As a small business solutions provider one of the most common challenges we help people with is their marketing. The great debate within that conversation is how much should I be spending on marketing? What percentage of my annual budget should be dedicated towards marketing? What marketing channels should I use? etc., etc.

There are a lot of factors that go into these answers, and there isn’t a one size fits all approach. There are a variety of things to take into consideration such as your industry, your growth stage, the size of your company, competition, product development, and the list goes on and on.

What we want to go is give you some tips to help put the broad strokes in place. This is part one of a three part series on the 9 steps to begin a successful small business-marketing plan.

Develop a Budget
When a business is just getting started it is common for a business to spend more on marketing. New businesses are probably going to spend 20-30% of sales revenue on marketing – roughly. Certainly some companies will go well above that while others well below it. The general rule of thumb taught in Business School is about 7-8% or your annual budget should be dedicated to marketing for small businesses. Within this percentage you need to dedicate a portion to the development of your brand so this means the addition or enhancement of your distribution channels. Things like your website, social media, sales collateral, etc. The other side of the coin is the actual cost of promoting your company through things like advertising, specific campaigns you develop, or even putting on events in some form or another.

Here is the key problem we see: most small business we are helping aren’t spending any money on marketing nor do they have a dedicated monthly budget towards marketing. One of the goals of marketing is to attract and retain customers, but you can’t do that if you aren’t marketing yourself consistently or strategically investing in marketing that produces a return on investment. This also requires some trial and error.

Build and Maintain a Complete Listing Online
Lets face it, this is tedious but completely necessary. Not every customer knows how to use the internet effectively therefore you have to go where they are. I couldn’t tell you the countless times people have told us they didn’t do business with someone because they couldn’t get a hold of them! They are people begging to give you money for your product or service, and you have to make sure they can reach you.

So what this means is you have to manually list your information everywhere and make sure it is accurate-constantly. Make sure the information listed on your Facebook profile matches your Google+ listing, and that they match your Yelp listing along with your YellowPages or WhitePages. Also make sure this matches your info on Yahoo and Bing, and don’t forget  FourSquare and Manta too while we are at it.

Also certify that your business is listed, accurately, with services like LocalezeAxiom,SinglePlatformYext, and Universal Business Listing because these are big listing providers for local websites.

Make sure you listings are complete. Make your presence consistent by using the same addresses, websites, phone information, photos, products, menus, services offered, etc. Don’t leave anything for chance. Make sure your potential customers know exactly who you are, what you do, and how to get a hold of you.

Build an Effective and User-Friendly Website
Are you of the mindset that you just need to be online, but it doesn’t really matter what your site looks like and how it functions? Do you feel you have more important places to invest money into your business, and that your website just is what it is? How about some stats from HubSpot:

  • 40% of people abandon your website if it takes longer than 3 second to load
  • 62% of companies that designed a website specifically for mobile had increased sales
  • 48% of users say that if they arrive on a business site that isn’t working well on mobile, they take it as an indication of the business simply not caring

So what message are you sending if you are just online to because you know you have to be? Your website is your company’s storefront to the world. Your site needs to be easy to find, easy to use, have clear and up-to-date information, and really represent who you are and who you want to be as a company.

One of our biggest pieces of advice in this arena is that your website is not a do-it-yourself project. Yes, there are some great tools out there, but most business owners are not experts at web design and online optimization. They are experts in their business. As a small business solutions provider we don’t handle our own legal matters – we hire an attorney. We don’t file our own business taxes – we hire an accountant. We don’t pretend to be something we are not, and in that same light we encourage people to not do their own web design and online optimization. When you try to do something that you are not qualified to do the odds are that you’ll get it wrong to some degree, and when it comes to your online presence and marketing strategy that is the difference between breaking sales records or closing your doors.

Please check back in about a week for part two of out three part series on the 9 Steps to a Successful Small Business Marketing Plan.