Last month, I joined Abid Chaudhry, Global SMB GTM Lead at Microsoft, on stage at LOCALOGY ENGAGE: SaaS/SMB to discuss my key marketing lessons for entrepreneurs. This annual event brings together small to medium-sized businesses and SaaS technology providers for open discussion, education, and networking. We had a very lively discussion with lots of great questions from the audience.
Missed the event? No problem. I’ve summarized our chat into my top seven marketing tips for small to medium-sized businesses. We’ve been helping small businesses implement successful marketing strategies for more than 13 years, and if you were to hire Smart Simple Marketing as a small business owner, this is what we would help you do.
If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels when it comes to marketing your business and you still aren’t seeing the results you want, this post is for you.
As a fourth-generation entrepreneur who has worked with thousands of small businesses from around the world, I consistently see the same pattern. Small business owners, especially in the start-up phase, usually feel confident about the value of the service or product they offer—they know they’re bringing something great to the table.
However, they’re often unsure when it comes to their marketing decisions. They may research “marketing for a small business” and quickly find themselves overwhelmed by all of the options available. This lends itself to a “try everything and see if it works” approach because the business owner is scared to miss out on the “perfect solution.”
That’s why, when our team works with a small business, we start with a foundation that will serve them for the life of their business. These are the questions we ask:
1. Who is your ideal customer?
The first thing we always help our clients do is to identify who the best customer is for their business. While small business owners may think that everyone needs their product or service, the reality is that they’re working with limited marketing budgets. Determining who your perfect customer is will help you focus your marketing efforts. This doesn’t mean “leaving someone out” or “leaving money on the table.” It means being strategic and focused with your marketing efforts, so you don’t waste time and money.
Your ideal customer is the person who gets the best results from what you’re offering in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of effort.
Look through your customer history and take note:
- What types of customers keep coming back?
- Who are the customers that give you rave reviews?
- Who in your network are your strongest advocates?
As you think about who those people are and what they have in common, you’ll see patterns start to emerge. Even if on the surface these customers seem to be completely different, pay close attention to what they have in common. Maybe they’re at a particular stage in life or perhaps they were prompted to invest in your solution because of similar circumstances. Those patterns are indicative of the types of people that respond best to what you’re offering. This ideal customer will become the focal point of your marketing plan.
2. What problem do you solve for your customers?
When I ask entrepreneurs at networking events to tell me about their business, most of the time they’ll say something like, “I’m a graphic designer” or “I’m a landscaper.” While those are great professions, no one is losing sleep at night because they don’t have those services at their fingertips.
Small business owners need to get into the habit of speaking about the problems that they solve instead of simply labeling themselves with the service that they offer.
After you’ve determined who your ideal customer is, think about:
- What specific problem do you solve for them?
- How do you make their lives easier?
- How does your product or service benefit them?
That’s the language you want to use when you talk about your services. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a professional organizer,” you might say, “I help new moms to organize their homes so they don’t feel so exhausted and frazzled.” Anyone who’s ever met a new mother would totally see the immediate value in what you do.
3. What are your core marketing messages?
Once you’ve identified your ideal customer and the problem you solve for them, you can formulate how to speak to them about what you do. These statements will be your core marketing messages. You don’t want to make it hard for your customers to understand what you offer.
Your core messages should be clear and concise, in language that resonates with your target customers.
Here is a simple process that works well for developing your core messages:
- Interview five to ten of your existing customers or clients.
- Ask them, “Why did you buy my product or service?” and “What problem did I solve for you?”
- Look for the patterns in their feedback and use this input to build your core marketing messages.
If you’re a new service-based business and you don’t have five to ten customers yet, you can ask five to ten people who know you really well. Listen to what they appreciate about your personality, how you show up, and who you are. For a product-based business, ask five to ten people to test your product and describe how it helps or delights them. To create your core messages, I suggest using the exact words from this feedback, without changing them too much. Avoid business jargon that your customers have to decipher.
4. What are your goals?
It’s easy to get caught up in building someone else’s dream. But your goals may not be the same as another entrepreneur’s goals. That’s why it’s really important for small business owners to look objectively at their business and determine what success means to them personally. Your goals become the filter for all of the noise about what you should be doing.
When you are clear on what you’re working towards, you can create a specific plan to accomplish those goals.
- What does success mean to me?
- What type of marketing will help me reach my goal?
- How will I measure my success?
When we talk about setting goals, we are referring to both big, overarching goals for your business, and smaller goals along the way. For example, if you’re hosting an event, you might decide that you want to sell 100 tickets. To reach your goal, you might do a combination of paid advertising campaigns and email campaigns over the course of 10 weeks. You will create a marketing plan, execute that plan, and afterward, look back at the data to see which methods performed and which didn’t.
