The Top 10 Small Business Marketing Mistakes

Bad marketing doesn’t just cost you time, money, and effort. In the more extreme cases it can turn potential customers away from you.

As an agency, we’ve been doing this marketing malarkey for the best part of twelve years. Over that time I reckon we’ve seen just about every marketing mistake, screw-up, wrong assumption, or badly set up communication initiative.

Bad marketing doesn’t just cost you time, money, and effort. In the more extreme cases it can turn potential customers away from you.

Effective marketing is far more than just using such-and-such a tactic, channel, or content strategy. At its most fundamental marketing is about developing a clear position that sits in alignment with the expectations of your target audience group.

To help you reduce the trial-and-error phase of your marketing plan — and there’s always a trial-and-error phase — here’s a list of top marketing mistakes we see from small businesses (and a few large ones too):


1. You Don’t Have A Marketing Plan

It’s imperative to have a defined list of the underlying business goals the marketing plan is meant to address.

Once you know what the target is, you then design a clearly-defined plan outlining the ways and means you intend to deliver those business goals. Sounds obvious, right? If only.

Most business owners fail to bother with clearly identifying what the business goals are before investing in marketing. It only stands to reason that any plan built on incorrect or poorly-defined data hasn’t got a chance of delivering the goods.

From our experience, the reasons why so many businesses don’t have a marketing plan are:

  • They’re doing their marketing in-house (so don’t know what they don’t know)
  • They didn’t know how important it is to have one
  • They don’t know how to create a marketing plan
  • They’re too lazy (yes, really!)


Without a marketing plan to steer your efforts, you don’t know when — and why — you’re winning. Without defining target audience segments, customer value proposition, market situation, customer expectations, competitive analyses, etc. you risk losing opportunities.

Unless you know exactly why your marketing isn’t working, you can’t do anything to change it.

Maybe you’re saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, or communicating from a place they don’t want/expect you to be. Maybe you pricing is off, or your distribution model sucks. Maybe they want to buy in in red but you only sell it in blue.

Without keeping track of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, how often you’re doing it, where you’re doing it, and what kind of results you’re getting; you’re flying blind.

The days of waving a wet finger in the air and ‘trying something’ need to be consigned to the past. You’re either committed to implementing a business-wide lead generation process, against defined and measurable goals, or you’re not. If you can’t be bothered, don’t come crying when it all comes crashing down.

Oh, and a marketing strategy isn’t the same thing as a marketing tactic. Stop confusing them.


2. You Stop Doing Anything

OK, I get it. Business comes first. It’s all very well publishing articles, filming videos, pushing out ad campaigns, designing landing pages, writing email newsletters, or even recording a podcast. But there are only so many hours in the day. You’re being pulled in twenty different directions and simply don’t have the time, so you need to take a break. Yes, marketing’s important — but so is all this other stuff filling up your diary and clogging-up your inbox.

What happens? You skip the next couple of weeks because it’s the end of your sales quarter, you’re on the road visiting customers, or you’re at some conference.

All of a sudden six months have gone by. Your website visitors numbers fall off a cliff, your site ranking drops to page 7 on Google, no-ones reading your emails , your social media channels are a wasteland, and the phone’s no longer ringing.

Sure, you can get back to where you were. But it’s going to take a ton of work. All the while your competition are pulling away from you.

If you don’t have anyone within the business to run with this stuff when you’re busy, pass the responsibility over to a third-party. Put a limit on how much they can spend (both timewise and moneywise) and let them get on with it. It’ll be a darn sight cheaper than playing catch-up after letting things languish for a few months.


3. Your Budget Is Unrealistic

You want a new eCommerce website, updated company branding, new sales materials, and a series of ads. But you don’t want to spend more than $500 per month.


Are you freakin’ kidding me?

If you’re relying on the digital side of your marketing to bring in revenue, consider your marketing budget in terms of what you’d pay a top salesperson. I’ve worked in organizations where the top salespeople take home more than the CEO — deserving of every single cent of their paycheck.

Unlike a salesperson, great marketing works for your business every single day.

It never takes a vacation, never turns up late, and never calls in sick. Marketing doesn’t ask for a 401(k) contribution, a company credit card, or free dental. If the leads it generates are more than its cost, why are you undervaluing its contribution to the business?

