How I’ve Learned to Avoid Over-Complicating Marketing From Working With Thousands of Clients

A common error I see with most small business marketing is the desire, or accident, to over-complicate business marketing.

This is an in-depth look at some real client case studies, where we found their marketing was too complicated, and how we helped them fix it.

Who in their right mind wants to do this to their marketing?

We all tend to think “more is more and throw more work, more time, more effort, more money, and more complicated strategies at our marketing.

Big businesses and Fortune 500 companies can afford to do this (although they shouldn’t).  Big companies usually have big marketing budgets and a pretty big marketing department, not to mention all of the external marketing resources they employ such as advertising agencies and freelance contractors.

When you’re an entrepreneur running a small or medium sized business, your marketing needs to be streamlined and laser focused.  In many cases, the business owner is the person actually performing all of the marketing activities, or outsourcing bits and pieces – the things they don’t have the knowledge or experience to do – to freelancers as needed.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs need to use the less is more approach to marketing.  Not to necessarily do LESS marketing, but use strategies and automation to require less work and less money.

Below are some of the biggest issues that lead to clients over-complicating marketing we have seen, and some suggestions on how you can streamline marketing for your business.

Small Business Marketing Problem #1:  Not Keeping Your Marketing Cohesive

Lack of cohesion in marketing initiatives is the most common problem that we see most small businesses and entrepreneurs encounter.

This usually occurs for a couple of reasons:

1. Lack of time to perform marketing activities.

Either the entrepreneur is scrambling and splitting their time between working IN their business by making sales, and working ON their business by implementing marketing tactics, doing accounting, stocking, and all of those other behind-the-scenes tasks, that they are spread too thin.  They may have no time for the consistency needed to keep their marketing running smoothly.

We recommend two ways to tackle this problem – you can use either or both together:

  1. Implement systems that can automate the process.  This may be by learning some easier ways to get things done, such as by using our 3 by 3 Marketing Matrix™ or by strategically planning your marketing content calendar to streamline your process.
  2. Outsource some of your marketing activities to reputable and affordable services – such as by using our Marketing VA Tribe.  If you choose this route, be sure to read the next section!

2. Outsourcing marketing too many places.

This is other big mistake that we see many entrepreneurs and small businesses make with their marketing.  They choose to outsource various marketing activities to freelancers, which is a great way to free up some precious time – at least on the surface.  What they often don’t realize is that they may spend just as much time, if not more, keeping track of all of the work those different freelancers are doing, and staying on top of the final work products to make sure that their brand image and voice is consistent across all platforms.

Or, if the entrepreneur is hiring a freelancer for a subject matter they aren’t well-versed in themselves, such as setting up a website or making a logo, for example, they may not even know how to determine if the freelancer they are choosing is actually best for the job. 

 Which takes us to problem #2.


Small Business Marketing Problem #2:  Not Knowing Enough About Marketing to Know What You Don’t Know

We have tons of stories about the problems that a client encounters when not knowing how to vet a freelancer to determine if they will be the best choice for the work that needs to be done.  Here are two.

Marketing Case Study #1 – SEO Gone Wrong

I’ve seen a few clients who hired someone who gave a great song and dance to their presentation, and then brought me in to provide some oversight to the project, and I quickly realized that the freelancer didn’t know quite as much as what they originally said they did.

One client spent over $2,500 (in month #1) to have a freelancer perform search engine optimization on their website.  

What the client didn’t realize, because he wasn’t “techie” – like a lot of people also aren’t – is that a lot of the major SEO work was already done.  He had pretty strong meta tags, meta descriptions, keyword optimization and other major pieces of heavy work were on a good path (although SEO is never “done”, theirs was pretty strong, so far).

This freelancer did three things that were immediate red flags – they made public, and indexed by Google, a production version of the website.  Anyone who works with websites at any level should understand the difference between a production version and a live version of a website. This means that things on that production version were incorrect, had incorrect pricing, weren’t properly connected to the systems they needed to be connected to, and as soon as they had it indexed actually competed for search engine results with their live site.

