Small Business Marketing Strategy: Running with the Big Dogs while Staying True to Yourself
By Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg
Bigger is not always better, and at the end of the day, customer service is your only real differentiator. As a small business owner, this is something I often remind myself of. It’s tempting to see how the “big firms” operate and attempt to follow in their footsteps. However, I work hard to remain committed to the unique Core Values I have woven into the fabric of my business, regardless of what my larger brethren may do. Recognizing my desire to remain a high-touch search firm in which I am an active participant, has been a driving force behind the growth of my firm and our reputation as specialists who treat every engagement as a true partnership. Throughout the past 8 years our revenues have increased by nearly 500%, our employee base has grown by nearly 300%, and we completely rebranded our firm, establishing ourselves as the premier resource for Sales, Marketing and Operational professionals throughout Southern California. However, even with this growth, we remain a small business in every way.
Several years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to expand my firm quite a bit. It was rather tempting at first, given the potential for playing on a national stage, in a potentially lucrative partnership. However, as I explored this potential alignment, it became clear that the things I love most about owning a small business would be lost. For starters, I would not be part of the day-to-day operations, making it difficult to continue my personal connection with each of my team members. Moreover, focusing on my passion for business development, client interaction and the analysis of market trends, would be nearly impossible across multiple markets on a national level. As the head of a larger firm, my days would most likely be spent reviewing high level dashboards, fine tuning and regionalizing our SOP, managing a very large, geographically diverse team and focusing my efforts on strict numbers rather than the people that are responsible for hitting those numbers.
I have always said that I consider myself a highly effective small company CEO, and it was through this acknowledgement of my strengths, passion and weaknesses that I made the commitment to remain a small business. Once I fully committed to building a highly successful, regional, high-touch boutique retained search firm, every action and decision was designed to maximize the value we bring to our customers and my team.
5 Must-Have Marketing Strategies for Small Business
1. Hire a Social Media Manager. There’s no debating where marketing makes the biggest impact for a B2B business: online. Not only will most companies identify prospects and build a following through social media, but engaging and keeping that audience happens largely in the virtual world as well. Hiring a Social Media Manager has allowed my boutique firm to reach thousands of potential clients I could not otherwise access. With a reasonable investment of time and money, she has helped create and implement a unique and targeted marketing strategy through original content, sharing others’ relevant insights, asking thought provoking questions and positioning our brand as the leader in our space. The result: 250% increase in web traffic, invitations for interviews and presentations, guest blogs and a digital presence that now accounts for 22% of our revenues
2. Just because the big firms are doing it, doesn’t mean it will work for you. There are thousands of marketing tools available. (Click here for an excellent comprehensive list) However, not all of them are necessary for a small business. In fact, we’ve found many of them to be overkill for a firm our size. Admittedly, identifying the platforms and strategies that consistently bring in new clients has required patience and some trial and error. However, for a small business serving a community within a 200 mile radius, ongoing analysis and a continued focus on engaging only in those activities that bring true value to our audience, many of the more formal tools have proven to be unnecessary. However, you must continually track and analyze the results of each campaign, with a ruthless willingness to quickly abandon any strategy that does elicit the desired results.
3. Keep it fresh. The marketplace is always changing and your marketing strategy should evolve right along with it. While going “old school” by attending networking events and sending direct mailers are still viable marketing tools, using the same bag of tricks year in and year out, is not going to expose your business to a new audience. Identifying trends in your specific industry, keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s new online and offline, will ensure your marketing strategy remains fluid and relevant. Employing a stable of digital marketing interns is one of the most effective strategies available to the small business.
4. Commitment to consistent content. Everyone knows that marketing is all about engagement. Prospects are investing extensive time in researching a product or service long before making any contact with a potential vendor. They want to learn about a company’s reputation and follow through, rather than simply reviewing a list of feature and benefits, in order to feel comfortable committing their hard-earned dollars. Therefore, it is important that companies present themselves as experts in their field – across multiple platforms. By producing consistent and reliable content – focusing on sharing rather than selling – prospects will see you and your business as the “expert”, increasing the probability that they will invest in your offerings.
5. Don’t just secure clients, build Advocates. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company with a multi-million dollar marketing budget or a local boutique firm with $100k to spend on your local marketing strategy, the most effective marketing tool is right at your fingertips – your ongoing success. In today’s 24/7, always connected marketplace, testimonials, case studies and word of mouth will make or break your company’s reputation. With each new customer, don’t be afraid to ask for a quote or comment, illustrating why they chose to do business with your firm, and how they ultimately benefited. For our boutique, high-touch firm, this type of relationship-building has been one of the primary keys to our success. Engaging our clients as an extension of our marketing team, has allow us to deepen our partnership with each client, highlighting our customers as our brand advocates.
In a world that screams “Bigger! Faster! More!” there is something to be said for small businesses that commit to hands-on, personal engagement with their clients. While all companies must invest in a marketing strategy that increases visibility, along with sales, every company must design a strategy that is appropriate and relevant for their size, industry, capability and philosophy. Just because a strategy is s shiny and new, or being deployed by the latest “hot IPO”, doesn’t mean it is right for you. It’s time to find your unique voice and broadcast your value-driven message.
About the Authors
Ken Schmitt is the President and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 16 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).
Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation across all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.