Most of the marketing problems facing a small business stem from lack of resources, whether it is time, personnel, knowledge, or money. These are the small business marketing pain points.
The solutions to these problems are interrelated and interdependent. Think of it as walking across one of those rope net challenges where every time you step one way, the net sways and you have to counterbalance. Sound like fun yet?
The interdependent part of these factors most often looks like this:
You don’t know how to do something and you don’t have someone on your team who knows how to do it so you are told to hire it out. “Just get a VA” (for that mythical $3.00 an hour). But it’s going to take time to find that VA and then explain what you need done or train them. It will take even more time to find someone at $3.00 an hour. Don’t waste your time on that. Expect to pay a fair price and expect to invest some time in the search. But don’t make cheap labor your life’s mission.
Too often, you don’t have the time to get everything done in your business but you also don’t have the money to hire someone. Or you need to do something in your business but it has a learning curve to it that will involve time and your ability to learn it. You can’t do one thing until you have the other. Or two of the others.
When you’re wearing all (or most of) the hats in your business, you’re constantly balancing and counter-balancing these four factors.
For owners who are bootstrapping it, time can be their largest investment. When you don’t have money, you have to spend time. This is how you end up working 80 hours a week for yourself rather than 40 hours a week for “the man.”
The problem is that there are only so many hours in the day and burn out will eventually happen. Time management is one of the most important skills a business owner needs. But time management is a misnomer. Someone smart once said “You can’t manage time; you can only manage your activities.” Prioritizing your activities is the way around this particular problem. There are various ways to do this depending on your business. Taking care of clients is always a priority, of course. Bookkeeping is another—you need to know where your money is coming from, where it is going out, and how much of it there is. Everything else needs to be evaluated in relation to your bottom line.
When you look at the marketing problems facing a small business in terms of time management, the problem is that marketing is relegated to the back burner and it doesn’t get done. It’s important, but for some reason, business owners don’t consider it to be urgent. Let me say this very clearly:
MARKETING IS URGENT.
When your marketing stops, it isn’t long before your business stops. At least 20% of your time should be spent on marketing and revenue generating activities. More if you are working with no money. That means you have to set aside time, whether it is spending a certain amount of time per day on marketing or choosing one day a week to focus on it. For help with this, my book, Marketing in 4 Hours a Week, shows you how to set up systems to ensure that you have a consistent baseline of marketing up and running at all times.
Small business owners and especially solo-preneurs wear many hats in their businesses and one person can’t be an expert at all things. Most people go into business because they are good at what they do. As Michael Gerber explains in his book, The E-Myth Revisited, they are good technicians. But a small business also needs solid administration and a visionary—someone who can plan out the path of the company.
We all have our strengths. We also have things we are good at but we don’t like to do. In a small business, especially one and two person shops, we tend to do the things we are good at and like to do and let the other things fall by the wayside.
The things we don’t know how to do, the things that will take the time to learn and master, are often pushed back because of fear. We don’t know how to do it and we don’t want to do it wrong or look stupid while we learn. We don’t want to make a mistake. That’s human. But these tasks still need to be done.
While we won’t be able to master all the skills required in business, we do need to have enough understanding of them to hire and supervise someone who does the work. How many stories have you heard of companies who went broke because the bookkeeper (or the rock star’s manager) was embezzling? It’s because the business owner didn’t want to mess with it. They didn’t want to think about it. You have to. You have to know enough about every part of your business to know when something isn’t right. It’s that simple.
Hiring the first employee or contractor is a milestone for small businesses. You’ve reached the point where you need help to get everything done. Hopefully, that need is customer-driven—your business is taking off.
Before you hire, you need to assess where the business stands and what the actual hiring needs are. Take a look at all the tasks you are doing in your business and ask which ones would be better done by someone else. Make a list and then determine which delegated job will give you the best return on your money. The value might be in hours saved, in knowledge added (which could result in better efficiency, a new service or product line), or it might be in revenue generated.
You might hate doing the books every month, but you can suck it up and keep doing that if hiring a salesperson will help the business more. Know that in a few months the additional revenue the salesperson generates will allow you to also hire additional help.
What do you need to take into consideration when hiring?
First, you have to have the money to hire people. Many business owners hesitate to make their first hire because their revenue is inconsistent and while they have the money to pay someone this month, they worry that they won’t have the money to pay them down the road. Can your business support adding someone to the payroll? If not, can this be handled on a part-time or contract basis?
Second, will adding this person add to the bottom line? I have seen people hire full time admins and receptionists when they really need a salesperson, a technician, or part-time bookkeeper. In many small businesses, you “eat what you kill.” A person has to pull their own weight and add to the bottom line. A bookkeeper who saves you five hours of your time a month and shows you where you are overspending is probably worth their fees. A receptionist who sits at a desk when no one is walking into your business is an ego-stroke.
Third, know that it will take time (and possibly several tries) to find the right person. If you know having someone in a particular position will improve your business and the first one doesn’t work out, don’t give up. Many people talk a good game. Check references. Ask to see their portfolio if that’s applicable. If possible, have someone in addition to you interview the person so you can get a different perspective. Hiring the right person at the right time can transform your business. Once you have determined that you need a position filled, get it filled.
One of my favorite sayings is “If money can solve a problem, it’s not a problem; it’s a situation.” And I have often thought after saying that, “Boy do we have a large situation here…”
In business, money can solve a lot of problems, but there can also be a lot of waste. Small businesses often confuse advertising with marketing. They throw money into advertising, hoping that it will bring in business. Untargeted advertising doesn’t work. Before you place your first ad, you need to understand your target audience, who your customers are, where you are likely to find them, and the best way to appeal to them. Money—unless it is used to hire a savvy marketing consultant—does not solve that part of the marketing problem. You need to plan out your marketing.
The right marketing plan will save you money in the long run. It will give you the best odds of having your ideal prospective customers see your offers. It will also have markers in place to track and measure the results of your marketing efforts so you can see what is working and what is not.
Life is easier with money. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be working so hard to get it. In business, you are going to have to spend some money on marketing; there’s just so much you can do for free and the free marketing will only get you so far. This is particularly true when you are working to scale up your business. Use it wisely.
Walking the Rope Net
Marketing is the lifeblood of your business. It is what keeps your business alive and thriving. Yes, there are marketing problems facing a small business—all small businesses—but they are not insurmountable. Knowing how these four factors interact gives you the capacity to allow for them, to balance and counterbalance according to the resources you have available at any given time.
Creating a marketing plan helps you work your way around and through these issues. It helps you plan out your time and money. It reveals any knowledge or personnel gaps that need to be filled before you commit to a strategy. Commit to creating a marketing plan for your business and you will find that the marketing problems facing a small business grow smaller and eventually disappear. And it’s not rocket science. I promise.