Today is my 18th year in business. Considering that most statistics say 95% of small businesses shut down within 3-5 years, I consider myself lucky. It hasn’t always been easy, and the last two years have been extremely tough since I’m the primary caregiver for my mother, who lives with me and has dementia. Yet I’m still around and still pushing forward; that has to count for something. 🙂

Marketing Mitch and Syracuse

Over the course of the last 9 years, I’ve written a special anniversary post 8 times. The year I missed, my 11th anniversary, I wrote an article about hitting 1,000 articles on this blog, which felt more important. As I’m writing this one I’m sitting just 2 away from 1,400 articles. So, not only in business for 18 years, but writing something for most of these years as well.

This leads into my topic for this year, which is marketing. I consider blogging a big part of my marketing, even if I’ve never received lots of comments here. It’s given me material that helps me market my services and show my expertise, both on social media and in regular mail.

Whether you’re in a small business or a mega conglomeration, marketing is everything. Some people will tell you sales is more important, but you can’t sell anything to anyone until you’ve reached them via marketing.

I thought about writing 18 things about marketing to match the anniversary, but I decided that 9 would be sufficient; it’s also one of my lucky numbers. If you’re going to be in business, let’s look at 9 things you need to be ready for:

1. Marketing is the most important lesson to learn

I went into business coming from working mainly in hospitals. The thing about the majority of hospitals is they rarely have to do any marketing because they’re the only game in town. I’ve learned a lot over all these years, but it took a good 3 years before I understood the difference between marketing while looking like a professional and thinking that everything I created was professional.

I took a lot of classes early on about closing sales without thinking that I had to get to a place where I could have the opportunity to talk to someone before trying to close a sale. It’s one of the major things I talk about whenever I’m mentoring someone who’s new at self employment. This isn’t Field of Dreams; if you create it, no one’s coming without good marketing.

2. Learning how to talk about yourself is second

In every generation, the concept of talking about ourselves in a positive light has been beaten out of us. In my day, we were told never to brag about ourselves, even when we did good or great things. In today’s world, every kid who competes gets a trophy so that no one’s feelings are hurt.

Truth be told, if you’re a small business you have to get comfortable talking about yourself. Stick to the truths, but when the truths are strong, make sure you talk about them. Every chance I get I highlight that I helped a hospital increase their revenue by $730 million in one year. I highlight that I created a charge master for an entire country.

It’s not bragging if it’s true, but don’t make up things to make yourself look better. Talk about your skills; talk about your achievements. Make sure they’re easily found. Then, rinse and repeat.

Mitchell consulting
Me consulting

3. If you’re going to do work in your field of expertise, make sure those you need to market to understand what it is you do.

Full disclosure; I wrote this on last year’s post, and I’m posting it again because it’s easily the 3rd most important thing you need to know, although some would say it should be first.

This is a continuing problem with a big portion of what I do. The main thing I do for hospitals involves something called a charge master, which is the 2nd most important thing for hospitals and their finances. yet it’s the least understood thing by the people who I need to talk to who will eventually sign the contracts so I can work with them.

In health care, a big part of my marketing efforts go into talking about charge masters and other health care financial services. Not only do I have to market to them, but I have to educate them… if I can get them to talk to me.

One of the biggest problems with a lot of businesses is they use industry terms that even people in their industry don’t fully understand. For instance, every time I see a website that says “business processes” I cringe because it’s a phrase that means something different in every single industry. Whenever someone says something like that at a networking event, my next question is always “what does that mean”. It freaks out nearly 75% of the people I ask that question of; if you have trouble explaining what you do to people your business is going to be in trouble.

4. Use a combination of marketing principles

There’s no one way of marketing that works for everyone. You can use social media. You can pick up the phone. You can use email. You can use snail mail. You can put flyers and advertisements in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV or movie theaters. You have a lot of choices available, some I might not have mentioned.

You can be funny or serious. You can be sedate or outrageous. You can do influencer marketing or you can promote people you like and hope they’ll promote you also. These days you can pretty much do anything, as long as it’s not sexist, racist or overly political.

There are two things you can’t do; everything or nothing. I’ve already talked about doing nothing, so let’s look at everything.

Everything isn’t for everybody, especially if you’re doing it on your own. For instance, I hate cold calling. I’m bad at it, even if I’ve written a message to parrot. If I’ve been given a lead, that’s a different story. I rarely do email marketing, not because I’m opposed to it but because I’ve found it hard to get the email addresses of those I want to reach.

