15 Deadly Small Business Marketing Mistakes You Need To Avoid

Marketing Mistakes

Getting your small business off the ground, and keeping it afloat, is no easy task.

Only 45% of start-ups survive beyond the first five years, – a pretty raw reminder that the pond can be a tough place for a smaller fish.

Small businesses fail for a whole heap of reasons, from poor planning to lackluster ideas.

But one of the most important areas that SMEs fall short in is marketing.

Getting the word out about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it is such a vital step to success; so when mistakes are made in this area, they can have deadly consequences…

With so many effective small business marketing strategies out there, why are there so many mistakes still being made? Let’s discuss the ones we see most often.

#1 – Not Living Digitally

In the UK, 14.3% of all retail spending is spent online.

More and more people are leveraging the power of the internet to part with their money, which makes it a place you need to be if you are looking to attract customers.

At the start of this year, it was even reported that young people, for the first time ever, are spending more time online than they are watching television.

This alone speaks volumes about where your information needs to be, now and in the future, if you are looking to be seen.

Living digitally doesn’t just mean making use of social media channels.

It is still really important to have a website and to explore the internet as a wider entity.

This comes down to knowing your target customer as well as you possibly can – chances are they are hanging out online but it’s down to you to uncover exactly where.

#2 – Hiring a cheap SEO ‘Expert’

If your business has a digital presence, then you will have heard about SEO.

SEO (search engine optimisation) works to increase your websites visibility when people use search engines to seek information.

93% of online experiences begin with a search, making it the number one driver to content sites (over social media.)

That being said, it’s easy to see why SEO is such a crucial part of marketing strategies in the modern era, but when it comes to implementing it, it’s not wise to throw money at a so-called ‘expert’ and let them loose with your site.

Especially so if they offer promises that seems too good to be true, as usually they are.

Google Ranking Guarantee


Stay well clear of SEO companies or freelancers that offer ranking guarantees, Google Webmaster guidelines state that no one can guarantee #1 rankings on Google.

Google updates are frequent and changes in search algorithms are constantly working to become smarter and deliver more authentic results.

If your SEO is not being ethically implemented then you could find yourself struck off the directory altogether – a disaster for your digital strategy.

Before you get started, here are 17 questions you should ask your SEO company before signing on that dotted line.

#3 – Not Standing Your Brand Apart

In the world of business, competition is inevitable.

So if you think that you can get ahead by blending in, you’re very much mistaken.

Small businesses in particular need a USP.

A unique selling proposition (USP) should be something special about your business that customers can associate with your brand, in a positive light.

It can be a feature of a product or a way of conducting customer service, but it needs to stand out as your unique extra special feature that people buy into.

#4 – Not Considering Marketing as an Investment

Now this point is an important one.

Even the most successful start-ups can find themselves in a sharp decline if they don’t reinvest in their marketing.

As success sets in and revenue increases, it can be all too easy to put aside those profits.

What your business needs at this early stage though is fuel for the fire.

From informing to engaging, there are so many reasons why marketing is important for your SME, and these benefits should see a shift in your mindset.

When you focus on the results that it can bring, you should be seeing marketing as an investment, rather than simply an expense.

If done right, it’s something that can bring multiple returns, so putting into it should be a strategic move that you look forward to making.

#5 – Not Looking After The Details

You know what they say – the devil’s in the detail – and sure enough it’s where you win or lose when it comes to business.

As a new or small company, you have to work harder to gain trust.

This is where attention to detail can push you out ahead of the competition.

You have the benefit of working more closely with customers as an SME, so use this to your advantage to go the extra mile.

Customer service, social media strategy and marketing materials are all areas in which detail can be delivered.

Not only can they enhance your customer’s experience but they’re pretty vital for getting an accurate message across – something that’s essential to your success.

#6 – Not Measuring Results

So you’ve taken all the right steps to get your small business marketing plan in place.

Your brand is polished, your online presence is impressive and your details are all up to scratch.

But are you keeping an eye on what all of this actually means?

A huge mistake that small businesses make is not measuring the results of their marketing activity.

Not every method is going to pull off as planned, and others can far exceed expectations.

So keeping an eye on the ins and outs of your results can ensure that wins are repeated and lessons are learned.

There are many ways in which you can measure your marketing results.

From traffic sources to ready-made analytics tools and selected promotional codes.

You can stay well informed of what is generating business and what you can cut as you go along.

#7 – No budget set aside

Many SMEs struggle from the outset by not having a designated budget assigned for their marketing.

There can be a number of reasons for this but it usually stems from a degree of uncertainty regarding what their marketing should entail and its value to the growth of the business.

For example if you aren’t aware of what needs to be done or to what extent then it can be difficult to allocate a budget for it.   Not having a clearly defined budget can prove costly to you in a number of ways.

If you are under investing then chances are that you’re missing out on enquiries/sales as a result of it.

If you are overspending without tracking return on investment, you can quickly run into cash flow issues.

Allocating a budget will allow you to spend smartly as knowing how much you have in the “kitty” will encourage you to spend the right amounts in the right areas.

#8 – No ongoing plan of activity

A plan of activity is crucial in developing a successful marketing strategy.

Not having one usually results in SMEs conducting marketing on an ad hoc basis which is an inefficient way of doing it.

Having this sporadic scattergun approach may appear to fill the gaps during quiet periods, however by its very nature it means that the demand for your products and services will always create peaks and troughs.

In order to plan your activities you need to establish your goals and set clear what you’d like to achieve from it. This can range from looking to increase leads, to raising brand awareness, to increasing turnover and profitability.

