It’s based on over a decade of working in and with service businesses of all sizes, and learning the hard (and expensive) lessons.
In fact, while I’ve said it’s for service businesses, most of the basics are equally applicable to consumer product sales/retail scenarios.
It’s not an article focused on things like business cards and brochures and websites, but more the practical things you need to have in place.
I’ve found most people skip the basics of service business marketing because it’s boring or they assume it’s all been done. I’ve also found, when you actually do these things properly, your business can step up a gear without any massive outflow of money.
There’s no doubt advertising, digital marketing and PR can all help increase awareness in the community, but here are some low-cost basics I recommend you look at before going down that road.
Basic Rules of small business marketing for service businesses (or, what you should do before you hire an expert)
- Recognise that the worse your product/service is, the more you’ll spend on advertising, customer service, refunds and PR to convince people it’s good. If it sucks, just fix it. This includes your back office processes.
- Make the most of your location
- If you are a physical store or office, you work inside a billboard.
- If you are a mobile service provider, you are driving a billboard.
- Understand what situations lead to people needing/wanting your product/service (and the opposite).
- Make sure you’re collecting basic customer/client contact details and keeping them up to date
- Ask your existing customers/clients why they use you (look for trends)
- Document every customer enquiry in one place and track how they found you
- Track the number of enquiries that result in paid consultations
- Track how many customers come back, and how often.
- Track complaints, and document the reasons given.
- Use Google My Business – it’s free and literally puts you on the map. (Also, join Yelp to be seen on Apple Maps.)
- Looking at past sales, document the similarities and differences between the people who buy your product/service
- Make the most of referrals, and encourage them at every opportunity. Identify who can logically send work your way via a kind word – eg a Doctor or Chemist refers to a Physio, an accountant may refer a mortgage broker, a builder may recommend an architect etc.
- Get testimonials from clients – if they’re satisfied with you, publish them on your website and in marketing materials. If they’re not, use that as constructive feedback and refer to point 1.
- Sometimes people buy just because it’s convenient. Embrace that and be more convenient than everyone else.
- Identify the most valuable types of people and work out how many fit that description in a given region – they are your target audience (realise you can’t appeal to everyone, but don’t go too narrow)
- Find marketing channels that match those people and their habits, not what’s cheapest/fastest/easiest. Two rules:
- The internet is not always the answer
- Neither is social media
- Talk to those people in their language, remembering your place in their world (you aren’t the most important thing on their mind)
- Know who your real competitors are and write down how they claim to be different. Then write down what you know to be true (ie. how different their claim is to the reality). Whenever you can, try to collect intelligence from enquiring customers about how your competitors charge.
- Be brutally honest with yourself about how you’re different (if at all).
- Be very clear about the products and services you do and don’t offer
- Know how much you are prepared to spend per new customer/client. It’s hard to grow business without spending some money.
- No matter what anyone says, if you haven’t done or accepted all of these things and looked at things strategically, a new logo or tagline – or lower prices – won’t change a hell of a lot for your business. Except your bank balance.
There are a number of recommendations here regarding data collection and analysis. Don’t be put off by it – it’s actually just some basic maths which needs a spreadsheet or two at the most with very basic formulas.
On the topic of systems, you could have a fancy cloud based CRM (client relationship management) system like Salesforce or Hubspot, but the reality is you just need to at least start collecting it and keeping it up to date. There’s no shame in a good spreadsheet so long as it’s kept clean. One of my clients does this at the moment and the amount of business intelligence he gets out of that is startling.
With the right processes in place, you can learn so much from your business’s data. It will help you understand what’s happened to date, and what you can do from here. Best of all, if you have strong base information – like number of enquiries that translate to paid consultations – you can develop a baseline for what your ‘normal’ business activity looks like. Then, if and when you do start spending on websites, ads and PR, you’ll be able to see if those enquiries and consultations change. Without that, you’re making it too easy for the agency or consultant you engage to show ‘improvements’ and probably spending too much.
On the topic of hiring someone, while it’s possible to do all these things yourself, Wyatt Media does help businesses with this type of thing all the time, and would be pleased to discuss your options with you. But I do encourage you to try it for yourself, first.
About Hamish Wyatt
Hamish is an Australian marketer and copywriter with 10+ years’ practical experience working in and with service businesses to improve their marketing outcomes online and offline. He’s the owner of Wyatt Media, a Certified Practising Marketer, and a member of the Australian Marketing Institute and ProCopywriters (an association for commercial writers). He’s certified in Google Ads Search and Google Analytics and holds degrees in Business Advertising and Media Communications.