Then, the freelancer spent the first two weeks focused on adding “transition words” to sentences in the website.  This is not SEO.  This can slightly assist with readability of the text, which humans will appreciate, and most search engines do take this into account – but only a small bit. It doesn’t do much at all to boost your rankings in the search engines.

Literally he was being paid to add “And, then” to the beginning of sentences – that’s all he was doing!!

The third thing he did, because he had requested and was given direct login information to some of the systems instead of being given a separate login with only the level of access he needed (this was done by my client, who didn’t know better, and goes against every best practice I ever recommend).  This is a no no. The freelancer then gave similar level of access to a subcontractor he used (an overseas freelancer that my client had never even spoken to and did not know). Either the freelancer or his subcontractor could have taken over ownership of the entire website, taken the whole thing down, held it for ransom, or done any number of other things that could have completely killed my client’s business.  Luckily that did not happen, but when an entrepreneur doesn’t know what they should and should not give to a freelancer, it could result in complete loss of entire systems.

This freelancer was already on the short list after I brought these issues to the attention of my client, and made my recommendations about what things needed to immediately change.  But he then did a couple of more things – he refused to provide any type of work plan to note what types of things he would be doing.  

We had requested a broad overview of things such as editing meta information, or alt tags on images, or a focus on keywords or etc.  Even just a general checklist of what had been done or would be looked at.  He wouldn’t provide that information, not even vaguely.  Honestly, I don’t think he knew; I think he was a salesman, sold the SEO service at $XX and then hired overseas freelancers at $X to actually do the work.  Not a bad business model for him, but my client wasn’t receiving answers to the basic questions asked.

Psst … Our SEO:  We provide you with a general checklist of the types of things we will be doing. We provide a general timeline. We provide updates and reports. And most of all … you know when you speak to us that we know what we’re doing.  We believe in transparency.

The freelancer then also made racist comments to my client about the difficulty of having to work with an angry Asian woman.  My client doesn’t stand for that type of behavior, and this was the final nail in the freelancer’s coffin.  My client thanked the freelancer for the work to date, made sure the one month of service was paid in full, and then cancelled the contract.

By the way, that “angry Asian woman” was supposedly me.  I wasn’t even angry, just asking for information.  And it was also funny because I’m not Asian. My last name may be Asian, but I am noticeably caucasian. So he didn’t even get that right – which only takes one look at my email signature which contains my headshot specifically to help end this specific confusion 😉

This problem was a result of the business owner not having the knowledge themselves to be able to fully vet the freelancer.  The answer was us outlining what services they needed and did not need based upon an audit of their website.

Marketing Case Study #2 – Website Held Hostage

When a business owner doesn’t know what they don’t know about marketing, this can also result in the project not being done correctly, having to be re-done, costing more time and money, or – in some cases we have seen – the “ownership” of the project, such as login information or even website hosting, being “held hostage” by the freelancer, and when you’re ready to move on to a new project, you lose everything that was set up.

And example of this is a client who had a basic website that was set up by a guy he knew.  The freelancer charged the business owner monthly, based on the number of leads the website received.  The client decided he wanted a new, fresh website (the other one looked like it belonged in the 80’s), so he came to us.

We quickly found out a few things that my client didn’t know.  First, all of those leads the freelancer was charging for were not coming to the client’s website.  The client had – but the freelancer had set up and that’s the site he was charging for.  It was actually competing with my client’s website.  The client didn’t ever realize this, and thought the freelancer was doing work on

The freelancer also was using some bad, blackhat SEO tactics on this 80’s throwback website. Some of them that Google had already long figured out and penalizes websites for doing. The good news here is that, at least, it wasn’t directly impacting my client’s domain at since he wasn’t doing work on that site.

