The Small Business Marketing Imperative

Earlier this month, I had an interesting conversation with a local store owner who is having trouble getting her store off the ground. She opened in September with a ribbon cutting party (I attended), and was well received in the community. Her space is located in an area with good foot traffic. Stores around her include a 24-hour fitness studio, an optometrist, a real estate agent, a music studio, a bicycle shop, a health clinic, an upscale wine and cheese store, a dry cleaners, a nail salon, a hair salon, a Chinese restaurant and a taekwondo studio.

woman in front of store

With all the foot traffic and a beautifully decorated street level space, you'd think she'd have customers. Instead, she is hemorrhaging money. Why is this happening? Well, it could be because people in the area are not interested in what she is selling. But I don't think that's the problem. Here's a little background.

The Investment

Melanie (not her real name) invested $60,000 to build out her store, including plumbing fixtures, professional painting, signage, tables, chairs, display shelving, carpet, decorations, etc. It's a bright and cheerful space, yet she says she is not able to pay the rent without dipping into her family's household account each month. The water and electric are not a problem as they usually average no more than around $60 per month. So what's the problem? I'm not sure, but I can tell you how our conversation went.

The Marketing

After I asked Melanie if she is doing any advertising and she said she is not, I asked her how she is marketing her business. She told me that she prints color flyers and places them in the people's mail boxes. A batch of 1,000 flyers costs $250 (yikes!), and it takes several hours and lots of gas to drive around neighborhoods placing the flyers in people's mail boxes.

She indicated that she can trace about 5 paying customers back to each batch of flyers. (Yes, that means she's spending roughly $50 to acquire each new customer.) I asked her if she was using the Internet to market her business. She took a deep breath and said she was not. When I asked why, here's what she said, followed by my replies to her.

1. “It's too expensive.”

My reply: Facebook costs nothing but time and it's not hard to do once you sit down and figure it out. I told her that, on Facebook, she would spend way less than $50 to acquire a new customer and since she's sitting around in the store twiddling her thumbs all day, it's a good investment of whatever money may be needed to learn Facebook to make the store profitable.

2. “I don't have the time.”

My reply: I pointed out that practically no one was coming in the store during the day, and then gently reminded her that she had plenty of time.

3. “Do *I* have to do it? I mean, all that social stuff … it's just not me.”

So there it is. The truth. It's not the time or the money. It's, “I don't feel like it,” and that's the bottom line. When she said this, I just wanted to cry.

I can help with issues of money and time. But, for me, “I don't feel like it” is not fixable. Yet it's the bottom line for many people every day.

I can explain marketing so a person can understand that it's not as expensive as they think. I can explain marketing so a person can see that it does not have to be an unproductive time suck (especially compared to driving around neighborhoods and dropping off flyers that eventually end up in the trash). But I cannot convince someone to do something they don't want to do.

How I Offered To Help

As our conversation began to wind down, I didn't want to risk insulting her. However, the the last thing I want to see in my community is another vacant retail store and a disappointed and once-promising entrepreneur. So I offered Melanie complimentary training. I told her we could take our laptops over the the local coffee shop and I would show her what to do and help her set up a marketing system she could use to have fun with her customers on Facebook, and turn that fun into repeat business.

She politely declined, and I noticed that she was beginning to tear up.

So there we were, both of us standing in the parking lot on the verge of tears over the same issue, but for very different reasons.

It Saddens Me

It saddens me to see a person with a promising business lose a chance at business success for emotional reasons that don't make business sense.

I can understand being fearful of technology. I can understand facing the prospect of having to change your whole marketing plan. And based on my own personal experience, I can understand being emotionally overwhelmed to the point of inaction by something you know is good for you and your business.

But …

The Small Business Marketing Imperative

In business, once we recognize that something isn't working, we must switch gears and try another tactic. The new tactic may not be comfortable, but if the alternative is losing the business, then whether or not the new tactic is comfortable is irrelevant. It has to be done, or else, “Bye-bye business.”

As small business owners, we must see our way around notions of what is personally comfortable and think in terms of what the business needs in order to thrive. If it needs a different kind of marketing boost, we must provide it … period. It doesn't matter whether we like it. It has to be done, and if we are going to do the best for the business and for the customers we want to walk in the door, we just have no choice.

It's imperative that we market our businesses.

What do you think of how I handled this situation? Was I pushing too hard? What have you done when you “just don't feel like” marketing? How have you or others you know of overcome the discomfort that sometimes comes along with putting yourself out there for your business? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.