How to market your small business (if you’re not a natural marketer)

Good marketing puts you in control of the work you do. Here’s how to approach marketing in a way that feels doable and right, to help your small business thrive.

Marketing fear

Marketing fear, loathing and general confusion

Robert hates marketing. He’s a skilled cabinet maker – the kitchens he builds are beautiful – but he doesn’t get enough consistent work. Despite the gaps in his order book, promoting himself just feels wrong. And it stops him in his tracks.

Matt is anxious about marketing. He’s about to step up into a leadership position in a financial advice firm and business development is a major part of the role. He’s happy with the sales element but marketing? He worries he doesn’t have the knowledge he needs.

Gina doesn’t know where to start with her marketing. She’s made the brave leap from permanent employment to independent HR consultant. She’s landed a few good assignments (and loves the freelance life) but what about the next six months? What can she do to generate consistent work?

This post is for you if you run your own business, or are newly tasked with marketing one. Whether you loathe it, fear it, or are suffering from action-blocking confusion, worry not. There is an approach to marketing that feels natural and do-able, and which will bring you the consistent pipeline of business that you need to thrive. (Stick with me on this one, but you might even enjoy it too.)

Where to start with your marketing

Here are a few ideas on how to get into action, even if you’d never think of yourself as a natural marketer.

1. Change your attitude

Think of marketing as helping, not selling or manipulating. Stop seeing people as ‘leads and prospects’ says our friend Chris Brogan and think of them as ‘allies’ – people with a shared goal, people that you cooperate with and help. Turn the light on your customers and their needs (not how great you are). You won’t look or feel like an arse if you approach marketing in this way. You deliver something of value. You’re just helping people who badly need what you do.

[More on this approach here: Marketing People Love?]

2. Think about what you want

When you’re running a small business the work you do and the kind of clients you work for really matters. So what’s your goal? Who do you most enjoy working for? What projects do you enjoy most? Who are the good payers?

If you think of your marketing as a way to talk directly to the people who make your working life enjoyable and rewarding then it becomes easier to do.

“Marketing is not yelling about how great you are, it can be a way of quietly connecting with clients who’ll value you for what you do best.”

What’s the work you love to do and who are the people you most like to work for? What do you sell and how does what you sell help them?

Have a think, write it all down, stick it to your wall and focus your marketing efforts on getting more of the work you want.

3. Get a good enough profile up online

Your business needs a home on the web. If you don’t have a website, then get a simple profile up online. A LinkedIn profile is essential for professionals. profiles are quick to set up for anyone in business. They look great (and are free).

A good website makes a big difference but it’s easy to procrastinate and spend so long getting your website ‘just right’ that you don’t do any business development at all!

If the lack of a proper website is stopping you from marketing, then move on without one – a good enough online profile will do for now. It’s somewhere to point people to, and it makes those all important referrals so much easier. If you have a website but hate it, stop worrying. Tweak it so it’s good enough (but don’t go further).

“Don’t let website angst hold your marketing efforts to ransom.”

4. Be generous with your knowledge

Look at marketing as the act of delivering relevant, valuable information to your specific audience. What useful information (content) can you share which will help or inspire the people you want to do business with?

Setting up a blog as a home for all this helpful and inspiring stuff is a smart move. But you don’t need your own blog to start regularly sharing valuable content. You can share helpful articles on LinkedIn or Medium, for free. Or inspiring pictures on Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites.

Share your knowledge. The point of sharing is to build relationships with people, so they know, like and trust you, and remember you when the time is right to buy.

Content that connects

[Lots of tips in this article to help you get going with your content: How to tackle the content monster if you’re feeling overwhelmed and left behind.]

5. Reach out with research

Not sure what content will be relevant? Get curious, and start by doing a bit of research.

Ask the type of people who buy your stuff what matters to them (in the area you can help with). Use that as your starting point – ask questions, take past clients out for coffee or call them up and ask them about the challenges they face. Listen hard and address their questions in the content you create (“The 3 most important questions to consider when planning your kitchen design” Robert?).

The act of asking good questions is a great relationship builder in its own right, and often leads to more business.

6. Strengthen your network of referrers with a simple newsletter

Once you have a couple of customer-fuelled blogs under your belt, find a way of sharing this valuable content regularly with your network. A very simple keep-in-touch email newsletter is great for this – you can share your content, and good stuff created by others in it. Fill it with helpful ideas and inspiration.

Ask your favourite past clients if they’d like to sign up, and think laterally about adding new contacts as you go along. So, for example, Robert the cabinet maker could send his content to the builders, architects, electricians etc on successful projects – the people that he naturally refers to potential clients.

A newsletter is a straightforward and cost effective way of boosting a referral network. It’s a simple way of staying front of mind in industries where so much of the work is won on conversations that start “can you recommend a good x?”

Committing to a newsletter makes you keep up the content creation too. Win win.

[Read Chris Brogan’s useful tips on why a newsletter is your secret sauce or try these tips from David Hieatt, founder of Hiut Denim: 23 crazy simple tips to help you build a high growth newsletter.]

7. Get out there

Network. If that makes your heart sink, don’t despair. I don’t mean networking events necessarily, but do get out there and talk to people. Is that better?

If you really can’t do it in the real world, do it via social media instead. (And if you can do it in the real world, do it on social media too and maximise the impact of your networking.) Keep front of mind.

8. Tell people you need work

People like to be helpful so swallow your pride, and reach out to your network of past clients, friends and contacts. Tell them what kind of problems you best help with and ask if there’s anyone they know that you can help.

Be honest. The simple act of asking makes a huge difference.

9. Do great work

The best marketing of all is other people raving about the work you’ve done for them and the remarkable results they’ve seen. Do all you can to deliver an amazing customer experience, and build an army of advocates who willingly do your marketing for you.

That’s it. It’s pretty much that simple at the high level. Obviously you can take each of those 9 points deeper, and you’ll find more content on our website to help you – try here.

Procrastinate no longer

“Good marketing puts you in control of the work you do.”

Marketing is part of running a successful business, as crucial as keeping good accounts and paying your tax on time. There is a way to do it that will feel okay, so you do have to just have to get on with it.

The point of this marketing stuff is to win more of the work YOU really want. Good marketing puts you in control of the work you do and means that when you’re looking ahead for the next 6 months you have a pipeline of lovely jobs stacked up, and not a panicky gaping void!

Do you really have to do it? If you’re busy with the kind of jobs you really want to do for the foreseeable future then you don’t need to devote time to marketing. Marketing’s not the actual law. It’s your business, and you have every right to carry on exactly as you are now.

But if you want something to change – you need more work, or better clients who pay promptly, or jobs that fulfil you rather than just keeping your head above water – do something now. I hope these ideas help.

More small business marketing ideas and help

There’s more detail in our book on the valuable marketing approach. You can download a free chapter from Valuable Content Marketing here.

Want more help?

For other views on how to make small business marketing work, we highly recommend Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas. And Chris Brogan’s weekly newsletter for some seriously sensible and heartfelt marketing advice every Sunday.

But whatever you do, take action!

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