When you’re running a very small business, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is:
“Am I spending my time on the right things?”
Because if it’s just you, or you and a couple of employees, I’m betting that time is the resource you try to conserve more than any other.
After all, you can always make more money. But if you figure out how to make more time, please let me know!
Since marketing your business is one of those ongoing tasks you absolutely must do in order to keep your business afloat, checking in every so often to make sure you’re spending time on the right marketing tasks is crucial.
Let’s start with the obvious question
Be perfectly honest here: do you have a marketing plan?
Is it in your head, but not in writing? If that’s the case, it’s time to remedy that.
Start simple: create a short list of 3-5 goals for your marketing. This is what you’ll track for now.
You can get more elaborate later. Just start with something.
Your marketing goals might look like this:
- Increase my website traffic to an average of ___ visitors per day.
- Boost sales of ___ (product or service) to ___ per month.
- Generate leads that result in ___ sales calls per month.
Create goals that make sense for your business. And make sure most of your goals have a direct effect on your bottom line.
Don’t aim for “vanity” goals like “I want ___ Likes on my Facebook posts this month.” Instead, track goals like “I want to convert ___ people who click on my Facebook ad into customers of my business this month.”
Once you have those marketing goals in hand, here’s how to make sure you stay on track.
1. Periodic reviews: the big secret for staying on track
When you shine the light of observation on your goals, everything becomes clearer.
It’s not enough to set a goal and never look back. You have to set a goal, and check to be sure you’re still heading toward it on a regular basis.
Decide now how often you will check your progress. This is another area where you have to think about what makes the most sense for your business.
Daily check-ins are probably excessive. Weekly is more like it. Every other week might work for your business. And monthly check-ins are probably a minimum.
Whatever you decide, put your marketing check-in on your calendar. Keep this appointment faithfully. Remember, it’s not enough to set your sights on a goal: you have to check to be sure your everyday actions are taking you toward it. That’s what periodic check-ins will do.
And, depending on the type of business you’re running, some of the advice below will apply, and some may not. Adapt the tips to your own business set up.
Below, the questions you should ask in your periodic reviews.
2. Has my ideal customer changed?
Over the lifetime of your business, you may find that the ideal customer you’re aiming for changes.
This may happen for a variety of reasons:
- Your interests may change, and you adapt your offerings to suit them
- You discover a different (and underserved) group you want to help
- You find your product or service is particularly helpful to a different group of people than the one you thought you’d serve when you started out
- You learn more, and want to share it with a whole new audience
- Your market “matures” with you, and you want to serve this more sophisticated group
That’s why I believe it’s important to re-visit your ideal customer on a regular basis. And when you do, if you find they’ve changed, you can adapt your marketing goals to fit them.
3. Does my website reflect what I’m offering now?
If your ideal customer changes and your business is online (and what business isn’t?) you’ll want to change the search terms you are aiming for with your content. This usually means adding new and different content, and eliminating or tweaking content that doesn’t reflect what you offer.
For example, you may have a page about “how to stain handcrafted pine furniture” on your website. But if you decide to focus on selling 19th century American antiques, you’ll want to create new content tailored to people who look for this kind of product, and downplay (or remove completely) your mentions of handcrafted pine furniture.
Rather than emphasize search terms for products that don’t match what you offer, focus on creating content around search terms that reflect what you want to be known for.
In the example above, you might create pages called:
- Caring for your 19th century chest of drawers
- American 19th century table styles
- How to spot a bargain when shopping for American furniture from the 19th century
Putting pages like this on your website, and de-emphasizing (or removing) your other offerings will begin to train search engines about what your business offers.
In turn, it will help searchers find you on the web.
4. Are my numbers trending up?
Everyone tracks different numbers, and yours will be different from mine. Here are a few options to get you started: choose the ones that make sense for you.
- Total sales, to see what your bottom line is doing
- Sales by product or service, so you know what’s producing income, and what isn’t
- Opt-ins to your mailing list(s), so you have a feel for how your contacts list is growing
- Social media shares, to check that your social media efforts are working
- Website traffic, so you can see if your site has influence
- Social media followers, so you can see which networks are growing fastest
- Email marketing open rate, so you can see if your messages are getting through (and adapt any that aren’t working)
- Click-through rate on ads, so you can check the effectiveness of any ad campaigns you are running
Remember, these numbers aren’t goals. They’re simply ways to track your efforts toward your marketing goals so you can see what’s working.
5. Am I getting enough referrals?
Referrals are golden: when someone comes to your business through a referral, part of your marketing job is already done. The prospect is “warmed up” and ready to hear more about what you offer.
To check the referral aspect of your business, ask yourself:
- If your business is local, do you encourage referrals by requesting them?
- Where is your website traffic coming from?
- Have you tried guest posting for websites that reach a similar (but larger) audience than yours?
- Are you actively “harvesting” testimonials from satisfied customers, and using these when presenting your offers?
Referral marketing can work for your business whether it’s online, offline, or a combination of both. For more on referral marketing, I highly recommend John Jantsch’s book The Referral Engine.
6. Are my face-to-face marketing efforts paying off?
Networking is an important aspect of marketing as well. And, like referral marketing, the form this takes will vary by whether your business is online, offline, or exists in both spaces.
If your business is primarily offline, consider:
- Networking in person among groups of potential customers
- Networking in person with people who can connect you with your potential customers
- Making live presentations to establish your authority in your geographic community and spread the word about your business
If your business is primarily online, or exists both online and offline, consider:
- Networking using online tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even plain old email
- Attending live events where you can meet colleagues and make connections with peers
- Speaking, either virtually or in person, to establish your authority
When considering networking opportunities, it’s important to push yourself to get in front of people who will help you meet your business goals.
When time is tight, avoid spending time networking with groups that are good company and fun, but don’t actually get you in front of the people you want to reach.
Don’t panic: respond
Shining a light on your marketing efforts is nerve-wracking, because you might not always like what you see. But isn’t it better to really know where you stand, than to try to imagine it? Or to take a guess at what you should be doing, and get it wrong?
If your review shows you that some of your efforts aren’t paying off, you can make adjustments before it’s too late.
And if your review shows you that some of your efforts are making a big difference, you can put more time and money into them, and watch your business grow.
One of the perks to doing regular reviews is that over time, you will notice trends. This will help you keep your cool if you see dramatic changes that are due to:
- A change in your overall goals: you may change your marketing, and your numbers take a few months to catch up
- A change in seasons: most businesses have a dip in earnings at certain points of the year
- A change in the marketplace: businesses exist in a larger economy, and economic changes may affect your bottom line
When you’ve watched your business — especially for over a year — you’ll be able to anticipate the ups and downs.
It’s true: knowledge is power
To keep your marketing on track, plan your first review session now. And put it on your calendar as a no-excuses appointment you keep with yourself and your business as you move into the future.