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The 5 biggest small business marketing mistakes

A look at how ineffective marketing could destroy your business

The reason for marketing is simple: to attract more people to your business. However, it can be expensive, and if not done properly, ineffective. This has made it a tricky issue for startup businesses with small budgets. To work, marketing campaigns must be carefully targeted at the desired audiance meaning there are few generic ‘must do's'. However, there are some marketing disasters that all businesses should definitely avoid.

Chris Cardell is one of the UK's leading experts on small business marketing. He has been featured extensively on national media including BBC, ITV and the national press. After a decade of working with and interviewing hundreds of UK businesses, Chris has outlined five of the fatal mistakes that business owners and managers make, which at best cost them a fortune in lost profits – and at worst can lead to business failure.

1 – Not communicating effectively with your existing customers Your best immediate sources of additional profits and increased business are your existing customers. These are the people who you've already invested time, energy and money with to create a relationship. They know you, they trust you, hopefully they've enjoyed doing business with you. Because of this it is normally five to ten times easier to get an existing customer to buy from you again, than it is to get someone to buy from you for the first time.

If this is the case, why are so many businesses so ineffective at communicating with existing customers? Here is an example that we can all relate to. Think of all the ads in your local newspaper for restaurants. Imagine all the money the restaurant owners are spending on these ads. Now ask yourself this question: When did you last receive a letter or an email from a restaurant you've visited, asking you to come back, or offering you a free bottle of wine if you bring your family? What would happen if your local restaurant asked for your email or your address at the end of your meal so that they could keep you informed on special offers, incentives, or perhaps to enter you into a prize draw for a free meal. What would happen to the first restaurant in your area to apply this systematically for the months and years ahead?

Now apply this principle to your business. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself. How often do you communicate with your existing customers? What do you have to offer your existing customers? What are you not offering existing customers that you could be offering them? When did you last send a letter to your customers? When did you last email them? Did you measure the response? When did you last call them? What would happen if you doubled your contact with them this year? When you do communicate with them, what more could your be doing to clearly explain the specific benefits that they will experience?

I once had a client who generated £300,000 by sending a brochure to their clients once a year. I asked what would happen if they sent the brochure twice a year. The thought had never even crossed their mind. We did it (and a lot more) and it generated a fortune for my client.

This may sound ridiculously simple but it is not an unusual story. We are all so close to our businesses that it is often a challenge to step back and look at the obvious – the elusive obvious.

When I start working with a new client, I know without a doubt that they are sitting on a goldmine. This goldmine consists of the wealth that is hidden in their relationships with their current customers.

Here are some more useful questions to maximize your relationship with existing customers: How often do you communicate with your customers by direct mail? Do you test and measure the response? Do you spend at least 15 minutes each month thinking of an exclusive offer you can make to your existing customers? Do you say ‘thank you' to your customers either by letter, email or telephone? Do you ask your customers for referrals? Did you know that there are at least 90 ways of getting referrals? If you have a limited service or product line – do you know of additional companies, products or services that your customers could benefit from?

There are hundreds of great marketing strategies for getting new customers (we'll deal with some of them in the rest of the article) But before that, you need to nurture your relationships with your existing customers. It is the first key to the goldmine.

2 – Relying on just one or two main forms of marketing If you are similar to most businesses, there are probably one or two main forms of marketing that you are currently using to grow your business. It many be advertising, or referrals, or direct mail, your website, emails, PR, telemarketing, strategic alliances etc.

If you want to grow your business exponentially, your goal should be to turn your business into a multi – level marketing machine, where you are combining several of these marketing approaches simultaneously.

What do you think happens to a business that over the space of a year goes from using one or two main marketing methods to ten? This is how you grow a business by 100-300%.

Now if it's that simple, why aren't more businesses doing it? There are two reasons. The first is they just don't know how. They haven't realised that you will never fulfil your business potential if you don't make marketing a top priority.

The second reason is fear. If someone were to suggest that you go out next week and implement ten new marketing strategies, you would be justifiably concerned that you could lose money if the strategies went wrong – and that even if they were a success, the business might not be able to cope with such rapid growth.

That's why the principle of ‘testing and measuring' is possibly the most important marketing concept there is.

The principle of testing and measuring is simple. Every month you should test one or two or more new marketing methods on a small scale. This could be a new ad, a new direct mail campaign, some telemarketing etc. By testing small and measuring the results you quickly identify what works and what doesn't. When you find something that works, you roll it out on a larger scale.

It sounds ridiculously simple doesn't it? Guess how many businesses apply such a process systematically. Less than 1 in 50. Shocking but true. So make testing a fundamental part of your approach and you'll already be way ahead of the competition.

By the way, before you do any of this, you need to be testing and measuring the marketing that you are already doing. This is where most businesses are losing a fortune. For example, you wouldn't believe the number of businesses who advertise but have never measured the results, so they never really know if their advertising is working.

If you do what I suggest – and each month discover just one new marketing approach that works for you, through good testing, then this time next year you'll have twelve new marketing strategies producing results for you. What difference will that make to the strength, stability and profitability of your business?

3 – Running ineffective advertising Advertising can be a highly effective way to increase your customer and client base…when it's done well. But for many businesses advertising is ineffective because it's either not well written, or you haven't tested how well it's working, or you haven't experimented with different types of ad

So here are some of the fundamentals of successful advertising:

First, it is absolutely essential that you test and measure the response to all of your advertising. So many businesses just allocate a certain mount of money to an advertising budget, spend the money every year – and they've only got a vague sense of whether the ads are working are not. This is crazy. If your ads are working, you want to roll them out on a larger scale. If they're not, change the ads or use the money on one of the dozens of other marketing strategies that can bring you a 100 or 200 or 300% return on your investments.

