In March the U.S. Small Business Administration announced this year’s Small Business Person of the Year winners from the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
There are more than 28 million small businesses operating in our country, employing half of the private sector and creating two out of three net new jobs. The 2016 list of winners includes retailers, restaurants, technology and telecom, construction and building, food and seed distributors, distilled spirits, moving services, aviation, engineering and more. These successful businesses were recognized for doing things right and a crafted, strategic marketing plan is typically behind the scenes at a successful business.
Does your business have a strategic marketing plan? And how do you ensure you're successfully marketing your small business?
There are endless articles online, many of them quite thorough and interesting, that delve into the topic of hiring – or not hiring – a professional marketer. First, you, the business owner or manager, should honestly consider the following:
Yes, we all know Time = Money.
As a business owner, can you dedicate the time that will be needed to manage the marketing strategy for your business? The time commitment may vary depending on your responsibilities at your place of business such as the number of employees, hours of operation, travel demands, trade shows, meetings with suppliers, community service obligations, family, and more. (List is not necessarily in the order of priority!) Take a hard look at your available time. If you have a 50-hour-a-week work schedule and keep pushing marketing and advertising to the back burner, it could be you’ve reached your max on available time.
“What is marketing?” someone asked a college professor in a class.
The answer? “Marketing is everything.”
In today’s business climate, that is truly the case. Ask yourself if you have the know-how to oversee social media campaigns, local and regional media buying decisions such as advertising in the newspaper, television, radio, magazines, directories and billboards. Ask yourself how to market your business across all these media effectively.
What about community marketing opportunities such as high school sports programs? In a Borrell Associates small and medium-sized business (SMB) survey, 72 percent of the SMBs said they had, or planned to, buy some form of digital services with a large portion going toward Web hosting.
The majority of small businesses today have a Facebook page. Do you have the ability to effectively manage the social media campaigns for your business? Chances are your business has a website that needs to be managed and updated. Many small businesses effectively use email to communicate with customers, which involves managing a customer database, creating copy, sending newsletters or emails and possibly working with an external vendor to accomplish that. All of these require skills you may already have or need to develop.
Interest and/or Passion
Are you excited to become your company’s marketing expert? Do you have a knack for social media, communication, creativity and technology? Or, it could be your passion is to connect directly with customers, work closely with your employees and be deeply involved in the day-to-day business operation.
After considering time, expertise, interest and passion, maybe you’ve decided to pass the entire marketing baton to an expert, engage a part-time resource, hire an employee to manage marketing or figure you’ll land somewhere in between all of those. Fantastic. What’s next?
The U.S. Small Business Administration website is an excellent resource for a wide range of marketing topics. On the Marketing page of the website, the question is asked, “Are your marketing efforts effectively promoting your small business?” This information will help you identify the marketing needs of your specific business.
A local or regional advertising agency, media company, marketing firm or consultant should be able to help you develop a marketing plan and strategy. Also, community colleges frequently offer classes in business and marketing.
Similar to other aspects of your business, you’ll need to determine an annual advertising and marketing budget. That could be - although this varies based on the business type - between five and ten percent of your annual sales. Establish that budget before any meetings with marketing and advertising companies so the expectations are clear.
Take some time to research the marketing services and options that are available to you, from the locally owned advertising agency with an office in your town to online vendors. Start first by casting a wide net and then narrow down to a handful of vendors that provide the type of services and programs you are seeking, are highly recommended, or both.
If you are ready to evaluate various marketing vendors, HubSpot posted a blog in 2014 entitled, “11 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring a Marketing Professional.” These questions provide excellent talking points whether you are interviewing a local marketing firm or a big-city agency. You may have your own questions to add and now have a solid baseline for interviews and discussion.
Once you have assessed and evaluated your marketing options, make a commitment to take some sort of action. You may start small with a targeted campaign or decide to make a big splash in the first year. Regardless, you’ll have a defined marketing strategy and plan in place, which can be fine-tuned as your business and the needs of your customer changes.