10 common small business marketing mistakes – and how to avoid them

Market by Steve Snodgrass


As a business leader, you may well be asking yourself about how much or what kind of marketing you may need to consider – and what impact this might have on your business.

Understanding what is required can be baffling. A lack of knowledge and understanding around how to address your marketing goals can lead to lack-lustre and hastily conceived activity which can quickly dispose of any marketing budget you may have set aside, and at worst; can result in sporadic, ill conceived, or even non-existent marketing – a position best avoided.

The ten points below broadly outline the most common marketing mistakes and main pitfalls SME’s commonly face with their marketing, along with some tips on how to avoid the expense and lost time that are often the outcome of these mistakes. If you do see parallels in your own position, hopefully these points will help you reconsider, and will set you back on course.

  1. We don’t know where to start with our marketing

You don’t necessarily need to know how to ‘do’ marketing in terms of having clearly defined ideas, a strategy to implement your plans or have created content that works across the full marketing mix . Nor do you need to have developed a fully comprehensive marketing strategy or specific goals or milestones around execution of your plans from the outset.

However, you DO need to have clarity and understanding around the key pitfalls below, as it’s the answers to these questions which will determine, who, what, why and how you chose to target – and with what proposition you plan to approach this.

Getting some marketing advice early on can be really key in helping you define this, whether this is right at the beginning of your business journey, or to set you back on course after a hiccup so you can begin to follow a considered strategy.

  1. We don’t need a website

Many SME’s feel that their customer base is unlikely to be made up of internet users. Some feel that the creation and maintenance of a website, is a costly and unnecessary drain on resource.  The facts really speak for themselves here though: year on year, internet access in the UK continues to rise, and according to Statista.com, 90 % of UK homes currently access the internet. 97% of consumers search online for products & services, and more than half of searches are for local goods or services. Your customers are therefore far, far more likely to search online than they are to visit your premises.

A huge amount searches for goods or services – a whopping 93% of them,  begin with a search engine,  and almost 50% of people click on one of the first three listings.
Statistics from www.bluecorona.com.

These statistics should be enough to convince you; without a website, you are effectively cutting out a huge percentage of your potential customer base and putting yourself in a very risky position against your web-savvy competitors.

There are loads of companies that can create a low cost and fast solution for a website for you, and there is also plenty of guidance out there if you’d prefer to develop something yourselves, cost really shouldn’t be a deal breaker with this.  Whichever route you choose, to create and maintain a site – having a  web-presence will be really crucial for your business.

  1. We don’t have time to track results

This is a very common mistake, both for developed businesses, and new start-ups. Without any quantitative data, it is difficult to understand what is working for your business and where you might be making mistakes.

Recording any data can take many forms; from recording and analysing those google analytics that keep you at the forefront of your customers’ searches, to keeping a close track of sales calls and follow ups. From checking conversion rates from online hits to your website, to following up on sales leads from networking events, all results are equally important and should be tracked as a matter of course, as all these results together will begin give you a clear picture of your customer base.

Without tracking, you would have nothing to benchmark yourself against, and it would be difficult to assess any strengths, weaknesses, and where there might be room for improvement – and where to refine your focus, if your results suggest this might be necessary.

  1. We don’t need to know what our competitors are doing

It is also relatively common amongst SME’s to have limited knowledge around what competitors are doing with their marketing, or any changes they are making to their business.

In the same way not tracking results can prove costly, not being aware of what your competitors are doing is a huge opportunity missed. From them you can gain a great insight into what is working and what is not. A valuable exercise is to find 3 other businesses close to your own offer – that are clearly successful. They don’t have to be close geographically, but their offer should align fairly closely to your own.  If you begin to keep track of what they’re doing and how they are marketing themselves, you’ll soon be able to understand their successes and failures, noting for instance what tactics they do once, but never again, and the tactics they employ month on month which are clearly working well for them. Spending time tracking these successes and failures can offer great insight and leverage for your own business too, and help you avoid making potential costly mistakes.

  1. We’re a “me-too” business

One of the marketing tag-lines that has had a lot of resonance with me, is one that cuts to the chase with this line of business development, it’s for a beautiful and bespoke lighting retailer, and the tag-line is “nothing similar, is quite the same”. I think this is a perfect tag-line, given that it is memorable, thought provoking, and gives a clear message, that this particular brand of coveted lighting, are both unique and better than all the other similar products in the market place.

Sometimes, the “mistake” of faithfully following a competitor can work out okay for you. Walk along any high street in the UK and note the number of hairdressing salons or estate agents there are, to realise a point of difference isn’t always necessary. In other businesses, this approach may lead to your hasty demise as in many business markets and business models, you do need to be distinctive to survive.

One way to think about your USP, is to be able to clearly explain, in as little time as possible, why people would want to do business with you rather than your competitors – an elevator pitch if you like.  Understanding why your customer needs to choose your product or service specifically – and positioning your business in a way that shows this point of difference, can make all the difference between success and failure.

