How to think about marketing if you’re a small business owner in NZ

Marketing for Small Business: What can I do for my business when my marketing budget is small? 

Overheads are scary. They’re accumulative, resented and tempting all at the same time – and sometimes it can be hard to know which ones to take on and which ones to wait on when you’re first starting up or growing a small business. Often I hear of small-businesses in a classic chicken and egg situation – they have no marketing budget or marketing person in-house to utilise, and yet they’re not getting enough business to raise their budget any further in the near-future either.

But what can you do? At a start-up phase, a clear marketing strategy is of the utmost importance. It defines what and who your business is about to become.

As a business owner, you likely know that marketing is important – and that’s great if you do. But overheads are still scary and you can’t really justify making another hire for your team just now. You could try to do it yourself – but you’re not a marketer either, at least – not in the stereotypical sense. It’s what the creative right-brainers do hey? Or the preferred territory of a young, bright marketing graduate?

Well as it turns out, actually maybe not. It is possible to DIY your marketing strategy while you grow – you just need to learn to think like a marketer.

How? By taking marketing back to basics and starting with your vision. If you can learn to create a plan and communicate what your purpose is clearly with your team, customers, and suppliers then you can negate the need to hire in marketing people after-all. It means less overhead, less risk and greater flexibility with your limited marketing budget.

Here’s what you need to do:

Reframe in your mind what marketing means to you – try not to see it as an after-thought or a fluffy extra or just a sales output, but as one of your key roles as an entrepreneur of a new business.

Marketing, in its most simple form, is about communicating with the market in a way that appeals to them. You don’t always need college courses or to make things complex or cluttered for yourself – you mostly need a reasonable grasp on human behaviour and the ability to dabble in the art of thinking laterally.

At Metro, we encourage start-ups to first create a strategic marketing plan that fits in with your other two plans; an operations plan and a financial plan. We say let’s look at the market and analyse what we can together – who are your influencers, what is the customer profile, what’s going on in the wider environment (PEST is great for this). What are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? Brand Values? What is your ‘Why’ (what are passionate for? What do you value? What makes you stand-out?).

This process will normally take one of our consultants around half-a-day to six weeks to develop – but it’s iterative. Take notes on a powerpoint presentation and string together your thoughts and research. Keep coming back to your market knowledge and refining your version of the ‘analysis’ side of things. Ask your employees/networks what they’re noticing in the wider market.

From here, you will have a much better understanding of your market and their demands. You may start to consider areas of promotion (the action part of an ‘Analysis, Strategy, Action’ approach). Look at your seven ways to reach the market (word of mouth, partnerships, public relations, digital, direct, mass media and events/tradeshows). Think of ways you could be positioning your brand using these methods – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to do everything. Make the plan work for your budget – then work the plan and test, measure, tune (always do this) what works for you. It may be as simple as setting up referral gifts or partnering with a local cafe. Don’t limit yourself to thinking about ways to reinvent your flyers and website. Instead, be bold with your ideas and think about what is motivating your customer (is it fear, or is it greed?). Appeal to their instincts and be likeable.

At this point, you’re ready (and quite without a marketing qualification/in-house manager) to start making things happen. You’ve got a strategy, and you have a rough promotional plan. It’s time to outsource – you know where you are going and why, and there’s no reason to have an in-house overhead focused on marketing while you’re growing. Find a marketing firm or connect with a range of suppliers, and find ways to work alongside them. Get the most out of your suppliers by returning to your vision and communicating it clearly. Go back to your strategy regularly, and start out as you mean to go on.

Lastly, don’t be fooled into thinking one person can do everything anymore. There’s no way one man can be responsible for strategy, management, promo-planning, SEO, CRO, social, SEM, PR, media management, design, branding, content and networking. It’s a notion of the past. Outsource and get an experienced team working for you by the hour or on a retainer basis – that way you avoid having to hire in-house at all while you grow. Less overheads, more marketing – and happier business owners all around.

At the end of it all, try not to complicate marketing or make it ‘fluffier’ than it already is perceived to be. Keep it simple and have a go – you will forever be tuning and optimising your approach anyway. That’s what a marketer would do for you in-house – but at a fixed (and resentable) cost. Instead, start with the market, approach the market, listen, learn, improve. Be intuitive and iterative always. Use your plan to guide good suppliers and contractors, and ask for clarification when you need it. Use data to drive good management decisions in-line with your overall strategy and direction.

Then – and whether you believe it or not – you’re thinking like a marketer and a business owner. With all of the initial fuss about not wanting to make a new hire and paradoxically-limited advertising budgets – it may just turn-out that you already have an in-house marketer leading your team after-all.