Backlinks (when they are good) can greatly help with your website being found by search engines.  We quickly found that this freelancer was putting backlinks to his site on other websites where my client NEVER was okay with his business name being connected to.  BAD backlinks. Think pornography websites.  Gambling.  Tobacco and vaping.  Alcohol.  Guns.  Two problems with this, the biggest one that many of those sites went against things my client stood for and wanted his business name associated with.  The second problem was that none of these related in any way to my client’s business, so having a backlink from those sites would just be considered spammy by Google.  While the bad “link juice” was also all going to site (thank goodness for small favors) … my client’s business name was the name all over those other sites – and the backlinks.

The freelancer also put ads on the site.  This isn’t a bad tactic – even we have ads from Google on this website you’re on.  It can be an additional way for an entrepreneur to make a small extra bit of passive income.  In this case, the freelancer had put tons of ads on the site, and was keeping all of the income they generated for himselfMy client didn’t even realize there were ads on the site (and similarly, some of the ads went against anything he wanted his business to be associated with). That’s sleazy at best, and could potentially be considered theft.

… and this is what my client got – screwed

Another problem we found, was that the freelancer purchased the domain name and the hosting in HIS name, and had full control over those accounts.  That was contrary to what my client understood to be the case.  When my client stopped using the service of the freelancer, said freelancer refused to hand over the website, hosting or domain, and sold the website to one of my client’s competitors.

Keep in mind, ALL of the information on the site was written and copyrighted by my client.  All of the payments – several hundred dollars per month for YEARS – was from my client.  And it was all gone as soon as my client wanted to go a different route.

We’ve revamped the client’s one website since then, made it look better, added some functionality, optimized it for search engines, and – most importantly – made sure HE is the owner.

My client not knowing what he didn’t know meant that this freelancer was able to take advantage of the situation and screw my client in the end.

Small Business Marketing Problem #2:  Too Much Marketing Information and You Don’t Know Who to Follow

Follow the wrong marketing advice and you end up at a dead end

Marketing Case Study #3 – Not Having a Trusted Marketing Advisor

One of the groups on Facebook where I consistently offer marketing advice to groups of entrepreneurs recently had this post (edited for brevity and clarity) from a frustrated entrepreneur:

When I first created my instagram, it was because I was told it’s something my business needed to do. I was posting motivational quotes because that is what my business is based on. After 100+ posts someone approached me and said my instagram page does not have a grid and it looks sloppy. So I spent a lot of hours and redesigned all the pictures to make a grid.

90+ posts later, someone else said that they will charge me $300 to fix my instagram.  I was confused because I HAD JUST REDONE IT. They said I have no color scheme. So I paid them to revamp my instagram and did a color scheme.  I admit, it looked a lot more organized. 

NOW, someone else came and said wow your posts are great etc but you only have 200 followers, so it must be your content. I need to revamp that for you and it will only cost $XXX. 

It’s frustrating. Like really is it THAT serious?

My answer?  No, it’s not.  Where this entrepreneur could have saved a lot of time and money (and frustration) would be to employ the services of ONE branding expert who could have suggested the types of images, colors, text and more that would have provided her with a consistent look. And rather than starting it over from scratch, an expert who could have let her know that it’s okay to start from where you are now.

Or, she could have benefited from a service that could handle her posting on her behalf, and that could have been directed to implement these new focuses or changes within what they were doing.

Or, an expert who could have helped her to determine if Instagram is even the right place for her business to focus.  If followers are low, maybe it’s not the posts – maybe it’s because the best audience is somewhere else.

One person said you must have an Instagram, so she did it.  Another person said you must have a pattern, so she did it.  Yet another said you must have a color scheme, so she did it.  Yet another said she needs better posts.  Too much information.  No way to know which information is accurate and who she should listen to.  Even if she tries to research online, she will likely find that people are saying both yes and no about every single tactic she was given.  How is she supposed to know what to do?