  1. We’re not sure who are audience is.

As I mentioned above, you don’t have to have a fully-functioning, all singing all dancing marketing strategy from the outset, but understanding your audience and what it is you are offering them, and beginning is a great place to start.

If you’re trying to market to the wrong audience, this can have a hugely negative impact on your business. Some business owners have such a clear, focused view of who they want their customers or clients to be, that they can be completely blind-sided to the customers they already have. Many a gastro-pub has failed down to this lack of insight. Remarketing a pub to sell craft beers and organic quinoa because a youthful hipster is your preferred target market, is irrelevant if that willing audience doesn’t exist, and you may have alienated a great local demographic of retirees, and local families who would have been keen to sample your traditional pub-grub. Your product or service might be appealing to an audience you hadn’t originally intended, but knowing that audience, and nurturing them, will be the key to your success.

Identifying your audience means drilling down further than using a simple demographic – aiming your product or service at “18-25 year olds”, isn’t really enough. You really need to understand who your market is. What is their profile? What are their interests? What else do they spend their income on? You need to get to grips with exactly what they are looking for, why they want it, and exactly how much they are prepared to pay for it.

Alongside this, devote some time also to thinking about what type of work do you want to be doing – not all business is good business after all. For example; low margin, high maintenance, difficult customers that zap the enjoyment out of the job and so on will be ones that you want to avoid. Who do you want to be working with/servicing? . Understanding the work you want to do, and the people you want to work with from the outset will really help you build up the “profile” of the audience so you are better equipped to target them successfully.

  1. We don’t need to follow a strategy

Time and budgets are often in short supply, and there can be an urge to skip or ignore as many “unnecessary” steps for marketing as possible to ease the work load, and development of a marketing plan often falls into this gap. However, in exactly the same way that it is unlikely a bank would fund a new business venture without sight of any kind of business plan, it is equally proven that you are far more likely to succeed with a written marketing strategy, than without one.

Planning out a marketing strategy document helps develop a clear course of action, highlighting the specific tactics you’ll use, how much they’ll cost and how much time they’re likely to take – these all dramatically increases your chances for success as they keep you focussed, able to budget, and most importantly offer a great insight to track your successes and failures.

It often follows that the more time that you invest in building the best marketing campaign, the more effective it will be and the greater the rewards.  Rush through the steps or dismiss them as too much unnecessary work, and your business will be much weaker as a result. Be patient, and your business will benefit.

  1. We concentrate our marketing on our social media platforms

A common mistake is to concentrate marketing on social media, rather than devoting time to a customer facing website, this is particularly common with Facebook.

When social media first exploded, there was a lot of talk about driving traffic to social media sites rather than towards websites. Some major corporations even toyed with shutting down their websites and focusing instead on their social media pages, particularly their Facebook pages. With the knowledge of hindsight, that would have been incredibly short-sighted for them.

Social media clearly has its place as part of the wider communications mix, but certainly not to the detriment of a corporate website. It is great way to attract new prospects and as a channel to engage with existing ones, but it shouldn’t ever act as  a replacement for a website. All your social media efforts should ultimately drive people back towards your website where you have a truly captive audience – your website really should become your shop window to the world.

  1. We’ve blown the budget with one marketing campaign!

This mistake is fairly common, particularly when owner/managers have a launch budget, and are really keen to make a big ‘splash’ from the outset and a misconception that this will help secure advance sales.

Unfortunately, this is a common misconception and blowing the budget on one big marketing push, rather than spreading across a number of different communications tactics could leave the business lacking in resource for any future initiatives –  a very precarious position to be in – particularly for a small start-up.

This ties in with needing some kind of plan or strategy from the outset, and also taking time to think about what your marketing activity is likely to be over a pre-agreed period.

Taking the long view is always the best option with marketing. Try not to expect immediate and tangible results from any marketing activity but rather think of your marketing as ongoing, something that needs to be nurtured and refined should the need arise.

  1. We decided not to do any marketing

This one is dangerously tempting, especially where resources are low. Below are some well versed justifications for this view:

“If we just create a world-class product or service, the world will come and find us.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, even if you have the most amazing business idea in the world, there is no way that you will see the reap the rewards of your idea, without any marketing to help your customers find you.

“If we don’t spend any money on marketing, we can plough any money we save straight back into the business.”

Unfortunately, again, this is a common mistake. Without marketing, your tank is effectively running with no fuel and will very quickly come to a standstill.

The good news is, you don’t have to have a full- time member of staff to do your marketing. With some good advice, and a little forward planning, along with tracking your activities as your business grows, you can refine your marketing at any point along the journey.

So, hopefully, you won’t fall foul of any of the above common marketing errors. If you’d like to learn a little more about SME marketing pitfalls, or would like to chat through your wider marketing needs, please do give us a call, we’d be very happy to talk through your requirements.