The Small Business Marketing Minefield!

This article is aimed at anyone wanting to set up as an Independent SLT or, for that matter, any small business. When you set up a small business you instantly get bombarded by people offering all kinds of ideas about how to market and advertise your business. From friends & family to cold-callers, it seems everyone has an idea about how you should advertise your services! In my experience, and I don’t think I’m alone here, it is pretty overwhelming and at least one of the following things will happen to you:

  • People will endlessly suggest that you should pay to put an advert in a publication of some sort.
  • People will repeatedly ring you up offering (sometimes quite aggressively) to get you to the top of the first page of Google for ‘only’ £90-100.
  • People will ring you up asking if you would like to write a short article for their publication. In the next breath, they will tell you that they will charge you anywhere between £200 and £3000 to print it.
  • People will ring you up asking if you want to be one of only 10 (or other random but small number) of people of your profession listed in their industry-specific directory. Again, there will be a significant cost associated with this.

Chances are, if you are starting a small business, you will have a VERY small or non-existent marketing budget, so what do you do? Well, my first piece of advice to you is to talk to one of the business advisors at your local council (free!) and to book onto some of the Business Gateway (called Business Link south of the border) training courses (also free!) that cover marketing. The first one I did was called ‘Marketing on a Shoestring’ and it was a brilliant intro into all of the free or very cheap things you can do to market your business. Business Gateway also run more specific courses on building websites, using social media for marketing and optimising your website so that it’s found by Google & the other search engines. These courses are useful once you’ve got your marketing plan of attack together.

My second piece of advice is do not pay for anything unless there’s a REALLY good reason to do so! While there will be a few carefully considered things you will want to pay for at the start, like a web domain name and a well designed brand identity, there are literally hundreds of things you can do for free to get you started. One of the things I learned from Marketing on a Shoestring is that, by and large, adverts in newspapers and magazines are expensive and they really don’t work very well. If you really do want to try it, make sure you have a way to count up the business it brings in and do the sums! Did you gain enough new business to make back more than the cost of the advert? If not, it wasn’t worth it!

My third piece of advice is to ENGAGE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA! Facebook or Twitter might not be your bag but, like it or not, social media is MASSIVE and it’s free to use! Click here to check out a pretty mind-blowing YouTube video citing the 2013 statistics relating to social media. Seriously, if you want to market your business, you can’t afford to ignore the social media explosion. Having said that, it can be tough not get overwhelmed by all the different options and it’s easy to get sucked in to spending half your life on Facebook/Twitter/Google+ etc, etc. Therefore it is really important to consider which social media channels you are going to use and to have a clear plan of how you intend to use them and how much time you’re going to devote to it each week. Doing one or more of the Business Gateway/Business Link social media training sessions will give you some really good guidance and support to help you get the best out of using social media for business without losing days of your life to it!

My fourth pearl of wisdom is that you really need to build yourself a website. Like it or not, most people nowadays go straight to Google if they’re looking for a service or product, I know it’s always my first port of call. There are many different free platforms & templates out there that you can use to build yourself a website, from something really simple to a pretty complex affair depending on how confident you feel about doing it yourself. Of course, you can pay someone to do this for you and, depending on your skill and confidence levels, this may prove more cost effective than doing it yourself. Just be aware that it’s not actually that hard to get something simple up and running yourself for free if you do have a limited budget. I’m very lucky to have a dedicated and talented husband who has helped me to set this one up. We found that there are loads of YouTube videos and forums to help you understand how to use the various web platforms, so you needn’t be stuck. Once again, I’d strongly advise a Business Gateway course or two to learn about the basics of building a website and optimising it so that it gets found by the various search engines. While you can pay the £90 to be put in the advertised links at the top of the search page if you like, you can also do many FREE things to optimise your website so that it appears on that first page anyway. And, I have to say, as a regular Googler, I tend to ignore the paid for links anyway as they’re often less relevant than the organically generated list below. I’m sure I’m not alone there. Do be aware, however, that the things you do to help your site appear on the first page of search results can take a few months to kick in so don’t lose heart! You’ll get there!

As a fifth suggestion, I’d say it’s a good idea to get yourself listed on any relevant free listings websites that you can. Apart from giving you extra hits in searches, it also helps optimise your website to be found by the search engines. The likes of Yell and Thomson Local are a good place to start. You may also find that organisations relevant to your industry have directories that you can get a listing in for free, for example, I have a listing in the National Autistic Society’s services directory. Again, if you feel the need, there’s nothing to stop you paying to be included in one of the published directories if you want to, I’m just saying to think carefully about it’s coverage and to be aware that there are lots of listings you can get for free first!

Finally, the cold calling that probably irritates me more than all the rest is when someone calls me saying that they have a ‘feature’ on something relevant to my business in their publication and would I like to write a little editorial to go in. In the next breath they tell me it’ll cost me £300 (or more!) for the privilege. Not being bad, if I’m going to spend my time writing such an article to do someone else a favour by filling their editorial space, I think it’s more appropriate that it’s either free to publish or THEY need to be offering to pay ME! To be fair, articles telling people about what you do can be a good way to raise awareness of your business though, so it is worth looking around to see if there is a relevant publication that will be happy to publish a little editorial for you for free. As a starting point, your local council business development team will probably have a free magazine promoting local businesses which tend to have a wide circulation to small businesses local to you. Often they’re more than happy for you to send in a little profile of your business which they’ll publish for free.

So there’s my 2-penneth starters for 10 about marketing your business for not much money, I hope it helps you. Definitely get yourself along to your local council business advisor as soon as you can and see what free training is available in your area before you even start! Good luck!