This is where it’s good to reach out to an expert who can guide you in the right direction and to some valid resources that can actually be helpful.  There’s SO much marketing information online, and an entrepreneur wants a simple answer like “do I need to use Instagram for my business” or “how should I use Instagram for my business” and they find information that contradicts the other information, and people who tell them they aren’t doing it right and charge them to make a fix.

Having a trusted marketing advisor that you can call upon to help you weed out all of the crap can be worth it’s weight in GOLD.  This is one of the big pieces we cover in our Marketing Mastermind Bootcamp – unique advice based upon tried and true best practices combined with what is recommended for your unique business and customers.

Small Business Marketing Problem #3:  Not Having Time to Oversee Outsourcing

Marketing Case Study #4 –  Not Having Marketing Processes and Systems

One of my clients I wrote about recently.  They had been spending quite a pretty penny (thousands of dollars a month) on Google AdWords, and as part of overall SEO we were making sure that they keywords in the ads matched the website and a few other activities that are needed.

They had used a freelancer to set up their initial AdWords, and then it was sort of “set it and forget it”.

If you know anything about Google AdWords and other types of pay-per-click advertising, you get paid any time someone clicks on your ad – even if they aren’t actually needing your service or interested in you at all.

What we found: the way their keywords in the ad account were set up, people could search for something like WalMart or Sprouts in their town, and their ad (completely unrelated) would show up.  A lot of people just click on the first option Google gives them without even paying attention.  So over the course of a year, they had paid over $27,000 for people who searched something completely unrelated and that their ad should have never been even showing for.

The brought on the freelancer because they didn’t have time to do their AdWords – either to set it up or to maintain it.  They brought us in because they didn’t have time to check their SEO and get it to where it needed to be.

What I recommended to them, is that the owner set an appointment with herself every month, to take 30 minutes to check what keywords had been used to receive clicks in their ads, and to add any of those to the NEGATIVE keyword list if needed.  30 minutes, is 6 hours per year, to save the company $27,000.  I’d say that’s a pretty great investment of time.

She just didn’t know what she needed to be overseeing.  Once she had a very simple plan – on the 25th of the month, visit this link, and do X, Y and Z – it’s something she was able to keep up with.

Marketing Case Study #5 – Having Too Many Marketing Silos

Another client had numerous freelancers on board, and this caused its own problems.  For one thing, the business owner didn’t have a clear understanding of what needed to be done, and which freelancer was taking care of which part of the project.

Some of the freelancers were being paid for redundant work.  Their tasks were overlapping, so you may have two or three people being paid to do one thing.

The freelancers were also in charge of themselves.  It’s true that independent contractors have a lot of freedom to get the job done, but these freelancers were adding new scopes of projects to their list and just billing the client for these new job tasks.  That’s likely why so many people ended up overlapping.

That also caused confusion with big projects, such as the website.  One freelancer was tasked with copywriting and adding the article to the website.  Another was tasked with optimizing posts and pages for SEO.  The first one took it upon himself to start doing SEO to his own articles, and began charging the business owner for this additional activity.  The second freelancer was still doing SEO, charging for the process on those same posts, and often changing some of the keywords and other items in the first freelancer’s copy.  The first freelancer would also choose a royalty-free image for the article.  Then you had yet another person who was posting a link to the article on social media, but knew nothing about what keywords they were trying to target and would use something completely different, and would choose her own image to use with the link, which then confused readers when they visited the page and it looked different.  She also decided to start adding the posts to Instagram, so set one up and began charging for this additional service, even though the company already had a different Instagram that items were being posted to by someone else.

Then they paid yet another freelancer to add the articles that had been posted on the website to MailChimp and send that out once a month.  And she may use yet even a different image and headline than everyone else. This process is actually able to be automated, even when it’s not it only takes about 30 minutes, and she was charging $150 per month.

Then yet another would do a “press release” about some of the articles.  Headlines, keywords, images … may be different yet again.