Your goals can then be used to develop a plan of activity which will involve the appropriate activities to achieve them.  Then you need to work out whether you need to deliver this activity, or bring in outside help to maintain momentum.

#9 – Too narrowly focussed on specific campaigns

When embarking on a marketing campaign it’s important to look at all of the potential ramifications of it before starting – consider the bigger picture.

Many SMEs see what appears to be a good marketing opportunity without fully understanding if it actually fits into what they’re trying to achieve long term and any possible adverse effects it could bring.

Consider promotional activities like flash sales (such as Black Friday) which many brands are quick to be a part of.

Now an SME might see this as a good opportunity to get a few sales and get their products out there, however, if their products are positioned as a prestigious or luxury item then this could very well taint their reputation – particularly if the upturn in demand affects customer service levels.

While the surge in sales and revenue might prove beneficial in the short term, the long term cost to the image of the business will far outweigh it.

#10 – Missing Repeat/Referral Business

With many SMEs the primary cause of concern is getting sales completed and cash flowing into the business.

This is all good and well, however, too much focus on winning new customers can often be to the detriment of the potential business within your existing client base.

As has often been stated, the post sales process is every bit as important as the actual sale itself as it opens the door to gaining repeat custom, upselling, cross-selling or even a referral.

Gaining a new customer is considered to be around 5 to 10 more expensive to win than retaining a current one – so why don’t businesses focus more of their efforts on the relationships that they already have?

Your customers are the core of your business, so make sure they feel appreciated.

We’ve talked before about the power of customer appreciation – so take note and get started with these 9 ideas.

#11 – Not efficiently dealing with enquiries

Dealing with enquiries efficiently and effectively can make the difference between getting a sale, but also enables you to gain valuable data – however many SME owners fail to realise this.

The key things to consider when handling enquiries is responding in a timely manner and communicating effectively.

Responding quickly irrespective of whether it’s an enquiry made over phone, email or social media not only portrays your business in a positive light but also shows that you value the customer.

Failing to do so can mean you could be losing out to a competitor.

Therefore when dealing with enquiries which you have stalled on (responding more than 24 hours later) ensure to take into account the fact that they may have already spoken to someone else.

In addition, for most enquiries, don’t miss out on gleaning information.

Asking simple questions such as where they heard about you is crucial information, as logging this information can over time help to identify your most effective marketing channels, once more with very little work and at no extra cost.

Finally ensure you have an efficient process to deal with enquiries before you invest substantially in your marketing activity.

#12 – Not understanding financials

Understanding your financials is a fundamental part of running a business in general and it’s no different when it comes to marketing.

There are a number of financial metrics that need to be understood, these include the average value of transactions, average lifetime client spend, frequency of purchase and the how long a client is on average likely to stay with your business.

Having a grasp of these figures will allow you to gauge how much each client is worth to your business and thus how much you should be spending on marketing to acquire them.

Whilst these figures will be based on averages it’s important for them to be as accurate as possible if you want to avoid overspending on your marketing, therefore get external support if needed to help calculate these metrics.

If you are already aware of the revenue/number of sales required to break-even you can then also estimate and budget how much marketing spend will be needed to generate enough leads to reach these targets.

#13 – Lack of testing & measuring

As an SME the money you spend on your marketing should be spent wisely.

With so many avenues to choose from, it’s easy to get drawn into overspending in areas which might not be actually granting you a sufficient return.

Therefore we recommend you start small and work on testing and measuring your campaign results to see what’s successful.

Assess whether your ROI is acceptable and take action accordingly.

If something isn’t providing the desired results then look to refine what you’re doing within that specific channel and try again – however if it continues to prove costly for your business then stop doing it and invest in other areas which are working.

#14 – Lack of responsibility

Having someone who is accountable for the marketing not only ensures things get done but it also allows for more structured and efficient campaigns.

Understandably many SMEs find themselves in a position where they’re unable to take anyone on, with the financial burden involved in hiring someone senior enough to undertake all of the tasks being the main issue.

Alternatively, they are also reluctant to take the risk of employing someone more affordable but with less experience (such as a graduate) leaving them without a dedicated marketing employee.

For those who find themselves stuck in this position and unwilling to take up either of the above options, the best solution it to seek external marketing support – as you can tap into experience at an affordable price without a long-term commitment.

If you are an MD or business owner don’t fall into the trap of doing it on your own – your job is to run the business.

Don’t get distracted from your main role.

Also when you get busier you will notice that your marketing activity and enquiries will dry up.

#15 – No Marketing Strategy

Not having an actual marketing strategy can not only prove wasteful for your marketing spend but it can also be detrimental to your business on the whole.

A marketing strategy will enable you to position your offering and deliver your message in a means which is most effective for your given target audience.

However, developing a marketing strategy is not straight forward and can become a hurdle for SMEs who don’t have a marketing specialist employed.

With the efficiency of your marketing spend riding on the back of your marketing strategy it’s advisable to use someone who is adept at creating one for you.

Mistakes are made. Lessons are learned.

For SME success, there are many hoops to jump. But with a high level of preparation, you can line them up conveniently.

Marketing helps businesses to be heard in a very noisy world. It’s a way of bringing in attention and hooking in customers.

So it’s a vital part of the plan for a small business that wants to achieve big things.

Even the most experienced brands suffer marketing mistakes throughout their journeys.

The key to getting past them is being alert enough to spot them before they become a detrimental issue.

Ultimately, combining the strength of your brand with a smart strategy and ongoing evaluation will stand you in the best position to positively thrive through the undeniable power of marketing.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.