Jonathan McElvy

Jonathan McElvy

Editor's note: This is Part III of a three-part series on marketing for small businesses.

Marketing a small business has never been harder than it is today. Survey after survey shows the cost and understanding of modern-day digital and social media marketing has consumed business owners unlike ever before.

Why? Digital marketing used to be so easy. You posted to social media, had a decent website, and if you invested just a little time and money, you’d get more calls than you could handle.

Here’s why: Google and Facebook are two of the richest companies in the world specifically because digital marketing used to be so easy. When businesses started having noticeable success reaching new customers (circa 2011-2017), every single small business rushed to try the same thing.

All of a sudden, the relatively open world of digital marketing became crowded. It’s a supply-demand thing, and as the demand grew, both from businesses like yours and your potential customers, Google and Facebook changed the game.

First, they found more ways to get money from you. Second, they forced your website, your social posts, your videos, your directories to be better and better. And the more they required from you, the more money you spent. And the more money you spent, the more your competitors were forced to try even bigger things and spend bigger dollars.

It’s quite simple, if you can understand the whole supply-demand concept.

 

The great small business marketing mistake

You see, the problem with digital marketing is that we don’t understand the natural progression of how marketing works. Doesn’t matter if you’re advertising on a search engine or a bathroom stall. Most people have been conned by all these pop-up digital agencies to think today’s marketing is all about search and reach and interactions and directories.

In the process, we’ve made the biggest mistake of all: We’ve forgotten that all great marketing starts with a great story. We’ve forgotten that message matters. And the problem is that we all want to skip the most important work, throw our ragged brands and messages on social and digital platforms, spend thousands of dollars, and immediately expect returns.

Sure, you can say you’re different – and there are notable exceptions to this rule – but the reality is small businesses are going to get pushed further and further from their customers, and they’re going to spend a ton of money in the process of failing.

There are no short-cuts to great marketing, regardless of what digital agencies tell you. There is still, today, no replacement for a brand that’s refined, a value proposition that resonates, a message that matters.

 

Yes, content is still king

If you’re a small business and you’re trying to figure out how to build a more successful digital marketing campaign, you cannot start by calling a digital agency and saying, “I’m ready to do some SEO.” You can’t wake up one morning and decide you want to appear at the top of Google. You cannot snap your fingers and hear the phone ring.

You see, the greatest issue in the world of marketing today is that most small businesses do not have a story to tell. They don’t understand that before they can begin to brand themselves, they'd better learn themselves first.

- You must learn why you’re a great business;

- You must learn what sets you apart from your competitors;

- You must learn what value you have to a customer;

- You must learn the customer you want to target;

- You must learn what that targeted customers wants;

- You must learn how to tell your story through words, pictures and videos.

The great mistake in marketing today is that small businesses don’t want to take the time to learn those things. Instead, they want to call a digital marketing agency, get sold a bill of bull, and then scratch their heads and blame the agency when they skipped all the important steps.

And the problem with most agencies is that they aren’t designed to actually help you develop and create your specific content. Instead, they ask you to tell them about your business, they ask for your pictures, they ask for your videos, and then they tell you they’ll go get you to the top of search.

 

Where do you start?

If you want to successfully market your small business today, it’s time to get rid of this notion that digital marketing is easy. It’s not. It may be the hardest part of your business in this new era of advertising.

The place to start building a successful marketing campaign is not with an agency that wants to sell you a package. Instead, you need to devote time to that list of “learning” I mentioned above. When you can write all those things, when you have them in place, and when you know exactly why you’re valuable to customers, that’s when you’re ready to begin building your marketing campaign.

And that’s the next great problem. Most small businesses are so busy running their businesses that stopping for a week to handle this massive project is unthinkable.

What we’ve learned from working with thousands of clients is that many of them struggle to make a profit, much less break even. They aren’t running their businesses efficiently; they haven’t developed that niche in their specific category. The result is that a list of questions to begin building content for your business is almost impossible to create. It’s a vicious cycle that ultimately dooms most small business owners.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are companies like ours (and plenty of other good ones) that specialize in the whole business. Find a partner that can help you understand all aspects of your business. Find a partner that can see your successes and can help you build a brand around that. Find a partner that will take your brand and create a message that matters to potential customers.

Doing it any other way usually means you fail. 

Small business marketing always starts with content

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