Worse?  All of the freelancers were given each other’s contact information and told to work together.  So you had bad feelings when guy #1 wanted more business and was trying to take it away from guy #2 and girl #3.  And they were having bad feelings and pushing back because they thought they were being pushed out.

The business owner had been recommended to set the system up this way so that no one person had too much control.  And I’m a big fan of the “hit by a bus” theory – where someone needs to be able to step in and pick up projects if one person ever gets hit by a bus – but there are much more effective and efficient ways to make that happen than have 10 different people with the fingers in a pot that would only require one.

The biggest hurdle we tackled first with this client was to have a clear outline of which freelancer did what item.  We mapped a flow of everything that needed to happen within this system (and many others), and noted where there were redundancies and where there were gaps. Then we assessed which freelancers could cover which gaps, and in the end reduced the total number of freelancers to something more manageable.  Plus we developed shared processed and documents, such as one keyword list that everyone could refer to (and that was housed in a central location, rather than freelancer #1 trying to keep the list and being the one to give others access).

I also recommended to the client that ONE person needed to be in charge – not of doing all of the work but in charge of oversight.  It couldn’t be him, because he tended to just say yes to everyone because he didn’t understand the technology or who was doing what.  He needed someone to project manage all of the other freelancers.

This is actually one of the very beneficial services we offer through our Marketing Virtual Assistant Tribe.  We have access to specialists in every area of marketing imaginable, yet the business owner only has to have one point of contact.  We handle the strategy, coordination and oversight – making sure everything is cohesive, that tasks aren’t duplicated, that processes and systems are in place in case anyone gets “hit by a bus”, and keeping everything running smoothly.  This marketing management is critical whenever you are using more than one freelancer.  And because the services are implemented by VAs who usually have lower hourly price points, you get the best of both worlds for your business marketing.

Small Business Marketing Problem #4:  Trying to Do Too Many Marketing Strategies at Once

One of the basic marketing concepts I tell all clients is not to try to add too many pieces of different marketing on at one time.  This is the whole basis of our 3 by 3 Marketing Matrix™ training – you pick one area, you add or improve it, and once you’ve got that rhythm under your belt, only then do you consider another.

One client I worked with had set up some of their website presence a few years ago, when you could get away with some things in Google that you cannot now.  However, at the time it was all set up, the practices they put in place was a bad idea as Google was already starting to penalize websites that were enacting these strategies.

The strategies also meant a lot of extra work, which I think you will agree with us just barely touching upon the tip of the iceberg:

This client has one service.  Much more niche even than the services we offer here.  That service may have a slightly different style, or be larger or smaller, but it’s only one.  It would be like if we ONLY offered website design – your website may have a different theme, and different pages or images, and you may need additional features added in such as WooCommerce, but it would still be only ONE service (unlike the whole menu of services that we have available).  So their business offering was very laser focused.

Their online presence, however, was not.

When we first took them on as a client, they had over 50 websites.  50!!!  All for ONE service.

Each of these websites were competing with one another for keywords relating to the business, so there was no way any one could rank as well on search engines as they would have otherwise.  It used to be, about 10 years ago, that you could do it this way and it might increase the likelihood of one of your sites pulling up in the search results.  But that has not been the case for about the last 7 years, and Google started enacting penalties against this tactic since then.

These websites were built about 4 years ago.  The person who built them wasn’t a web designer or web developer or an SEO expert and likely didn’t know this.  He just, like a lot of people, read a lot of information, saw what some other people were doing that had (past tense) been working, and replicated it.

One major thing Google expects to see is NEW and updated information.  This will help your website rank higher.  Google also wants to see only UNIQUE content.  To make that happen on 50 websites, you have to make sure that NONE of the information you share on any one website is on any other.

Ideally, you want to post fairly regularly, at least several times a month, with unique information.

If you do quick math, at 2 posts per month for 50 websites, that’s 100 posts needed every single month!  This company only had 3 full-time people (the owner and two salespeople), and everyone else was part-time freelance.  That’s a lot of writing needed for such a small company.

