A few years ago, like a lot of Aussies, I moved to London for a while. I wanted a bit of adventure, a central place from which to travel, and to expand my professional skill set with some international work experience.
I was really fortunate after a month, to be offered a contract with one of the city's major transport providers - and right before the Olympics, which meant some great ticket perks, and the excitement of being face-to-face with proud supporters heading to and from the games.
The company that employed me is one of the biggest contractors in the world. They work across defence, health, transport and a range of other really essential services. The work of their employees contributes hugely to a lot of countries around the world.
And yet, I had literally never heard of them.
And when I asked my friends, family and new London mates, they hadn't heard of them either. They were (and youtube backs me up on this) 'the biggest company you've never heard of'.
The interesting thing is for the most part, they don't need to be heard of. Their services fly under the radar and are often just presented as services offered by the company that has commissioned them. They do a lot of B2B communication, networking and tendering, but they don't have a lot of need for the average Joe like me to recognise their brand or know who they are.
Unfortunately for most businesses, this is not the case. Most businesses need to be known, need to have a reputation that precedes them, need to make a splash - or they risk not growing and not being successful.
As a small business, especially a start up, it can be really tempting to put things like marketing and design on the back-burner. To say, 'we'll do that later when we have the money'. But if you don't do it, how do your customers find out about you? How do they know you exist? How do you actually end up making the money to pay for those 'down-the-track' marketing services you're putting off?
Having worked for a lot of companies undergoing change and feeling the pinch of financial down-turns or market declines, I've often heard it said, 'well that's my job gone, marketing is always the first to go'. And likewise, especially in small businesses, marketing is the last activity to be funded when dollars are tight.
But marketing is vital, and it should be a key part of your growth plan. It should be right up there with employing the right people, getting the right product, and perfecting your service. After all, what's the point of all those things if no one has ever even heard of your business?
Marketing doesn't have to cost the earth - and having a small business of our own, we know that the idea of spending a bucket load of funds on a bells-and-whistles-but-no-real-guts plan or logo or even just a brochure, is absolutely cringe-worthy. So don't. Prioritise the marketing activities that are important now, figure out what you can do yourself, and call the professionals in just for the tough stuff. Here's a few pointers:
Some things you don't stinge on
There are some fundamental things that you really should call the experts in on and get some help with. First up is your logo. Don't clip art it, don't do it yourself at home... and please, please don't just draw it up free-hand in Paint. Your logo is the first thing people see when they look for your business. It is the image you are asking them to remember and then recall and recognise at a later date. It's the little superhero symbol on the front of your costume. It can't be crap!
Hire a designer who has some good, clean work to show you, and when considering the spend, make sure they design with longevity in mind so you don't have to do it all again in six-months-time.
Sometimes a little guidance helps
A marketing plan is a bit of a strange one. On the one hand, some marketing is better than none, and if you're prepared to give up a couple of weeks to do some heavy research and knowledge-building you might not do such a bad job at putting a plan together. You might just end up with something that will really contribute to business growth. It won't likely be as good as a plan prepared by an expert, but it will help.
If you aren't prepared to give up that time, get an expert. A good marketing plan isn't something you throw together overnight, it's not one or two pages - it's your bible for business growth, defining who you are, where you want to go and how to get there. It's your business plan's best friend.
You can, however, save money by asking your strategy developer to either create the marketing strategy in a way that has really clear action points, or to filter the finished strategy down into a few pages of action points, so you can implement it yourself, and then come back to the original strategy for measurement and evaluation.
Web tools A couple of years ago I would have said don't, under any circumstances, try to build your own website, and often, I'd still say that. But things have changed somewhat. Tools like Wix can cost you as little as a couple of hundred dollars to build a whole website, with a highly functioning CMS, so you have complete control over your site and how it evolves. Word-to-the-wise, if you don't know what a CMS is, you should just call in a designer or web freelancer to help you put it together and give you some simple lessons on how to maintain and build.
For most businesses these are vital - and luckily, they are also free (sort of). But to make them worthwhile, you don't just need followers, you need to keep them engaged with very frequent posts. Free tools like Hootsuite can help you plan your social media content, schedule it in, post efficiently and measure results. On top of this, using great, cheap tools like goAnimate allow you to generate engaging content, like videos, at a fraction of the normal cost. Again though, always good to get some expert input on design or what looks good, and get feedback from some objective audience members before posting. Poor quality can affect your reputation.
Customer feedback or research
Face-to-face, old-school style feedback and research were cheap, yet very slow and really not as effective as they could be. Free tools like Survey Monkey help you create free surveys, collect the responses for you, and even provide results broken down in graphs (that you don't have to make yourself) so you can browse quickly for key insights.
Marketing doesn't have to cost an arm or a leg, but it is important. These tools only scratch the surface when it comes to the great cheap or free resources available - but it's always important to be honest with yourself about when you need help, when something isn't polished enough for market, or if it just isn't a DIY project.
Write Way Up helps its clients by developing relevant and effective strategies that you can implement yourself, or can implement with the help of the WWU team. We offer strategy development, design and copywriting services, as well as the option to work with us, as though we are part of the team, to kick off your marketing efforts, or keep them going.