Whether you think marketing is “money for old rope” or the “key to business success”, it can be a challenge for many small businesses lacking large corporate budgets to spend on marketing departments and glitzy campaigns.
So what should a small family business do about marketing and how does it take the plunge?
This article outlines 3 steps to take and a case study, when you:
- Embrace your limitations, whatever they may be
- Find time, money or someone to focus on it
- Be patient and monitor the progress over time
1) Embrace the limitations!
A difficult concept for proud entrepreneurs, but a limitation is not necessarily about skill. You may be great at marketing and have lots of ideas….but…..
Is it TIME? When small businesses grow, entrepreneurs may find more time is spent on immediate problems, such as staffing and administration. Understandably, marketing can appear less urgent though this can prove expensive over time.
Lack the BUDGET? A business plan with a marketing section usually has a budget. However, there are so many options and choices available. How do you narrow down the ones which are the best value? If you don’t do it, can you justify paying someone full-time to cover marketing? Or is it just easier to “add-on” marketing to an existing job description? A common problem of multi-tasking is that people tend to focus on dealing with what is in front of them and not the less obvious long-term marketing needs of the business2.
2) Find the time, money or someone to FOCUS on marketing
It does not need to be full-time. Flexible working conditions are highly attractive in today’s market and businesses can find a dedicated resource, even if only once a month. This way, you know that someone is looking at the existing and new marketing initiatives on a regular basis.
3) Be patient and monitor the progress over time
Marketing is not the same as sales and takes time to develop. Cash tills do not instantly ring but be sure to monitor the progress on a regular basis. Also, with an increasing emphasis on digital marketing, social media and other buzz words, skills have to be updated to keep up with current trends so it is continuous learning curve.
CASE STUDY: Independent Hotel in Cumbria, that followed these 3 steps
- Increasing online bookings through travel agents such as Booking.com.
- Commissions of anything between 10% – 20% charged.
- Is this an acceptable marketing cost or is there another way?
- Employed someone to focus solely on marketing for one day a week.
- This included hard copy magazine ads, digital advertising, the website and anything else connected with business development.
- Taking on a fixed expense with an uncertain outcome.
- Adopting new ideas and methods.
- 18 months on, the value of direct online bookings has nearly doubled compared to the previous year.
- This is a direct saving of £’000s in commission to Online Travel Agents.
- In addition, direct telephone enquiries and repeat bookings continue to grow.
- The return on advertising expenditure is closely monitored and Google Analytics scrutinised so gone are the days of bowing to high pressure advertising sales techniques with no idea of the return. Advertisers are now under pressure to perform or the budget goes elsewhere.
- Relationships have been built with successful advertisers, obtaining prime slots for adverts and first refusal on last minute discounts for late space availability.
- Social Media activity. What seemed like good ideas but never happened are now a reality. There is a regular newsletter to existing guests and an active Facebook page. Prior to a dedicated marketing resource, the Facebook page had 58 likes after 5 years. The page was re-modelled and 12 months on, we are heading towards 500 likes.
- This is all with the help of an active blog and SEO efforts from a new web-design firm, project managed by the marketing specialist.
It is notoriously difficult to attribute actual sales to any one marketing campaign and certainly, not all the ideas work. However, once a lesson is learned, the mistake is not repeated.
Overall, the trend has to be in the right direction and ultimately, the “proof is in the pudding”. After 18 months, the hotel is set to take the business to the next level with an upgrade of systems to deliver to higher occupancy levels. There are also renovation plans to increase the number of bedrooms available.
So try not leave marketing on the “to do” list for when you have more time. There is value in this activity so do take the plunge!