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7 Marketing Challenges of Small Businesses

These marketing challenges for small businesses aren't new. When each continues, it creates long-term problems that keep the business at a plateau keep owners from growing the business. These challenges often come at a price - going out of business.

Let's review 7 of the biggest challenges most small business owners face PLUS how to fix each:

  1. Poor visibility - Whether these are online marketing challenges or a combination of online and offline, the brand has minimal visibility. When you have a brand and a location (online or bricks and mortar), you exist but aren't getting seen. It takes time (as you cringe) and a plan to create visibility. Fix: The good news is this is a simple fix! All you need to do is be more active where your customers are spending time. The bad news is it takes time. And as you'll see from #7, time is already a problem. You can, however, create a quick and simple plan to get and keep your brand visible. Do you have a blog on your website? Do you have a profile created on one social media platform? If you have these two things, you have what it takes to start. If not, you now know where to begin! Create a blog article which can then be shared on the social channel as a link. You can also create images of snippets or quote snippets from the article to post. The articles don't need to be long but they do need to be consistent. Post one per week and you'll have the content you need to share on your social channel. The most important part of that is to engage! Engagement leads to more visibility.

  2. Pricing to the competition - Price matching or lowering your prices to the competitor's price just to win customers is never a good idea. In fact, it's a quick spiral to the bottom. It is important to know how the competition is pricing their similar solutions but don't price match. Definitely want to keep your finger on the pulse with a competitive analysis. Fix: Know your solutions and the value, peace of mind or joy each provides. If you have a lot of solutions, start with the top 5 and re-evaluate your pricing structure. It's OK if your prices are higher - as long as the value associated the higher price is there. Look at your monthly reports and review quantity, revenue and profits of each of the top 5 solutions to determine if you need to reduce expenses (if possible), raise prices or both. Look at your annual goals and determine what you need to achieve each month and back into it. Use the competitor's pricing as a guide to make sure your pricing isn't significantly higher or significantly lower. But always stand behind the value your brand brings to customers.

  3. Posting on the wrong channels - Posts are only good if the channel each is posted on is where you'll be seen and your content will create engagement. Where YOU like spending time isn't necessarily where your ideal customers are. If you like posting on Instagram and using the Stories feature and your ideal customers are on LinkedIn, you need to invest your time on LinkedIn not Instagram. Fix: Make a list of your ideal customers include names or just the type of customers. Research and find out where they are spending time. You can find out by visiting websites and looking for the social icons then viewing the content or search various key words on each social platform. Or do a combination of both! If you're limited on time, pick the most active for your audience then invest time and resources in being active, engaging and most important, helpful.

  4. Not knowing who your ideal customers are - Spray and pray is not a good marketing strategy for your content. What I mean by this is creating content then posting wherever and whenever and crossing your fingers someone likes, comments or responds in a direct message (DM). The 'spray and pray' strategy is what brands do when they have no idea who their ideal customers are and where they are spending time. So you need to find out who these potential clients are and be more strategic with creating great content. Fix: Research who this person is and even give them a name like Bob or Rachel. This research is deeper than age, gender and income. Research to find out what triggers the need to purchase your solution, what's a day like as this person, what are their highest priorities, what books they read, where they spend time online, etc. When you have a detailed description of who your ideal customer is, you are more equipped to create relevant content that they will engage with and respond to. If you have an existing customer that makes you say "I want more Sarah's as customers!", list out what makes 'Sarah' a great customer (including how she became a customer) and seek out more Sarahs.

