While I’m mainly studying tech, using tech, configuring tech, and writing about tech, I do occasionally have some interesting thoughts about business, and how people could use tech better to help their business. I wrote this article to talk about some of the insights I’ve had into the mistakes small businesses make when trying to market themselves online. I also go into some alternatives that work well for small businesses trying to get more customers. Let’s go over those common mistakes first.
Cart before the horse
One of the most common mistakes that I see small businesses making, when trying to grow, is that they mistakenly view ‘doing marketing’ as its own activity, that they “should” be doing, for its own sake. I know that many people with a tech background like me can also fall into this trap, so I hope to clear this up. To give a great example, I often see a billboard in town, for an auto repair shop, that is eye grabbing (nice visual design, in my opinion), but the big text at the bottom of the billboard (the action that the business wants the reader to take) is somehow “Give us a like on Facebook!”, instead of “Call us today to fix your car”. Do you see what I mean? The objective of doing marketing is to get more customers, not to get Facebook likes. The cart has been put before the horse in this case. Getting lots of Facebook likes is a side-effect of having lots of people visiting your business and being happy with the resulting product or service. That auto shop is most probably going to spend a lot of money getting people to like them on Facebook, but they’re not going to get as many new customers as they could have. So keep it simple! Just focus on getting more (real) customers, when you’re trying to “do marketing”. The rest of the details don’t matter if you’re making money.
As a tech writer, I think I can understand how this mistaken mentality comes about. The problem is that the business owner is highly skilled and experienced in their field (in this example, car repair), and they have a good sense for business in general (they’re making enough money to spend on advertising), but as soon as they encounter “computers” (containing the smaller sub-topic of “social media”), they panic. The same business owner that would never do anything without having a well defined business objective, and a detailed plan to achieve it, suddenly has no idea how to proceed. So they engage a “marketing agency” who does not understand their business.
Part of the problem is that they’re not tech people, and they don’t understand what actually happens when they do “social media marketing”. They think they’re just publishing a page on Facebook, and if it gets a lot of “likes”, then that’s a good thing. They don’t understand that the only reason people will “like” their page is if those people are already interested in their type of business, and that they’re interested in the exact thing that they’re promoting. They don’t understand that they’re actually doing a type of advertising, where they’re using a particular platform to get a message out to a particular audience. What I’m trying to say is that with a little experience, and a lot of patience, you can learn how to do this kind of marketing (and all types of marketing), and that it’s really not that hard, but you do have to understand what you’re actually doing. Just like tech! You don’t need to be an experienced Azure system administrator who lives in Visual Studio to figure out how to use Windows. You just need to keep a clear head about what you’re trying to achieve.
Let’s dive into another example. The difference between paying Google to show your website to customers (as a paid ad), versus just getting your website to come up when people are searching for it, is huge. One is expensive, and might not even be shown to the right person. The other is free, and is targeting exactly the right kind of person who is searching for you. Let’s break this mistake down: small business owners put a little bit of money into google ads, and see a couple of customers come out of it. “Great!” they think. “All I have to do is pour lots of money into this and I’ll have lots of new customers!”. But it doesn’t work, and they have wasted their money. Why? Because google shows the ads to the right people to start with, then when they run out, it shows the ad to the wrong people. The majority of people who end up visiting the website from ads are not going to buy anything from that business. The only way to target the right people is to get your website results in google searches.
What’s the difference? Google ads cost money. Google search doesn’t. It’s the same amount of work to run a google search campaign as it is to build a website, and get it to rank highly for a keyword (Note, however, you can speed that process up if you have your keyword already and decide to buy backlinks) In any case, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. You just need to do some research to find out who you’re targeting.
Marketing is not a thing unto itself. Social media is not success, it’s a side effect of people in your business making money, and being able to reinvest that money in your company to get more customers, not to invest it in social media. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started, but you do need to understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.