Understanding your customers helps you focus your market strategy.
People become small business owners for any number of reasons. Mostly, though, it's because they have an interesting or new idea. They're dreamers, passionate about a certain skill they're particularly good at or a service they're excellent at providing. For the majority, marketing isn't listed as the motivation for starting a business and is simply a set of tasks that needs doing so they can spend more time focusing on the things they enjoy, like running the business itself or dealing directly with customers to help them solve their problems.
The internal dialogue for small business owners generally goes one of two ways:
1. "I don't know anything about marketing, and I don't really care to learn."
2. "There aren't enough hours in the day for me to sit down and really focus on marketing my business."
The result is largely the same regardless of which category a small business owner falls under. Marketing takes a back seat, basic-but-critical tasks are overlooked, the business suffers, and the stress of it all becomes unbearable.
To make it worse, there are thousands of options and marketing tools available that can quickly overwhelm just about anyone. It is, however, entirely possible for small business owners to keep things simple. But simple does not mean nonexistent, which is the case for small businesses far more often than one might believe.
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Earlier this year, OutboundEngine surveyed more than 350 small business owners across a range of industries and found that nearly half didn't have a marketing plan for the coming year.
For many small businesses, it's good to create a simple plan that explores how owners want to grow their businesses, who their customers are, and how those customers communicate with the business and each other. This might put a slight dent in day-to-day workflows and lengthen to-do lists, but answering these questions honestly and thoughtfully can streamline a business's marketing plan without taking too much time or insider marketing knowledge. The information can translate customer behavior and insights into real business success.
How do you want to grow your business?
Nearly a quarter of the owners we surveyed didn't know how they planned to grow their businesses in 2019. It's a particularly critical question to answer, because even small investments in marketing – no need to go crazy with huge budget increases or unruly time commitments – can have a big difference on growth. Over 80% of small businesses that invest 5%-10% of annual revenue in marketing experienced revenue growth last year. Similarly, 79% of small business owners who invest 5-10 hours per week on marketing tasks reported revenue growth last year. The key is to balance investments of time and money to build an efficient marketing engine.
Who are your customers?
The beautiful part of this question is that small business owners likely already have the answer. Small business owners value their customers above all else. However, they can't afford to offer subpar marketing experiences to their target audiences, especially in markets that are overloaded with competitors and increasing ways to communicate. It's a concern that small business owners are working through. About 40% of small business owners were at least slightly worried that increased competition would affect their businesses in the next five years.
How do your customers communicate?
Small business owners overwhelmingly value social media as the primary means of interacting with their customers. Nearly 57% said paid and organic social posts were the most successful marketing tactic for their businesses. Organic posts in particular are a huge time-suck for small business owners, but the business value is clear: Just over 60% of small business owners who said organic posts were their most successful marketing tactic experienced revenue growth in 2018.
As millennials and Gen Z – the two largest generations in history – accrue more and more purchasing power, social media will increasingly play a role in business success. It's no secret that social media is an important component to these generations' everyday lives and, more specifically, their purchasing decisions, presenting a lucrative opportunity for small business owners. More than half of small business owners say that they want to market to and do business with millennial and Gen Z buyers. The best way to do this is to meet them where they are with a message they care about. Millennials in particular care about small businesses and are willing to pay more to support them, but they first have to know you exist.
When small business owners answer these simple questions with confidence, the prospect of investing a little extra time and money – either into learning a new marketing skill or into the business directly – won't be such a daunting or stressful task.