You may make the best latte in town. But it's wasted effort if nobody knows. Potential customers must rely on your word – and that word will differentiate your business from the one across the road.
The marketing sector is brimming with expertise that most small businesses can't afford.
Michelle Gamble, 'chief angel' at Marketing Angels, said those with limited budgets should be relentless about building their brand.
“Brand yourself, your premises, your communications – even your business title,” Gamble says.
“I'm 'chief angel' at Marketing Angels and we refer to our consultants in all conversations as 'angels'.”
Gamble says: “the more people who know you and know what you do, the better. This means constantly expanding and growing your network to generate referrals and word-of-mouth.”
Get familiar with social and industry trends or hot topics in the media.
“Keep your radar up for anything that's topical or current,” she says. “For example, the end of financial year was a great opportunity to extend an offer or write a story about how your business fared.”
Study … without taking on debt
You don't need to sit in a classroom to learn.
“Anyone can access information on just about anything marketing-related,” Gamble says.
This includes attending free webinars, downloading free e-guides, asking experts questions via social media – or simply searching on Google.
"Learn from businesses you think are doing it well,” says Gamble.
“I'm a member of a global member-owned and run business group, the Entrepreneurs' Organization. My business wouldn't be where it is now without learning from the experiences of many entrepreneurs who are members.”
Clever young things
Consider taking on graduates or interns to help implement marketing projects, and offer them some experience and guidance in the process.
Gamble says there are many young, talented marketers who are “more in tune with today's methods of marketing”.
“They're tech-savvy and street smart, which is critical to effective marketing. Contact international internship organisations and local colleges and universities to let them know you are keen to take on interns.”
Time and money wasters
Gamble says a lack of planning and inconsistency are common mistakes.
“A plan is so useful when it comes to avoiding doing things ad hoc or succumbing to advertising requests that won't work,” she says.
Build your brand by reiterating key messages.
“If all you do is email marketing and social media, sporadic emails and updates won't work,” she says.
“You don't have to do a lot, stick to two or three things and do them consistently.”
Is it good PR?
'Public relations' is more than publicity. It's about maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders.
Deakin University public relations lecturer Bronwyn Kirby says a small business that neglects to build and maintain its relationships "does so at its peril”.
“Small businesses that can't afford professional public relations services need to train themselves to think and act the way a public relations professional would,” she says.
“This means always keeping the organisation's 'target publics' in mind – these are the key groups and individuals that the organisation needs to be communicating with.”
A 'PR nightmare'
When things go wrong, it's crucial to understand public sentiment. Michelle Gamble suggests phoning your best customers and monitoring conversations on social media.
“It's really important that you know what the public perception is before responding,” Gamble says.
That's no easy feat for the uninitiated.
“Get some advice from an expert and respond quickly and transparently,” she says.
“Even if you are small and don't have a lot of resources – here's where it pays to get some help from an expert.”
If your PR crisis is newsworthy “the first thing to do is ascertain the facts”, Kirby recommends.
“If a journalist is contacting you and firing questions, you must never say 'no comment'.”
Commit to phoning back when you have the information, she says. “Always remain contactable – the key to managing a crisis is ensuring the clear flow of information and transparency.”
Don't rely on a 1970s marketing manual
Kirby says small businesses should become familiar with today's professional communications landscape.
“Yes, this means the traditional tools such as newsletters, brochures and advertising, but it also means becoming familiar with the scope of new media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook,” Kirby says.
“Effective internet search engines are crucial, blogging can be powerful, and the organisation's databases must be current.”
Gamble says a strong website and presence on search engines and social media is important.
“If you are not actively marketing your brand online to many customers, you either don't exist or can't be trusted,” she says.
Michelle Gamble's top 10 tips for SMEs
• Understand what your brand stands for. Strong brands create loyalty and spend less money educating potential customers.
• A marketing plan that aligns with your business plan will stop you wasting money on tactics that don't work.
• Focus on a small number of marketing tactics, but do them consistently and well.
• Focus on marketing tactics you can measure.
• Learn to write, or engage a writer. Content is a key, cost-effective marketing tactic for smaller businesses.
• Learn about marketing from experts and other business owners.
• Don't ignore online.
• Focus on creating greater loyalty from existing customers – they'll then find new ones for you from strong word-of-mouth.
• Focus on the sales process. If you lift your conversion rate through a better sales process, you'll spend less money chasing new customers.
• Stay on top of technology and resourcing trends. Outsourcing, crowdsourcing and cloud-based applications make it easier than ever for businesses to market themselves.