Small Business Saturday – Celebrating the best of small local businesses

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    What is Small Business Saturday?

    Small Business Saturday UK is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages people to support small businesses in their communities.

    This year it takes place on 3rd December. On Small Business Saturday, people across the country support all types of small businesses, online, in office and in stores. Many take part by hosting events and offering promotions.

    To celebrate Small Business Saturday this year, and showcase the best of small businesses across Kent, Sharp Thinking has teamed up with a series of local businesses, all of which can provide professional service support to small business owners.

    The marketing expert

    As part of Small Business Saturday, I speak to award winning marketing expert Nat Sharp from Sharp Thinking Marketing with a career spanning over 20 years. Sharp Thinking provides marketing consultancy for small businesses, their services cover marketing reviews, creating strategies and plans as well as marketing coaching to a range of different businesses.

    The importance of getting your marketing right as a start up business:

    As a start up, when should you start thinking about marketing?

    Marketing needs to be considered from the very outset and is a huge part of the business plan. There is far more to marketing than the tactics including the channels, your logo or the brochure that come at the very end of marketing planning. If you focus directly on this, this can be a costly and wasteful exercise. You need to have researched the market, defined your target audience and cemented your brand positioning or messaging. Marketing needs to be a strategic and ongoing business function.

    A strategy also helps in developing products and services with the best profit-making potential. It defines what sets you apart from your competition and it decides who you should NOT target which is one of the hardest parts. And finally, it will ensure you have robust messaging which resonates and the right marketing assets to assist with the buying process.

    Is it really necessary to have a marketing strategy – can’t I wait until the business is up and running?

    Focus and direction are two of the main benefits of a strategy. You’re likely to feel overwhelmed without having a plan in place and will result in you focusing on too many things and potentially the wrong things in the wrong order.

    A marketing strategy will ensure you have a commercially sound offering as not only have you researched your market and know what sets your business apart from the competition, but you’ll have the right resources in place and are investing budget in the right areas. I often see businesses spending all their budget on their brand identity, stationery and website. There is then no budget to promote their business and generate enquiries. Equally, I see the budget wasted and used up quickly on lead generation activities including pay per click advertising that are not sustainable. The customer journey hasn’t been thought through and optimised, so businesses can attract the wrong customers and they don’t follow up with the leads quick enough as they have inadequate resources and infrastructure.

    Without a strategy, the channels you’ve selected, may not be where your audience ‘hang out’ and the message may not be fine tuned or resonate with your customer. Furthermore, if activity is planned more holistically, it will ensure you are leveraging it across multiple touch points at the optimum time and achieving maximum impact – all of course with vast time savings and efficiencies.

    What are the common mistakes?

    Some fledgling businesses get carried away with prioritising the shiny part of marketing which they see as their logo. Your logo is not your brand or marketing strategy. You need a clear brand positioning before you embark on logo development. Your brand positioning describes how your brand is different from anyone else in the market. It tackles the what, why and who you are. Yet many businesses skip this process as it requires patience, skill and expertise. The result is a disconnect with the logo, messaging, and product offering including the price.

    For a business to be sustainable and profitable, it needs to provide real value and build a brand. Your business needs to be bigger than you and what you’re selling. It needs to have a long-term vision, strong values, and a moving story, not to mention an incredible product. Some businesses focus solely on sales and not building their ‘brand’.

    Another common mistake is random social media posting on every platform as soon as a business has launched. No research has been undertaken as to the right platforms to use to target your ideal customer and also what content you should create. It isn’t sustainable for the business and the posting then comes to an abrupt after several months as they’ve ran out of content ideas and underestimated the time involved.

    Lastly, many start ups have a business plan. A business plan doubles the chance of success of a new venture. Countless studies also show that the founders are more likely to follow through, be motivated and be accountable. Plus a business plan is essential if funding is needed to be secured.

    What should you prioritise?

    Getting your website right, perfected and optimised. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get right. Your website is on 24 hours a day and may last you for years and years, so it’s vital what they see and take away from the experience positions your business in a positive light and meets what they’re looking for. There are so many decisions to make and you can get carried away and focus on the wrong thing.

    This is as much about the content and the messages as it is the look and feel. You don’t need to spend £10,000 or even more on a simple website. Without a strong website, your marketing can only go so far and it is the number 1 priority to address.

    Establishing your social media presence. Social media is a free channel allowing you to access millions of people 24/7. Before you start posting, create a social media strategy. You need to ensure you’re using the right platforms and have a long lasting content strategy in place to sustain your social media.

    Lastly, building your customer reviews. Reviews are critical for a business as they give your business credibility. Up to 90% of customers look at reviews before making a purchase and people spend a third more if a business has a positive review. They also aid your SEO so it is worth building these into the purchasing process at the very outset.

    Do you have any budget saving tips?

    With hundreds of marketing apps available at our disposal, this is a hugely competitive market and free trials and subscriptions are virtually always available. Basic subscriptions are normally adequate for most micro-businesses so give them a go to see if they could work for you before you sign up to expensive and unnecessary subscriptions.

    There are so many grants available for IT, going green, and marketing to name a few. It is well worth the time to investigate. Clients of mine have had research, website development, equipment, and marketing consultancy part funded. There are so many schemes available at a local level as well as on a national level. Some popular ones include Help To Grow Digital, Business Boost Competition, South East Business Boost, and Low Carbon Workspaces.

    Although I’m an advocate of advertising, if you need to watch your pennies, pool your initial marketing efforts into social media and SEO as well as leveraging more traditional methods like networking. All of these will require work though. You may also need to train staff so they have the right skills to manage this. Hubspot offers some excellent free webinars on SEO as does Google Garage.

    Use marketing automation. The biggest benefits of marketing automation are saving time on repetitive tasks and facilitating personalized customer communications. HubSpot is the most popular marketing automation software provider. According to Nucleus Research, on average businesses recover the cost of their initial investment in marketing automation in under six months. Marketing automation is proven to lead to increased sales productivity, increased campaign efficiency, better prospect engagement, and cost savings. So there is no question the business case is there.

    How much money should you spend?

    There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much money a business should budget for marketing. It really depends on your profit margins, industry sector and of course your revenue projections. However, there are some principles you can follow to make it easier for you. For start-up businesses, a larger budget is advised using 10 to 20% of your projected revenue on marketing. This then reduces to 6 to 12% of your projected revenue once your business is over five years.

    If you are starting from scratch start to think about the development costs you will need to invest in from market research, software investment, website costs, copywriting, design costs and branding. Then start to think about the execution costs and all the channels you wish to use from social media, SEO, PPC advertising and advertising.

    You can connect with Nat Sharp on LinkedIn or visit the Sharp Thinking Blog to read over 100 blogs on marketing aimed at small business owners.

    See our post on changing accountants which you may be interested in.

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