I mainly lean on two things; content marketing (social media) and snail mail. Content marketing is easy because I love to write (I’ve got over 6,000 articles online), and social media gives me a chance to promote myself in a lot of different spaces. Snail mail takes a little longer, but it allows me to reach specific people and include content that helps me educate those I’m reaching out to.

Flyers aren’t my thing, even though my first two years I created a lot of them; I’m cringing at the thought. However, if I ran a pizza business, I’d certainly have flyers and have someone putting them in mailboxes in homes and businesses close to my location.

Every business owner needs to figure out what works for them and what they’re comfortable with. Remember that you can always hire someone to do some or all of these things for you; don’t be afraid to spend money on people who know what they’re doing.

5. Decide how you want you and your business to be viewed by potential clients

This one is cautionary while advocating openness. By now, everyone knows at least one business that’s come under fire for a horrific advertisement. By now, everyone’s been privy to a news story about someone who, for whatever stupid reason, decided to call the police on a minority for being a minority doing something that everyone else is doing.

It’s not worth taking risks with your name and your business being highlighted for stupidity. There are times when people need to think about things like that and keep it to themselves.

Yet, for someone like me who also does diversity and leadership training, it makes sense for me to call out things like this because they could have an impact on someone who might be looking for someone like me to help train their staff. If taking a stand for the right thing hurts your business, those aren’t people you want to work with anyway. If the right thing isn’t popular in your industry, only you can judge whether or not you still feel you need to highlight it.

Overall, it’s better being shunned for your integrity than for being openly stupid. I don’t believe anyone would dispute that one with me.

6. Choose how you pay for marketing wisely

I mentioned in #4 that you could pay for marketing. While it’s always an option, you have to be smart about it.

conferencing

I offer a cautionary tale about a friend of mine who advertised on a newspaper site. She was told her ad got 1 million impressions a month, which sounds impressive… but it’s not. What matters in a case like this is how many people actually clicked on the ad; unfortunately, she was never given this information, and based on the lack of results I fear there weren’t many clicks.

You can pay a lot or a little when it comes to different kinds of marketing. You need to interview the people you’re considering and see how you feel about their level of competence based on the price they want to charge you. You also need to feel comfortable with what they’re telling you about the medium they’re going to promote you in.

Sending letters to potential clients takes more time and money and reaches fewer people, but it might be more reliable for your business than marketing on social media. It’s also easier to set a price point and understand what you’re getting. Don’t fear the unknown; just make sure to ask questions and get as much information up front as you can before you consider it.

7. Branding is always important

If you’re a small or solo business, you need to always push your brand. Whether you have a website or not, you need to have a business name extension for your email; Gmail or Yahoo isn’t going to do if you want to look like a professional.

As I stated in #5, open stupidity could kill your brand; the internet isn’t quite that forgiving at the present time. Yet, tying your brand to your audience could be beneficial if, like I do, you share stories and articles on things that are tied to your industry.

Branding isn’t a logo; branding is a marketing technique used to enhance your position in your industry. Some options are easy, while others might be hard. Take time to look at it to see what you want to do.

A word of warning; business names that don’t connect you to either an industry or a personality are the hardest to brand. Naming yourself Phoenix Industries means nothing except to Harry Potter fans.

8. Don’t be one dimensional in your branding or marketing

What I mean here is you have to show some personality. This slightly ties in to both #2 and #4. Small businesses are really about the individual at the top; you and your business are intertwined.

No one likes to read boring content, even if it’s essential information. Take this article as an example; you can tell it wasn’t written by someone who’s afraid to show some personality via the written language. I’ve even added images to the copy; images are rarely boring to all that many people.

I know everyone isn’t always that gregarious; it might be hard for many of you to believe, but outside of business I’m pretty much an introvert. Still, I write and have two YouTube channels. If I couldn’t handle it, I’d hire someone else to do them or I’d do a podcast.

Whatever you do, you need to have a mix of personality, business acumen and honesty. Most people hire those who they feel comfortable with; it’s not always about being the best.

9. Take reasonable chances; you actually can get a second chance

While it’s true that you only get one chance to make a first impression, what’s not true is that the first impression is always cast in stone. As it pertains to marketing, if a campaign doesn’t work you can always try something else. If that doesn’t work, try and try again.

Taking chances is admirable, but once again don’t be stupid. If you have the chance, have a diversity of other professionals to look over your marketing before you put it out. I stress the word “diversity”; having your buddies or family members telling you how great something is won’t get it done. If you don’t have that kind of support, you can still take chances, but make sure to stay away from things that you’re not sure of.

That’s 9 things about marketing for business, small or otherwise. Share your thoughts on these and ask questions about others. It’s been a nice run up to 18 years; let’s see what the lead to 19 years brings me.
 

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