By Christopher J. Ryan – President, Fusion Marketing Partners
Many small- to medium-sized businesses fail due to a lack of an effective marketing and sales program. Entrepreneurs may be very good at their core business, but know very little about marketing. Certain people suffer from the theory espoused by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” They are innocently caught up in a love for their own products or services and believe the world will indeed beat a path to their door when prospects hear about the fantastic new product. This attitude is wrong, dangerous, and not in line with the practices of successful B2B marketers. In fact, more often than not, superior marketing beats a superior product.
Another reason for failure is that an effective marketing campaign is hard work. Since marketing is probably not what motivated the entrepreneur to open his or her business, it receives less priority than product development and other tasks. Marketing also often comes up short when scarce funds are allocated. Sadly, there are start-up companies that spend tens of thousands of dollars on furniture and equipment, while complaining that there is nothing left for marketing.
New companies also make a mistake by hiring expensive advertising agencies that are incapable of cost-effective, low-budget marketing. Or they hire marketing and sales talent from big companies, and these people are often clueless about how to get results on a limited budget. So if you are in a small company, be careful about hiring the hotshot from a big company to come solve your problems. It often doesn’t work. This is not to say that everyone from a big company is incapable of being effective with a smaller budget-some are great no matter the company size.
Small to medium businesses and start-ups face two major obstacles not shared by larger, entrenched companies. First, if you happen to be a small fish in a large pond, you will be confronted by competitors with much larger advertising and marketing budgets. Second, you may have to spend a larger percentage of your revenues on marketing than older, established organizations.
Given the reality of this situation, you need to squeeze as much efficiency as possible out of every dollar. Be assured that you can do a lot on a limited budget, and expensive does not always mean better. I’ve often used limited-budget strategies to beat the big players and you can do the same. And the lessons you learn by doing it the frugal way will serve you well, no matter how successful you become, or how far your marketing budget expands. Here are a collection of small budget strategies and tactics you can use to beat the big guys:
Small Budget Website Strategies:
- Don’t overbuild your Website. There are ways to create an impressive site using less-complex open source or template approaches.
- If possible, have an easy-to-remember Website address that relates to what your company does.
- List your Web address (URL) on all of your corporate materials.
- Make sure your Website is optimized for organic search terms. This is a low-cost strategy that will make you much easier to find.
- Try narrowly focused low-cost pay per click search terms.
- Give some information away for free to increase your Website stickiness.
- Create many links with other sites to increase your search engine visibility.
- Refresh your content often. Do not let the site go stale.
Small Budget Social Media Strategies:
- Start your own blog and comment on other blogs.
- Always list your Web address on your blog postings and any electronic communication.
- Leverage LinkedIn and other networking sites.
- Use Twitter to find relevant posts and prospects.
- Be controversial (but not too controversial) to attract attention.
- Choose a niche where you can be an expert.
- Write articles and get them published in online media.
- Focus on one or two social media outlets. This concentrated attention will bring more attention than throwing your efforts at five or six outlets.
Small Budget Email Strategies:
- Work hard to build your email prospect file of opt-in names. This will be a gold mine of low-cost leads and sales.
- Include a promotional message and your Website address as part of your standard email signature.
- Provide links to valuable information in your emails, not just product pitches.
- Make your emails interesting and/or unusual.
- Run your email copy through a spam detection tool like EmailExam, Acxiom Digital, or Lyris ContentChecker to ensure your emails will not be caught in the spam filters.
- Have an easy opt-out process. You do not want to keep sending emails to people who want to be removed from your list.
Small Budget Direct Marketing Strategies:
- Target your lists more effectively by using demographics, psychographics, and some of the other list segmenting tools available. The object is to mail fewer packages and achieve greater response.
- Test your mailing and telemarketing in small quantities before committing large sums to full-blown programs. Equally important, use the information you learn on every program to make the next work better.
- Try a postcard mailer. The production costs are low, the first-class postage is less expensive than letter mail, and they pull very well. You can drive prospects to a Web form or toll-free telephone number.
- Cut back on four-color process direct mail packages. Unless you sell food, magazines, resort properties, or other products requiring excellent graphic reproduction, you can probably pull as much response using two-color printing.
- Consider mailing with third-class postage instead of first-class. Depending on whether you presort the file, this will save you a great amount of money, and most prospects will not notice the difference. The exception is with time-sensitive offers, since third-class mail can take a week longer to arrive than first-class.
- If you mail to large numbers on a national basis, or send highly concentrated mailings into local or regional areas, use postal pre-sorting to lower postage costs.
More Cost-Cutting Ideas:
- If you are a small company (a flea), find a big company (a dog) to partner with. This will make it much easier for you to sell to bigger companies.
- Read the chapter on public relations carefully and begin carrying out its advice. PR is a low-effort, high-reward vehicle that is often under-utilized by small-budget marketers.
- Be persistent. Remember the eight times rule: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on each communication, but you must repeat your message up to eight times to gain prospect awareness.
- Write handwritten personal notes to prospects and customers. They are cheap but make a big impact.
- Ask for referrals. They are much easier to sell, at lower cost.
- Utilize experts. An expert’s advice will cost you something in the short term, but can save you money and aggravation in the long term.
- List your primary products and services on your stationery and business card, or anything else you give to potential buyers.
- Since consistency is vital for those with small budgets, make sure every one of your marketing efforts supports and reinforces your unique selling proposition (USP).
- Sharpen your bargaining skills. Media outlets are hungry for business and many have unsold inventory. Use this to your advantage by negotiating aggressively.
One other important principle to practice is leverage. Try to create content once and use it in multiple marketing scenarios. This is less expensive and time-consuming, and the consistency of message is important.
Christopher Ryan is a noted expert in B2B marketing. Chris is founder and President of Fusion Marketing Partners and was formerly a senior marketing executive at companies like Sybase, PeopleSoft and Group 1 Software. You can buy Mr. Ryans latest book, Winning B2B Marketing.