Marketing is an integral part of your small business operations. Is there one magic formula that will take the effort out of marketing and bring you all the clients you need, forever? No!
Business owners that search for that elusive marketing unicorn will agree that it is a daunting task. They read articles and books, take seminars and home-study courses, and hire consultants and coaches. And in the process, they learn about many, many so-called marketing secrets. These “secrets” to marketing consist of supposedly surefire approaches like search engine optimisation for your website, publishing articles online, social networking, joining a leads group, sending postcards, and running pay-per-click ads. There are of course many more, and each of them is being touted by someone as the ultimate solution for marketing your business.
Trying to sort out the truth in these conflicting claims leaves you with three basic possibilities:
- All of this is nonsense; there is no secret to marketing.
- One of these approaches probably really is the secret, but since you have no way of knowing which one, you’d have to try them all.
- All of these probably are secrets for some people at sometimes, but none of them may be right for you.
No matter which of these points of view you take, the result is that none of these secrets are ultimately very helpful. To me, the real secret to marketing your small business is choosing a set of simple, effective things to do, and doing them consistently, without fail. That word “effective” can make this a bit tricky. You must know what is effective in order for this secret to work for you. If you were to choose a set of completely ineffective things to do, this approach would fail.
But by “completely ineffective”, I mean ideas like running a regular ad in the newspaper to market a coaching business, or networking on Facebook in order to make more contacts with psychologists, or sending out direct mail letters to attract patients. When the marketing tactics you pick are that far off base, no amount of consistency will make them work.
If you choose a set of activities that have any level of effectiveness, they will work if you do them consistently. Cold calling (a method I don’t personally believe in) will work if you make enough calls (and this can mean hundreds of calls a week). In-person networking will work if you attend events regularly and follow up with the people you meet. Public speaking will work if you speak to audiences of a decent size on a regular basis.
But, no matter what you sell … a product or a service; if you market to the wrong target market, it won’t work. Choose a target market that needs your services and can afford to pay for them; craft a message that the market will respond to; choose a set of simple, effective approaches to reach that market; follow through on each approach, and spend enough time on your marketing to produce results.
Wait! I can already see the frown on your face … this sounds like a lot of work! Don’t blame yourself for wanting to avoid hard work. It’s human nature to look for the easy way out. But if you spend all your time searching for the effort-free way to market, you will end up making your job much harder. Every time you try another new way to market but then don’t follow through on it, or give up too soon to see results, you waste time and money, and lose momentum. By trying to avoid work, you actually create even more.
So instead of looking for a magic formula to avoid the work of marketing altogether, find ways to make it easier on yourself. Here are four suggestions that will help.
- Choose a target market you enjoy spending time with, and whose issues and goals you care about.
- Get help with crafting marketing messages if messaging isn’t your strong point.
- Use role models, recommended advisors, or a trusted system to identify only the best marketing approaches, then do what they advise.
- Use the support of a friend, coach, or success team to help you follow through on your plans, market consistently, and break through fear and procrastination.
Note that if the above are ways to make marketing easier, doing the opposite of any of these will make it harder. But you say: “I’d love to put more effort into marketing, but I’m so busy, I don’t have the time”. This small business owner dilemma might seem amusing, but it’s no joke. I’ve heard this complaint repeatedly from entrepreneurs and small business owners. You’d think the solution would be easy – just drop whatever else you’re doing and spend more time on getting clients. But making that adjustment is often not so simple.
Here are 5 Too-Busy-To-Get-Clients situations that you may encounter, and what you can do about them:
- You’re too busy serving existing clients: This is probably the most common reason for not spending time marketing. On the surface, it seems like a good excuse. If you’re busy with paying work, why should you take time away to market? But the work eventually comes to an end, and there you are with no new clients lined up. Now you have time to market, but it always takes a while to land something new. Meanwhile, there’s no money coming in. The only way to break this feast-or-famine cycle is to go shopping before the cupboard is empty. Even when you have plenty of work, set aside time on a weekly basis to focus on marketing for new clients. When agreeing on project or appointment schedules with an existing client, factor in this set-aside time, just as you would if it was another client you were serving simultaneously. Your business deserves the same kind of care and attention you give to your clients’ businesses.
- You’re too busy working for peanuts, or even for free: One reason you might have trouble finding enough time to market is that you’re working too much for too little. Perhaps your fees are too low, you are giving away too many free consultations or sample sessions, or you are doing too much work “on spec”. Or perhaps you are spending a great deal of time volunteering for a professional association or nonprofit. Try keeping a work diary for two weeks, where you record every hour you spend working for someone else and what you got paid for it. If you don’t like what you see, start making some changes. Place a ceiling on the amount of time you give away for free. Set your rates based on the true cost of doing business, which includes unpaid time spent on marketing and management. Don’t let under-earning rob you of the time you need to market your business.
- You’re too busy networking: Not all networking “counts” as marketing. Attending meetings and workshops, having coffee or lunch, and spending time on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can have a worthwhile business purpose … or be an enormous waste of your precious marketing time. Be honest with yourself – when are you networking with important business contacts and when are you just socialising? Limit your networking to people who are either in your target market, or who come in frequent contact with your target market. Sure, anyone might refer you a client, but the point is to spend the majority of your time with those who are most likely to either become prospects or refer them. And limit the time you invest in networking to an amount on which you might reasonably expect to see a profitable return.
- You’re too busy marketing unproductively: Networking isn’t the only type of marketing that can consume more time than it’s worth. Another common misuse of marketing time is putting all your effort into filling the pipeline with new prospects, but rarely following up with them after the initial contact. Or concentrating on making cold approaches by phone, mail, or email to people who have never heard of you, instead of using your network to ask for introductions and referrals. If you feel like you’re spending a lot of time on marketing already, but still don’t have all the clients you need, you probably need to revisit your approach. What do you think are the three most effective ways for a business like yours to get clients? Now, are those three ways how you’ve been spending the majority of your marketing time? If not, change your strategy.
- You’re too busy with a day job, school, or family responsibilities: Trying to squeeze a business into an already full life doesn’t always work. It’s a common mistake to consider only the time you’ll need to serve clients, and not the time needed to get them in the first place. But to have a successful business, marketing has to be part of the picture. It may be that your part-time business will need longer to get off the ground than you thought. If you don’t like that option, perhaps you can negotiate fewer hours at your job, take some time off from work or school, or share family responsibilities with someone else. Don’t get discouraged; most new business owners face this same issue. We like to believe that time is infinitely expandable, but it’s not so. When you add time in one area of life, it must come from another. So the next time you find yourself thinking you are too busy to get clients, think again. If you don’t have enough time for marketing, something about your business needs to change. Stop what you’re doing, and take the time to figure out what it is.