Similarly, they also had more than that number of social media profiles.  Multiple profiles on Facebook, multiple profiles on Google, multiple profiles on LinkedIn.  You get the idea.

The ONLY time I have ever recommended multiple social media pages to a client is when there are actual physical offices or locations, and each location may have some community-level uniqueness that needs to be regularly relayed.  For example, a real estate broker with offices in multiple towns or cities would benefit from having a Facebook business page for each local office, since they are so highly focused on community-level involvement.

This business does not actually have any physical location at all – all of the services are provided on-site at the customer’s location.

There are two basic things that have to happen on any social media platform for a business to use them successfully – post consistently, and engage with visitors when appropriate.

When you are working with so many social media profiles, it’s almost impossible to keep track with them all, especially when you don’t have dedicated staff to do nothing else.  Plus, if nothing else is different (since they had no need for hyper-local or community-level special posts), once again your audience is split among several places.  On Facebook especially, this kills your overall impressions.  Facebook shows a post to more people after people have been engaging with it (commenting, liking, sharing).  The best way to make that happen is to have all of the engagement happening to only ONE version of the post.  That alone will boost the effectiveness of your page.

Our initial recommendation was CONSOLIDATE.  The client balked at consolidating all of the websites – although they would experience a much more robust search response if they would go ahead and do this, but we were able to talk them down from 54 websites to less than 10.  They still kept a few city-specific ones, even though they could easily cover that with city-specific sections on one website, and those other sites are still competing for search results with the main website.  But overall, they immediately started seeing a huge increase in results.

An increase in one month to the tune of $42,000 according to the owner.

We also recommended consolidation of all of their social media profiles so that they had no more than two per platform – they had one highly targeted to businesses, and one with a charity component, so it makes sense to keep those two separate, although it still wouldn’t be necessary in their case.  I would usually recommend ONE business page per platform.  In some instances, some additional groups may make sense depending upon your goals, or for LinkedIn some showcase pages.  But these still have to be managed with regular posts and interaction just like if they were a separate social network, so it is something that needs to be considered strategically.

Another client similarly had multiple social media profiles.  In their case, they did have several separate physical locations.  However, the majority of marketing they did would not need to rely upon each individual address (and they were all in the same city, some just blocks away from one another).  There was nothing on a community level that needed to be differentiated between one location and the next.  Aside from the one primary profile, which was tied to their “headquarters”, there were barely any people who had even liked the other pages.

This meant that even if they took the time to post on these other pages, no one was likely seeing it.  Remember, Facebook shows your post to more people when more people have engaged with it.  When you only have 10 or 20 total likes on any one page, you’ll be lucky if Facebook initially shows your post to even ONE person.  And if that one person doesn’t click or comment, it’s doubtful Facebook will bother to show it to anyone else on the page.  So the odds are not in your favor.

However, if you put that same one post on one page – one which the other have all been consolidated into – and it now has several hundred of people who have liked the page, Facebook may only show it to 1-2% initially, but that number will be higher, which increases the likelihood that someone will interact, which will make the post then be shown to more people.

When we consolidated their Facebook pages, for example, their main page quickly boosted to almost 1,000 likes, just because we merged the pages which transfers over the people who have liked the other pages.  So now when they post, they have a bigger audience and a better chance of engagement.  The only pages we did not merge were their Google pages, since the physical addresses on those makes sense for use on Google maps.

Small Business Marketing Problem #5:  Marketing Systems, Automation or Technology That You Can’t Sustain

Another small business had only a handful of staff on board (and would use outside freelancers when needed).  One of the staff had a spouse who was a programmer.

He built them a really complicated CRM system (Customer Relationship Manager) using software that is free and open source, but isn’t always the easiest to use (since you have to do everything with it completely yourself).

This CRM automated a lot of steps of their system to provide quotes to customers … but not everything.  The system – which was in the cloud – had ability to make proposals within it, but instead they had those done in Word, on each individual’s computer, which meant that Word also had to be programmed (you can do this by the way) to talk to the CRM on their server, and also talk to their websites on WordPress.