  5. Lack of lead quality - You have inbound leads but the quality stinks, meaning someone submitted a lead but you don't have what they need. If you do, you know it's a temporary solution for them until something better comes along. The quality is lacking and you're not sure why. Fix: One way to solve this problem is #4 above (identifying your ideal customers). Another option is to identify the characteristics of a qualified lead and create a spreadsheet with qualifiers and weighting. An example: a lead from LinkedIn is more qualified than a lead from Instagram so the LinkedIn lead gets a higher ranking or a weight is applied to show it's worth more to your business. Has this person or business submitted a lead in the past? It could be a higher ranking if there was a great conversation but no purchase (if it was due to timing or budget but now they are ready - this is where information the sales team tracks comes in handy). What solution do they need? If you offer one or multiple solutions, they rank higher vs. if you don't have a solution at all. Continue this process until you have a firm understanding of what a qualified lead is. If you're using a CRM, use a lead qualifier or weighting system that's available (be creative if you have to!).

  6. Internal process chaos - Leads, customers, invoicing...oh my! The business is running and all balls are in the air - but barely. Leads are coming in and being handled. Customers are receiving responses. Invoices are going out. BUT....It. Feels. Like. Complete. And. Total. Chaos. You're business could be running more efficiently - and with less stress and anxiety - if you have a process in place. What I've found by creating processes with customers, is that new revenue opportunities are uncovered and efficiencies with employees created (making them happier!). Fix: Start with what happens when a lead comes in via email for a website form. Who receives it and what do they do with it? Is the process the same for a phone call or someone coming in? Map the process from the time that first time contact happens to the time they become a customer and they receive their first invoice (include on-boarding if that's part of your business). Identify what's not happening (someone's not checking that info at <company name> dot com email box tied to forms on your website!) and put a fix in place. Bring all people responsible for various parts in on the mapping process. They can provide insight that you don't have making the mapping and identifying gaps/efficiencies process more streamlined. Ultimately the end goal is to have a process that's could function automatically. Look at it from a new employee's point of view - could they identify the internal process without an existing employee getting involved? You can do the same for your external processes - and how ideal customers find you.

  7. Lack of time - This is a given and likely the BIGGEST suck of energy. But it needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Lack of time should never be a factor keeping you back from the growth you've worked so hard to achieve. There are too many options but you need to consider the possibilities. With the right employee, marketing strategy, process in place, time becomes irrelevant. Fix: If you feel like you're constantly running around and not moving the needle at all - you feel like you're barely staying afloat - it's time to evaluate what's consuming your time. Is it time to hire someone? Is it time to remove low performing products from the mix? Is it time to re-allocate budget dollars from one category to another? If you're spending too much time talking to vendors, trying to generate new business, creating more awareness, handling customer's a matter of time before all those balls in the air, drop. As the business owner, you need to focus more on the business, than in the business. Perhaps you keep new business generation but hire a customer service person or manager. Or you're a good sales person but need someone to generate more awareness so you have more high quality leads to follow-up with. Or you're considering adding new systems or technology to your infrastructure and need someone to vet the vendors - so hire an operations person. Identify the biggest need and hire someone to help.

There are part-time, temporary and short-term options available for all levels in a company - big and small. Look at your budget and see what you can do to help eliminate the marketing challenges and chaos and replace it with generating high quality leads, create awareness and engage with your ideal customers. Commit to making a change. By this time next year, where do you want your small business to be - the same place or saying b'bye to this year's goals and heading toward achieving your next level goals?

If you need to start small, then start small. That's just smart business. Know your limits, your strengths, what you need and what you can afford then look for the solution that will help you get there.

Keep in mind: You need sales to keep your business stable and growing. You can't generate sales if no one knows who you are, where to find you and how you can help solve their marketing challenges. Know what you need and let me help you get there.

If you aren't sure, let's book a free 30-minute consult and see where you might need to begin.

Vicki O'Neill is a fractional CMO in Ohio with over 20 years of marketing leadership experience. She's the founder of KenKay Marketing, a marketing solutions company founded in 2011. Vicki hosts Connect the Dots a marketing and sales educational podcast for entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes. She recently launched a new podcast with her Gen Z daughters, The Power of 3X, to help individuals who want to learn about the youngest generation. You will find Vicki on most social media platforms but you'll find her mostly on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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