Who Does Marketing for Small BusinessEd. Note: This guest post comes from Tina Hamilton, aka Tina The Scribe. Tina took our guest post guidelines to heart, particularly the bit about Doctor Who references. Thanks, Tina! -Seth

Branching out on a marketing limb can sometimes feel like risky business for small companies. But heading into the market with out a promotion plan in place is a real and dangerous risk. In fact, those who have tried it, may wish they could go back in time. So for small businesses who are ready for the future, here’s a breakdown of why marketing is so important for almost any organization and what a sales budget should try to include.

Why Marketing Matters

Marketing is vital to the lifeblood of small business. A great marketing plan is essential to help put your business on the map and make sure that consumers learn about who you are and why your products rock. Balancing between development and sales can often result in small companies waiting too long to start getting the word out.

Unfortunately, many startups wait to start a marketing campaign until their product has already hit the market, and it can become difficult to get the word out quickly enough. At this point, the company must throw all its efforts into advertising fast. But a successful campaign takes time to reach out the target audience, build steady brand awareness and eventually penetrate the market.

“Products and services don’t sell themselves,” points out Caron Beesley for SBA.gov. “By ignoring marketing until it’s too late, many small businesses risk hitting a brick wall and, quite possibly, failing” even with a great product. Scrambling for a promotion plan, those who wait too long are sometimes left crying, “Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan!”

So What’s in a Budget?

According to LegalZoom.com, “a marketing budget typically covers the costs for advertising, promotion and public relations.” The amount of spending, time and effort allocated to each of these pillars really depends on the individual organization. Factors which vary between companies include:

An average marketing budget can range anywhere from 1 percent of sales to more than 30 percent. And some brand new companies might reach spending of 50 percent in order to introduce themselves and make a big impression on the market in the first year. Another common strategy for small operations is to simply try matching the spending of their direct competitors.

With or without an extensive budget, small businesses especially will need to adopt a courageous motto. As Rose Tyler would say, “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right, even when everyone else just runs away.”

The Question about Free Marketing Strategies

In the past an advertising budget was broken down into several common efforts:

While each of these remains important today, perhaps the platform which receives the most attention today is social media.

Leveraging social media channels can be a smart strategy in the modern market, especially for small businesses who have lower budgets. From Twitter and Facebook to YouTube and Instagram, companies can present an active, engaging and consistent brand voice. These channels allow unprecedented access to consumers with ways to connect and dialogue directly with your audience.

However, that being said, social media marketing doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your brand will come out on top. In my personal experience, it is really difficult—nay, impossible—to predict what will take off on social media. We have ideas about what causes something to go viral. But there are so many different factors involved at any given time that there is no concrete formula to predict virality for your brand.

Ideally, social networking should drive increased traffic to your website, thus expanding the audience and starting conversations. But the key here is that it is not social media alone which will make your company great. Media is simply a way to promote other content you share online such as guest blog posts and your company website. This is an important point: content lies at the heart of a successful social strategy.

So, come up with an interactive campaign that invites social media followers to investigate your brand and see what kind of content and products you offer. Arouse curiosity until they think, “There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick.” And at that point you have engaged the user and begun to convert hearers into customers. Social media is really just another tool for connecting with the consumer. And it probably shouldn’t be the only screwdriver you keep in the toolbox.

My Conclusion

So what we’ve learned so far is that setting aside a marketing budget is an essential part of boosting sales and building your brand. Add to that some potential help from social media which can definitely help position your business well but is still not a guarantee. With these tips for planning a winning campaign on a small business budget, your company’s successful strategy might make competitors wonder if you have a time lord working for you.

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