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Posted: 2006-07-28 / Author: Judy Murdoch

Small Business Marketing Mistakes

Small Business Marketing Mistakes: When asked what their questions were about marketing, one small business owner said, "I'd like to know what not to do." Good question. Most small business owners don't have much training in marketing and do their best by following what other companies are doing. The problem with this approach is that marketing is not a "one size fits all" activity. In fact a lot of business owners waste a tremendous amount of time and money on activities that bring in little or no business.

The top ten marketing activities NOT to do if you're a small business owner are:

1. DON'T buy an ad in a major newspaper

Unless of course, you want to spend your entire annual marketing budget within 30-days and have very little to show for it. Nearly every small business owner I've talked to has the same sad tale: they spent hundreds, sometimes several thousand dollars for a small ad, the ad ran and they got a paltry number of inquiries and then nothing. Nada. Zip.

Advertising in major newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and other publications can be very, very effective if you have strong copy, good images, and can pay for the ad to run over a period of days, weeks, even months. Most marketing, no matter how well done, requires repeated impressions so that your audience will be familiar enough and trust you enough to call.

2. DON'T create a brochure.

Especially using a template on Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher. For one thing, you'll end up with a brochure that looks like everyone else's. More importantly, unless you are a skilled copywriter or have hired one, your brochure is likely to be dry, boring, and will do very little to attract the attention of your prospective customers.

By all means, do a brochure but wait until you're clear about who your target market is, what they need, and how you are the best one to provide it.

3. DON'T try to sell something to everyone

A lot of small businesses define their target customer as "someone who is warm and still breathing." Bad idea.

It's understandable because no one wants to miss an opportunity to make money. It's why you have a business, right?

Still, the idea that everyone is a potential customers leads to two problems:

First, by trying to accommodate so many diverse needs, you end up with mediocre products and services. In a competitive market, mediocrity is not what people pay for; at least not a lot of money for.

Second, If you're trying to sell to everyone, everyone selling something even vaguely like what you're selling becomes a competitor. There's little opportunity for collaboration; little opportunity for developing strategic alliances. Finally, selling a product that has been "averaged" to meet the needs of everyone and doesn't stand out on its own puts you at risk for selling a commodity. And, unless you plan to be the low cost provider and can sell at incredibly low prices, that's a game you don't want to get into.

4. DON'T feel compelled to use the "hot new thing" in your marketing

It seems like every six months or so, there's a "hot new technology" that you can exploit to "make millions." For example, in 2003 it was blogs. In 2005 it's been podcasts. Less technical but still hyped are postcard mailings.


Here's the point: all of these activities have merit and can make your marketing more effective. However, no one technology is going to "bring millions to your website!!!"

To make the most of any marketing activity or technology, you first need to get clear on who your ideal customer is, what products and services you sell, and the unique value you bring to the table.

5. DON'T confuse marketing with marketing activities

When you hear the word, "marketing" what comes to mind? TV commercials? Advertisements in magazines and newspapers? Promotional knick knacks? ECommerce?

All of the above are valuable but they're not marketing. They are activities that enable and support your marketing.

In my book, marketing is simply creating a connection between a buyer and seller so that business transactions can occur.

You probably won't find this definition in any marketing textbook. Yet, it's a very practical way to think about marketing because it greatly expands the types of tools and activities available to you.

6. DON'T perfect your marketing message before you let your prospective customers see it

There are two reasons why this is not a good idea:

First, you will never do much marketing because you can't perfect marketing in a vacuum. The effectiveness of any marketing depends on whether it gets in front of the intended prospect, captures their interest, and, elicits action. If prospective customers never see your "imperfect" marketing, how will you ever know what you need to do to perfect it?

Second, you won't have many customers, if any because without marketing how will anyone know you exist? Businesses without customers are usually called "bankrupt."

7. DON'T expect instant sales

Especially if the product or service you sell is expensive, highly innovative, or requires a large commitment of time on the customer's part.

Oftentimes, someone just starting a new business will get terribly disappointed because they ran an ad or attended a networking event, or sent out postcards and get very little response. They get discouraged and perhaps stop any kind of planned marketing.

Again, marketing is about developing relationships. Most people need to be exposed to a consistent marketing messages at least six times…more if you're selling a high ticket item before they feel like they "know" and "trust" your company enough to take the risk of purchasing.

8. DON'T try to "get" anything from your customer

Ever say something like "I need to get more customers"? No doubt you've heard other people use the word "get" in this way.

The word "get", to me, implies an adversarial relationship between the seller and buyer. The seller wants to sell their product or service to the customer so they can "get" money. It also puts the focus on the seller when in fact, the focus belongs on the buyer.

The truth is, people want to buy things. They like to buy things. People especially want to buy things that will make their problems go away or that will make them feel good.

Instead of trying to "get business" how about "developing" relationships with potential customers by helping them get something they want? The exact phrasing may not feel right for you but it probably feels a lot better to think of yourself as offering something so valuable that people truly WANT to buy from you.

9. DON'T expect to get 100% of your business through referrals

At least not at the very beginning.

Many small business owners like to believe that all they have to do is to do a really great job and word of mouth from their current customers will bring all the business they can handle.

The truth is that while word of mouth marketing is probably one of the most effective marketing for small business owners and entrepreneurs, it takes a long time…at least a year…to develop the critical mass of delighted customers needed to bring in significant business.

While you are cultivating a group of very satisfied current and former customers, you need to employ a variety of marketing activities to bring those customers your way. In addition, most businesses, even those who have lots of loyal customers singing their praises, take an active role in managing what their customers are saying in the marketplace. Activities such as keeping in touch, rewarding and acknowledging customers who bring in referrals, asking directly for referrals, and educating referral sources so that they can spot potential customers, encourage and support your word of mouth marketing machine to work for you.

10. DON'T cold call

Most business owners hate to make cold calls but many do because it seems like the best way to bring in new business.

Guess what. There are more effective ways to bring in new business. Effective meaning the payback that you get for your time, money and energy. Developing business based on word of mouth and referrals being one of the most effective.

But wait, you may be thinking, even saying. If cold calling isn't the most effective approach why do so many successful companies use cold calling?

Two words: numbers and perception

Cold calling is a numbers game. If enough people make enough phone calls to enough people, the laws of probability say a certain percent of those called will buy something. Now, smart sales organizations do all sorts of things to make the odds as favorable as possible: pre-screening, purchasing leads, developing call scripts, and so on but the success of the method still depends on the brute force of making lots of calls.

Seeing lots of people on the phone working their list also gives the perception of productive activity. People are working hard to get business. And you have the number of calls, number of appointments made, number of contracts signed, etc to prove that productivity.

Cold calling may not be the most productive approach to getting business but it sure does look like it is.


The point here is that marketing is not an exact science. There is no one sure fire-way that will have customers pounding down your doors to buy from you. That's why I find thinking of marketing as cultivating relationships such a useful definition. Successful marketing is about successful business relationships and successful business relationships require time, familiarity, and trust.

--------------------------------------------------------------------- Judy Murdoch helps small business owners create low-cost, effective marketing campaigns using word-of-mouth referrals, guerrilla marketing activities, and selected strategic alliances. To download a free copy of the workbook, "Where Does it Hurt? Marketing Solutions to the problems that Drive Your Customers Crazy!" go to

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