What? You thought digital marketing was cheaper than ‘traditional’ marketing? That myth ranks alongside such gems as airplane chemtrails, the Loch Ness Monster, Keyser Soze, and guacamole tasting nice.

Stop thinking in short sprints and start planning long term. As long as your marketing efforts are bringing in more than they cost you, it shouldn’t matter how much you’re spending. I’m not saying it’s an infinite climb. But as long as you’re ROI positive, you’re winning.

Once you have a clear and validated revenue-capture process, you’ll be able to identify areas where you can reduce costs and optimize processes. But the reality is 99% of business don’t get to that point of saturation. They bring out the machete far too early, hacking away at what they believe is unnecessary wastage.


4. You’re Splitting Marketing Activities Across Multiple Providers

You’ve got a logo designer whom you’ve tasked with, well, designing your logo. You’ve got someone else putting together your website, and yet another person setting up your social media marketing campaigns.

Is it any wonder that nothing matches with anything else?

All the while you’re patting yourself on your back since you think you’ve saved a fortune — when you’ve actually cost yourself a bundle.

The reality is customers see an uncoordinated mess. Nothing looks like it belongs with anything else. The ads don’t ‘feel’ like they’re coming from the same position as the website copy, email newsletter, or blog articles.

That’s because your ‘marketing team’ is actually a bunch of different freelancers producing stuff in isolation from one another. There’s no single point of management, direction, or coordination — apart from you.

Even though you don’t have a plan (see above) nor any real marketing experience, you’ve taken on the mantle of managing everything. But since you don’t have formal training or education in marketing, or worked in a marketing capacity, you don’t know what to focus on and what to ignore. The result invariably looks like something the cat spewed-up.


5. You’re Too Impatient

You haven’t done any real marketing since you started the business. Now you’re expecting marketing efforts to double corporate revenue by the end of the week — if not sooner. That ain’t gonna happen.

SEO vs Paid Ads is a good example. Both tactics will give you traffic. But while Pay-Per-Click ads start delivering traffic as soon as you pay some money, SEO is a slow burn. How slow? That depends on many factors, but for competitive industries it could easily take 6 months or more before you’re seeing tangible results.

“Six months! I can’t wait that long! I need results now!” Sure, no problem — but it’ll cost you. Keep paying Google/Facebook/Amazon/Whoever and you’ll keep getting traffic.

But as soon as you stop paying, those pageviews will disappear faster than a fart in a hurricane.

SEO, in contrast, is the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, it’ll take longer for you to appear on the first pages of Google. But once you’re there, it’s takes a lot less effort (and money) to keep you there. If you’re clever with content marketing and keyword research there’s no reason why pages can’t keep a first-page Google result for years.


6. You’re Taking Bad Marketing Advice

The number of times I’ve heard clients of ours curse whenever the names of ‘certain’ self-professed marketing soothsayers are mentioned. Especially if those experts happen to be named Gary…

Suffice to say there’s a lot of bad marketing advice on the web. For example ‘going all-in’ on any particular marketing tactic — Facebook or Instagram ads, podcasts, whatever social media channel is flavor of the month — is probably not going to bring you the results you’re expecting.

Another often-quoted piece of advice is “your message should be consistent across platforms.” That’s good advice. But that doesn’t mean publishing the exact same message and creative execution across every social media channel.

Of course messaging should be consistent, but that doesn’t mean the execution should be the same. In fact, creative execution should absolutely not be the same.

Firstly, people behave differently and expect different things depending on channel. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat lend themselves to video. Email works better with the occasional still image, but don’t go overboard.

Then there’s the message copy. The way you construct a piece on Facebook probably needs tweaking before pushing it out on LinkedIn, for example.

The optimization of customer experience should be driven by their existing behavior, not cordoned-off by the choice of channel. Engage customers with relevant, contextual experiences at a time, location and channel of their choice — not yours.

Advertising verbiage, the Call To Action, the creative, the headline — they are all channel-dependent. Oh, and if you’re automating your social media posts across platforms — posting the same updates on Facebook and Twitter, for example — you shouldn’t be surprised that nothing’s working. Stop it. Now.