Unless you're a global multi national engaging in brand advertising, the purpose of your ads is to produce a response. You need to be able to measure that response, otherwise you're not going to know if the advertising is working. How many people responded, how many of them were converted to a sale, what's that worth to you? Compare that to the cost of the ad and you can immediately work out how profitable the ad was.

If this sounds obvious, it is but you would be amazed at how you can improve the response to your advertising with some simple testing and simple changes.

Here are some other fundamentals of advertising:

In the ad itself the most important element is the headline. The headline is either the heading that goes at the top of the ad or if there's no heading it's the first words of the ad. The headline needs to grab peoples' attention. One change in a headline can produce a 50-100% increase in response.

The copy of your ad needs to be a personal communication to the individual reading it. And it needs to be about them. It needs to address their needs, desires and fears and it needs to constantly communicate the benefits of what you are offering. At the end of the ad you need a call to action. Tell people exactly what they need to do to follow through and make it easy for them to do so.

If you've got an ad that's working for you, it's worth testing some changes to the headline or the main copy to see what results it produces. Above all, step into the shoes of your potential customers while reading your ad to get a real sense of the impact that it will have. Which brings us to …….

4 – Failing to focus on the benefits that your product or service offers your customers and clients If you go to buy a hi-fi, what are you actually buying? Are you buying the equipment – the combination of electronics and wires and the casing that surrounds it? Or are you actually buying the BENEFITS of the hi fi – the sound you will hear, the pleasure that sound will give you, perhaps the significance and joy that you get from owning a hi-fi larger than the guy down the street!

If you can accept and understand the following principle, your marketing will instantly improve. ‘People don't buy your product or service. They buy the benefits that your product or service offers them.'

Understanding this simple distinction can transform your marketing. How? Because you will approach all of your marketing in a totally different way. Next time that you write a letter or brochure, or create a website or send an email or speak to a customer on the phone, every word will be crafted to ensure that your customer understand the benefits of what you have to offer.

Of course, this pre-supposes that you and your colleagues understand the benefits yourselves. This is not always as simple as it sounds. When we own or run a business, we are so close to what we do that we often lose sight of what it's like for our customers. Also, an important benefit for one customer might not be so important for another. You might choose a new car because of its speed and acceleration. Your neighbour may choose the same car because of its safety.

So spend some time getting clear on what exactly your benefits are – and then make sure that you articulate them precisely in all of your communications.

You can also turn this concept on its head and look at it another way. When people don't buy from you, one of the prime reasons will be because they don't understand and appreciate the full benefits of doing so. You can increase the percentage of people who buy from you by 20-40% just by focusing on getting them to understand precisely how they will benefit from doing business with you.

5 – Not using Email Marketing effectively   Let's step back a decade. Imagine if ten years ago, someone had told you that in the future you would be able to communicate directly to your customers or potential customers, sending them any message you chose and that it was absolutely free. No paper required, no printing, no envelopes, no brochures, no stamps. In addition, that message could be sent to anyone anywhere in the world. And as an added bonus, instead of having to wait 24 or 48 hours, it would arrive with them within seconds.

It would have sounded to good to be true, right?

Welcome to the world of email and Emarketing Too many business owners and managers still haven't appreciated the power of email and the internet. The dot com bust caused many to write off the profit potential of the internet – a big mistake. In addition, the irritation that many people choose to feel about the emails they receive fails to take into account that email has become an incredibly important form of business communication.

To the extent that you are able to build Emarketing into your marketing mix, you will see an immediate return in both profits and enhanced customer relationships. The key is not to think of Email as a selling tool – but as a powerful communication tool. Use it to give – to add real value to your customers' lives and to keep them informed on your activities. Here are some of the fundamental basics of Emarketing:

Capture everyone's Email address You've heard this a thousand times before, but would you believe that most businesses still do not collect the email addresses of everyone who contacts them? You may as well take a huge bucket of cash, go to the top of your building and throw it out of the window. Every time a business fails to capture someone's email address they're turning down the opportunity to contact them for FREE, for weeks, months and years ahead. This is insanity. It's also insane not to offer visitors to your website an easy way of submitting their email address, so they can see if you are as good as you say you are. Your web designers should be able to set up a simple way of doing this. Once you have Email Addresses – use them!Of the businesses that are good at collecting email addresses, hardly any of them follow up by communicating regularly with their customers and clients in an effective way. You don't just have to use email to sell stuff. You can use email to thank people for their business, make them a special offer, give them a free article or report, send a newsletter, recommend a product or service they may be interested in, ask for referrals, share some news that may be interested in, ask why they've not done business with you…the list is only limited by your imagination. The point is this: You could grow your business by 10, 20 or 30% just by adopting an effective Emarketing strategy.   Personalise your Emails You want to make sure that your emails stand out from the mass of messages that people find in their inbox. The best way to do this is to personalize your messages. You can either do this manually if you have a fairly small list – or by using one of the many automation systems available. Either way, by including the recipients name, your positive response rate will increase massively.

Summary These are the five biggest mistakes that stop many businesses fulfilling their potential. None of the above is complicated – but by stopping these mistakes and focusing on continually improving your marketing – your business will become much stronger and significantly more profitable.

Chris Cardell works with business owners and managers, using powerful marketing strategies to grow their businesses and increase their profits. For more information visit You can contact Chris Cardell directly at


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