5. How can you simplify your marketing plan?
Between running the business, growing the business, serving their clients, and managing their team, most small business owners live in a state of overwhelm. They’re wearing the hats of CEO, CMO, CFO, Chief Janitor, Executive Assistant, and more. This is why, at Smart Simple Marketing, we help businesses simplify their marketing efforts.
When it comes to your marketing, we recommend that small business owners stop trying to do so much.
Step back and analyze what is actually bringing in customers:
- Where are new leads coming from?
- What activities are bringing in new revenue?
- Who is consistently referring business to you?
When you look closely, in most cases, there will be two or three activities that are bringing in the majority of your business. This is why we encourage our small business clients to simplify and narrow their focus to two or three marketing strategies, and then be consistent.
Think about what you can do to market your business every day, every week, every month, and then do those things consistently every quarter. It could be social media. It could be strategic networking. Whatever it is that gets you customers, those are the two or three things to focus on. That’s what will exponentially grow your business.
6. Which systems and technology can make your work easier?
Time is every small business owner’s greatest asset. And the one thing we can’t actually buy more of. Or can we?
For example, back in the early days of our business, I spent many Saturdays processing bills and sending invoices to our customers. When I realized that automating the billing would free my time to go taste wine on Saturdays instead, it was a big revelation. Using technology to manage our time tracking and collect payments “bought me” many hours of time that I could re-allocate to other areas of my life and our business.
This is not to say that technology is the magic bullet that will transform your business. Instead, you have to understand what your processes are first and then set up the right technology to help you automate those processes.
When you start thinking about your business from a process perspective, you can find the right technology to help you execute each process more efficiently.
As small business owners, we often have a habit of holding a lot of knowledge in our heads. Perhaps no one else knows what we know about our business. If we document that knowledge we can delegate or automate recurring tasks, which ultimately will speed up our growth and revenue potential.
For example, we all have a marketing and sales process, whether we realize that we have it or not. In order to teach that process to other team members (delegate) and leverage technology to help us maintain consistency in that process (automate), we have to actually write down all of the related steps.
Here’s what we suggest to our small business clients:
- Think through what your systems and processes are and actually write them down.
- Once you’ve written it all down, notice where your processes can be streamlined or automated.
- When you’re clear about your systems and processes, the right technology can help you to be more efficient.
From CRM systems to social media, there are a plethora of affordable tools available to small businesses. In fact, the tools you already have on your computer probably have a ton of functionality that you’re not even using.
Reach out to the tech providers you’re already spending money with. Ask them for specific guidance and help on how to get the greatest return on your investment so you can meet the goals that are important to you.
7. How can you test and measure your results?
Marketing is all about testing. But sometimes, as small businesses, we expect to invest some money in marketing and then magically see huge returns. In reality, you have to run tests and experiments to see what works.
Test different messages and strategies on your target audience(s), and based on the results you get, do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
For example, let’s say you’re going to invest in search ads, and you want to test between Google, Bing, and Yelp ads. It is smart to create the same ad and target the same audience on each platform, and then spend a designated amount of money over a specific period of time on each of them. Afterward, you can review your results from each ad.
In your tests, look at:
- Who is responding?
- How are they responding?
- What value is that bringing to your business?
Your ad reports will show you clearly which platform created the best results and where you should spend your hard-earned dollars going forward.
You don’t get any awards for just “being out there.” While it’s nice to be visible as a business, you don’t want to unintentionally run a nonprofit organization. Whatever you’re spending your time and resources on needs to give you a return. If it doesn’t work, move on to something that does.
Pulling It All Together
When you invest in SEO, strategic networking, Google Ads, or whatever marketing strategy you’re trying without clarity about who you’re targeting, what problems you solve for them, and what triggers them to go looking for your business, you’re wasting your time and money. And if you don’t have clear goals and a plan to reach those goals, you’re simply shooting in the dark and hoping to hit your target. That is expensive, wasteful, and draining—none of which you can afford as a small business owner.
It’s critical that you take the foundational steps first. Once you know who your ideal customer is and the problems you solve for them, you can see what core messages they respond to. Then, when you determine the goals you want to reach, you can define your processes and plug in the right technology to streamline your systems. As you get to work, make sure you’re always testing and making adjustments along the way. This is smart, simple marketing.
We want to hear from you! Share your current goals for your business in the comments.
YOUR ACTION PLAN:
- Define who your ideal customer is.
- Determine which problems you solve for this customer.
- Ask five customers why they bought your product or service.
- Decide which two or three marketing strategies are bringing you the most business.