SME Marketing – What are your options?

SME, Small and Medium Enterprise, word lettering illustration in business concept. Design in modern style with related icons ornament concept for ui, ux, web, app banner design

Why is SME marketing so important?  Well, SMEs are the lifeblood of the British economy.  Without the entrepreneurial spirit of those starting their own business and inwardly investing in growth, the country would be in a bit of a mess.  With this mind, marketing of SMEs to help support and fuel this growth is critical.

Why is there a marketing skill gap?

The trouble is that when it comes to marketing within SMEs there is a bit of a skill gap.

Most people who start their own business are not marketeers, have never studied it, and probably aren’t aware of 90% of what marketing actually is.  Why would they?  They have started their own business off the back of a skillset, an interest, a passion or spotting an opportunity in the marketplace.

It often isn’t until the business owner has fully committed and started trading that the realisation sinks in that there are loads of skills that the business is going to need to take it where it needs to go – sales, marketing, finance, admin, HR, IT etc.

Basically the business owner has to decide what is the best course of action for all of these which usually comes down to four basic choices:

  • Upskill yourself – do some training so you can understand each discipline better.
  • Wing it – try and learn on the job as you go and see how far you can make it (only sustainable for so long).
  • Recruit the skill set into the business
  • Outsource the function to an experienced professional
Illustration showing concepts of running your own business

How to decide the best course of action

All of the above options are available to every single business owner and there is not one correct course of action.  You need to evaluate what is going to work best for you.  So when deciding on the best option for marketing your SME, these are things you need to consider:

  1. Am I interested in marketing (or just what it can deliver)?
  2. Do I think I have the necessary skillset and traits to do this myself?
  3. How quickly do I want to see results? What are my growth ambitions?
  4. How much resource (time and money) do I have to dedicate to this?
  5. Is this a short-term fix or a long-term solution?
  6. How risk averse am I?

Recruit In-house marketing

If your answer to 1) is no (i.e. you have no real interest in marketing), then either recruit someone internally into the business, or engage with an outsource partner.  We have previously written a whole blog on this to help you decide – in house vs outsourced marketing.  There is no point in you taking on the marketing if you have no real interest and don’t enjoy the process.  Ultimately it will bore you, distract you and quickly fall by the wayside.

One note of caution, if you go down the recruitment route then you really need someone with a bit of experience rather than someone just starting out in their marketing career.  Remember you don’t have anyone within the business to effectively manage them from a marketing perspective (like a larger organisation would).  This means that their learning and development will be hampered unless you also really invest in their personal development.  This could end up costing your more than someone with more experience in the first place.

Upskilling in marketing

If, however, you answered yes to 1) and 2) then all of the options are still potentially open to you, with your involvement dependant on which option you choose.  If you really want to learn and develop your own skills then you should undertake some marketing training.  We would recommend starting with the basic marketing fundamentals first, as these provide the building blocks upon which different activities and campaigns are eventually built.

You have various options from online modular marketing courses which you can work through in your own time, to full-time or part-time degree style courses which will have a more structured timetable. Try and focus on specifically finding an SME marketing course though, this way it will be more relevant to you and have less unnecessary “noise”.

Alternatively you could work alongside a marketing mentor or coach who can assist you with your marketing, whilst showing you how to go about things and gradually transferring their knowledge to you over a sustained period.

Going down the upskilling route could be a good decision in the long-term as it broadens your own skill set and enables you to potentially manage any future marketing recruits as you understand the discipline.  However, short term, it could provide a distraction to you (from the day-to-day operations) and it will take much longer to see this investment translate into business performance.

Businessman using laptop computer icon virtual screen education online and e learning on desk.

Outsourcing your marketing

Typically outsourcing is the route most SMEs go down with many of the disciplines mentioned.  It is the easiest and quickest solution to tap into experienced professionals who understand their area of specialism inside out.

However, it does come with its own risks.  Firstly it is the more expensive option (though not necessarily any more expensive than recruiting).  Secondly, unless you are working off the back of a strong word of mouth referral from someone you trust, then there is always an element of risk of working with a third party that you don’t know.

With marketing there are a number of “sense-checks” you can do when selecting your outsourced marketing partner – we have gathered them here in a separate blog on how to choose the best marketing partner.

Wing it

As daft as it sounds, sometimes winging it can be a good short-term option.  It is unlikely to ever deliver you sustainable business growth but it could you move you forward in the short term.

Marketing isn’t actually as difficult as you may think – it isn’t a dark art.  A lot of it is common sense and is based upon some basic core principles.  Get your head around these (again maybe some training) and actually you can make some educated decisions.  You may still need assistance in converting your ideas into physical campaigns and activities but if you think you have both the attributes and the instincts then it may be worth trying.

The danger of winging it is that you are never really testing and measuring what you are doing – which is dangerous.  You may be saving some money in not engaging with professional advice, but you will be losing more in activity which isn’t performing with a strong enough return on investment.


There is no definitive correct answer to this.  The best route for you to take with your SME marketing  will depend on how you answered those questions earlier.

Hopefully this article has provided some food for thought on what the best course of action may be for you.  SME marketing is really important and you have to make a decision otherwise your business can never fulfil its potential.

At some point, you will hit a glass ceiling where natural organic growth has slowed down and you need to take more proactive action – in terms of marketing your business.

If you want to talk with someone, please drop us a line and we can evaluate where you are and discuss what may be the best option for you.

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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.
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