run weekly, if not daily, in combination with a digital advertising campaign. Big brands benefit from such campaigns, but they have the big budgets and big talent that go along with successful advertising campaigns. At most, small businesses selling products or services in a local community might consider including coupons in monthly mailers in lieu of taking out costly ads.
I’m not saying not to support other businesses or good causes you believe in, but don’t focus on sponsorship contributions as a primary marketing tactic as a small business. The marketing value in your sponsorship is the story that comes with it and inviting your audience on that journey with you. Instead, consider donating your time to a worthy cause and capturing your and your team’s contributions with valuable pieces of content like video or a blog posts. Doing good does matter and businesses have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference and raise awareness for causes, it just doesn’t need to cost you a fortune. Rather than taking out a half page sponsorship ad or sponsoring a hole on a golf course, volunteer your time or run a crowdsourcing campaign that helps get your customers excited and involved in making a difference, too. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to support others and see a marketing benefit.
3. Pay-Per-Click Ads
Pay-per-click ads can certainly help you and your small business drive my traffic to your site, but so will optimizing your website and content with the keywords you most want to be found for. With a little patience, you can earn your ranking rather than paying for a sponsored position, which is a great alternative for small businesses who don’t have huge funds to spend or for businesses who would rather rank for certain keywords because of their online authority on the subject. Personally, I always skip the sponsored links on Google searches, because I want the ‘real’ result over the ‘paid for’ one. Check out this great article by Forbes contributor John Rampton for more details why it might not be the best choice for your business 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Use AdWords
Let me be very clear: YOU NEED SEO. Hands down, it is a requirement. However, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) goes beyond the invisible backend of your website. High-quality content is a true driver of website traffic and building links. Google continues to place high importance on keywords found on a page of content, not only in the infrasturcture of where that piece of content lives. Choose professionals that make SEO part of their standard, not an above and beyond service. With so many great firms and freelancers making SEO a high priority, there should be no need for your small business to have to pay a premium. This is a great article on SEO: SEO Basics for Small Business
5. Buying Followers
Yes, the quantity of followers you have does make an impression. That being said, it will serve you and your small business far better in the long-run if you earn real followers who are attracted to you and your business. What is the point of having 10,000 Twitter followers if they are dummy accounts that will sit idle on your follower list and never engage with you or your content? And worse, what kind of impression do you give when a real follower looks at your list of followers and sees a bunch of dummy accounts? It sends the wrong message and it would be a far greater use of your dollars to spend money on ways to improve your social media marketing strategy and the content you will publish across social channels. Take the time now to earn a following and the ROI will be worth the wait.
6. Buying Marketing Lists
Marketing lists are very alluring for small businesses who want to increase their lead database instantly. The problem with marketing lists is that you don’t always get email addresses and even if you do, you don’t have permission to email them anyway because of the CAN-SPAM Act (thank goodness). Focus your efforts on attracting your ideal customers to you and providing them plenty of opportunity and incentive to share their information with you on their own terms. The marketing list you can build by being intentional with who you target and how you add value first in order to earn trust and information will be far more valuable to you than the outdated, dusty marketing list you purchase.
7. Radio Commercials
Does anyone want to listen through radio commercials? Have they ever? And with digital streaming stations, you’d be lucky if your target audience is even tuned in to hear it. Start a podcast or guest on a podcast instead. You’ll add way more value than your 30 second jingle and someone might even hear it.
For small businesses, it’s important that you stay laser focused on your ideal customer and align your spending with marketing efforts that add the most value to them (not just your brand). In terms of prioritizing your marketing dollars, I always recommend going the more honest and authentic route. Be thoughtful and avoid spending your marketing budget on things that take a broad and general approach to reaching your ideal audiences, especially if you can’t quantify the return on your investment.
I’ll follow-up next week with a post on the things small business SHOULD spend their marketing budgets on. Till then, take care and keep on!
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