Whether you’re starting a new business, or looking for ways to develop an existing operation, there’s a wealth of small business marketing advice available to “help” you. Working out what might suit you and your business is a task in itself — and that’s before you start thinking about how you might actually apply the experts’ wisdom.
As it turns out, it’s not just the wackier suggestions or more innovative tips that should be considered in depth before you put them into practice. Some of the most basic advice, which many of us take as a given, is worth questioning too.
Here are the five business marketing preconceptions I think every business owner should question.
Myth 1: Bigger is better
Much common business marketing advice assumes you want your operation to get bigger — that you want more clients, or more staff, or a bigger service offering, or bigger projects, or bigger pay checks. Bigger businesses face a range of challenges that the small shops don’t — from HR and company culture issues to financial, taxation, and legal hurdles.
Many a small business owner finds that growth takes them away from the tasks they love, and entails all sorts of work that they’re not inspired by or interested in. Success isn’t dictated by size; it’s dictated by what makes you happy.
It may be better to find a niche that suits you and make the most of it; it may be better still to fit your small business to your lifestyle. If you really want to work three days a week, it may be better to spend your time finding a way to make that happen, rather than working around the clock to build your business into something that, in your heart of hearts, you don’t really want.
Myth 2: Mass marketing is the best marketing
To make a small business work, you need to be “out there,” right? You need to “create buzz” and be “top of mind,” don’t you?
Not necessarily. Mass marketing — via press, tv, billboards or the web — can entail some serious “wastage” (exposure that achieves nothing). Closely targeted exposure is usually far more effective, and personal exposure — face-to-face communications, direct marketing to qualified prospects, and so on — may well be the best way for your business to win work for minimal expenditure.
When you’re assessing your marketing opportunities, don’t automatically tell yourself that reaching as many people as possible is the goal. Instead, look at your target audience, define those people very clearly, work out what media they use, and identify which media and messages suit your business.
Myth 3: You won’t succeed without a detailed business plan
Detailed written business plans have their place … but is it with you? If you’re flying solo, have a clear idea of what you can offer and who you can offer it to, you may well do just fine without putting together any formal business plans.
I know many freelancers who happily work without a business plan. They know what they can do, they know who they can offer services to, and they rely on this simple equation — plus a solid contact base and strong sense of direction — to guide their activities.
The challenge of putting together a detailed business plan can discourage people with great ideas from pursuing them. Do your research, and don’t take unnecessary risks, but equally, don’t be put off by the perceived need for a business plan.
Myth 4: Your marketing must be “clever” to catch attention
Clever marketing is cool. It can make us feel entertained, amused, impressed, and respected by the brand that’s paid for it. And yes, ideally all marketing would manage to compliment consumers like this. But the reality is that marketing doesn’t need to be clever to be effective.
An accountant who sends an email offering past clients a discount on their tax return at financial year end doesn’t need to be clever: she just needs to be clear. A designer trying to sell his brand development services to new corporate clients needs to have a good folio, helpful contacts, and a professional approach that demonstrates what he can do for those prospects. The flashy direct mail pieces and cute ads are “nice to haves” that come in a trailing second to the real essentials.
Don’t be consumed by the apparent importance of making your marketing cool and clever. There’s a lot to be said for letting your past work and ever-expanding skills speak for themselves (almost … with a little personal help from you).
Myth 5: You need to understand marketing to succeed
Your business isn’t about marketing; it’s about people. So you need to understand people to succeed. The people you need to understand are those who may have a need for your product or service. Once you understand this audience, their motivations, lifestyles, media usage patterns, demographics, and dreams, you’ll naturally be able to communicate with them in a way that speaks to them, resonates with their needs, and wins you their respect and custom.
As you get to know your audience better, you’ll find it easier to anticipate what they want, and solve their problems in a way that makes them feel understood. This understanding is the thing that will set you apart from your competitors. It’s also the thing that will keep your clients loyal — it may even prompt them to advocate for your business. Know your audience, identify appropriate ways to reach them, and you may find that you can forget about listing “marketing” as an item on your to-do list.
I think these are the biggest marketing myths, but you’ve probably come across others. What marketing advice have you turned on its head lately?
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.