Small business owners hardly have enough time to eat, let alone focus on their marketing strategy. You might squeeze in some social media here, pump out a newsletter there, but nothing concrete enough to make a difference. When business owners get busy, they want to know the most important thing to focus on during their marketing efforts.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy for every business. In my experience, the next most crucial thing truly depends on your business’s health and age. Your marketing strategy is more like a house than the infamous funnel. Before you even lay the bricks, you’ll need a blueprint. And you’re definitely not going to install a Japanese toilet before you even get the walls up.
New or Struggling Businesses
Welcome to the blueprint phase of your marketing house. Even if you’ve been in business for years, if you’re struggling to get leads, you may need to look at the bones of your offering before you start pumping money into ads.
I love this part of businesses because it speaks to my Pisces nature to daydream. Carve out half a day with a pen and paper and answer the following:
- Who are you (Personify your business)?
- What is your unique offering?
- Who is your target audience (think about your best customer)?
- Where do you find your customers?
- What makes you different than your competitors?
- Why did you start this business?
Marketing efforts fail because there is a misalignment between Unique Selling Proposition (USP), Offer, and Audience. For more on creating your audience, please read our blog post about the business audience.
Use your answers to create a mission statement and a brand overview. Your overview could be a paragraph, a Pinterest mood board, or a Canva presentation. Create something that you can refer to when you need a reminder of your brand and who you serve.
At this phase, you should create your website or at least a Facebook page.
Young Businesses (Some Customers)
The young business phase is the part of your business where it’s just you doing everything or having a small team. You have a few customers that you rely on for the health of your business. Designing the blueprints above is still mega important, but you may be ready to lay the foundation.
The foundation of your marketing strategy is lead generation. This concept is pretty broad. Think of marketing into two types: Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing. Inbound Marketing is a softer approach and better for more established businesses, so I placed that in the next section.
Outbound Marketing relies on you actively reaching out to find leads through a salesperson, networking, and ads. I compare outbound marketing to laying your house’s bricks because if you don’t have leads coming in, your home will eventually topple over.
If you have a budget for ads, you’ll also generate sales much faster than inbound marketing, saving you time to focus on other areas of your business.
If you are tight on a budget (as many new businesses are!), the good news is that you can still do outbound marketing. The bad news is that it puts most people out of their comfort zone.
Unpaid or Inexpensive Outbound Marketing
- Cold Calls (yes, these work still)
- Asking for referrals
- Freebie giveaways on your site to attract new leads
Paid Outbound Marketing
- Facebook Ads (read more here)
- Google Ads
- Influencer Campaigns
- Podcast Sponsorships
- Direct Mail
If you are way too shy to do outbound marketing or hypersensitive to rejection, hire an agency or a commission-based salesperson. During this phase, focus on growing your email list (and possibly SMS…check out Mobile Monkey). Email is still one of the most effective ways to reach people.
Growing businesses are at the phase where they have a team in place and a good foundation. You might flip flop between being way too busy and not having the cash to hire the help you need. It would be best if you had some more stability. It’s time to build your walls.
Inbound Marketing is what brings people to your site. This is your SEO strategy, social media, blog posts, etc. It is essential for awareness, brand positioning, credibility and can be useful for leads, but a slower build than Outbound Marketing. If you are still a young business, revisit the last section to work on a faster, more aggressive lead-generating strategy.
Once you have your system to bring people to your business, you can start creating plans for inbound marketing. Social media, blogs, and YouTube videos show off your expertise and build more traffic to your website.
All of the work that you put into your brand is essential here. For content to be effective, there must be alignment between your message, offer, and audience.
Your audience will decide the channel where you focus your content. Unless you have an agency or a full-time content person on your team, be realistic with yourself. For content to be effective, it’s gotta be good. And for content to be quality, you need time! You probably read this article because you’re busy and want to know where to focus your marketing strategy. Avoid the pitfalls of spreading mediocre content too wide.
Which social media channel to use
- Instagram: Popular for businesses, but very hard to build a following
- Facebook: Still the most popular social media platform, and necessary if you want to use Facebook or Instagram ads. Engage in Facebook groups for free, increased exposure.
- Twitter: Conversational and quasi-professional. Useful if you like to write (you’ll need to post often).
- LinkedIn: Great for professional content (duh). Must-have if you want to use the LinkedIn recruiting tools.
- TikTok: Easier to grow than Instagram, but better for more playful content.
- YouTube: VERY time consuming with a HUGE learning curve. When you nail it, it can be useful for growth.
- Blog: If you don’t hate writing, blogs are beneficial for increasing your SEO presence. They are complementary to any other social media platform.
Other social media platforms to consider
- Reddit: Position yourself as an expert and increase SEO. Rather strict about self-promotion, so be sure you follow the channel rules.
- Quora: Position yourself as an expert and increase SEO. Some of the questions will hurt your brain.
- Podcast: If you’re a talented storyteller, a podcast may be right for you! Podcasts take a lot of effort, and you’ll still need to work to promote the show.
- Snapchat: Honestly, better for friends than businesses, in my opinion. They didn’t build the platform for growth. I would only suggest if you have a young audience and a lot of sales.
- WeChat: Necessary if you want to enter the Chinese market.
Other Inbound Marketing tactics
- Be a guest speaker on a podcast or webinar
- Optimize the SEO on your website
- Online Courses
If you are a growing business, creating original content for your brand will slowly bring attention to your offer. Work this into your busy schedule by carving out a half-day for planning and creating content. Consistency is crucial at this phase to see any return. We have tips on creating a social media calendar here.
You established your business with an excellent word-of-mouth strategy. You have a regular team, and leads are coming to you. You consistently have enough business to operate, and you’re not worried about the stability of the next payday. Congratulations!
Marketing is still necessary for established businesses. At this phase, you need to analyze the market, innovate, and maintain customers.
Look a Blockbuster. If you were around in the 1990s in the USA, you remember Blockbuster as King of home entertainment. The family night started with a DVD (or even VHS) rental. Then Netflix came around and dominated one customer at a time. Nexflix completely blindsided Blockbuster when they first marketed to college boys and gamers. Blockbuster missed out because they weren’t looking ahead, analyzing potential competitors (there will always be one), and refining their offering.
Set aside time at least once a quarter to step back and revisit your brand mission from the first section. Even if you’re the rockstar in your industry, ask yourself, “How can I do this better?” Pick the best idea and put it into action.
Take a look at what your competitors are doing. Is there an eminent industry shift that you’re missing?
Finally, look at your customers. Let’s say that you took steps to define your brand, build a lead-generating strategy, and create original content. In that case, your message is likely to be clear and differentiated enough to have a loyal community. If not, go back to the first section and continue to shape and define your brand.
Loyalty programs, member statuses, and referral awards are just a few tactics to retain your customers. Above all, focus on delivering the best possible product or service. Happy customers make for the best marketing.
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