Here’s the problem.  When you have any system that isn’t self contained but have to talk to one another, you spend a lot of time just keeping that communication updated.

Whenever WordPress would make a change to their files, the theme, or plugins, it would break their automation.

Any time a new employee or freelancer needed to be able to access the process, or whenever anyone’s computer broke and they had to get a new one, everything on their computer had to be set up again from scratch.

They also used Microsoft Sharepoint – which isn’t the friendliest option for a small business. But the spouse was used to working for a very LARGE business that had thousands of people just in the IT department. For them, it was the perfect system to be able to compartmentalize documents so that only the people with certain permissions had access.

In my client’s case, that just didn’t make sense.  When you only have a handful of people on staff, it’s likely that EVERYONE needs to access everything.  There are some things that only the owner and bookkeeper may need to access, but there are much more effective ways of going about this for a small business than by using a system like Sharepoint that is way outside what most of the people working with your business have ever used.

The big problem came when the spouse was unable to continue fixing the breakages.

The system was so overly customized, that anyone going in to work on it new would have to break it down and tear it apart to figure out how it worked to be able to put it all back together again the right way.

This is the importance of the “hit by a bus” theory.  Little of their entire process was documented on how everything connected together.  Even people with computer science degrees would have to take a lot of extra time figuring out how it was all supposed to be working, because you could change one small thing assuming that it wouldn’t have an impact (no connections were apparent on the piece you were working on), and then the next day find out that it made another unrelated system not work and now employees can’t do their jobs.

They really needed a full-time programmer on staff just to take care of all of these unrelated systems.  For a team of about five … and they are not a software company (in which case it would have made sense).  This would have meant adding a minimum of a $50,000 staff position just to take care of a system that could have been done much more easily.

They were spending thousands and thousands of dollars per year just trying to keep this overly complicated system running.  Plus spending more on web servers than they may have otherwise because they needed more space and bandwidth to make all of these bells and whistles chime.

To put it more in perspective, I have a CRM that does pretty much everything theirs did.  I pay in one year less than what they pay in one MONTH just for the web server they have to have to make theirs work.

And mine doesn’t break.  You know why?  Because if it does, I’m not the one who has to fix it (although I could).  Because it’s someone else’s software, THEY fix it and make sure any pieces needed are talking to each other.

My recommendation to this client was to simplify the system.  One quick and easy option they had was to move from the self-hosted free version of this software, to a paid hosting plan – which would also come with support from the host when things break.  That would require them consolidating a few things things; for example, instead of making proposals in Word, they would need to bring them into the CRM system, but that was easy to do – and, when a new person was brought on board, it wouldn’t require anyone doing some specialized programming on their actual computer, they could just log in.  It would also take care of the problem of some of their staff who had to travel a lot, and travel can be hard on a computer, so when their computer would break, or they would need to use someone else’s quickly, they wouldn’t have access to the things they needed because programming had not been performed on their hardware.

Overpaying is common with overcomplication. Another client was paying $200/month to an email provider to be able to send email newsletters monthly.  This provider also had a lot of bells and whistles included – which this client never used (and never planned to use).  A previous freelancer had set them up on this system, and they went with her recommendation.

We audited their needs, and quickly realized that they could do everything they wanted on a plan that cost only $25 per month based upon the size of their email list.  They didn’t need something that was more complicated. Plus, the less expensive option actually had some automation built in that they could start using to send automatic emails, which the more expensive system did not.  So we saved them $2100 a year, plus several hours of staff time each month that they were no longer manually sending some of these emails.

Too much automation or technology isn’t sustainable sometimes.  You need to strategically determine what makes the most sense, and what can be sustained now and support your business as you grow, and then make those choices.

Small Business Marketing Problem #6:  Worrying Too Much About Looking Big or Pretty

Another problem I see with some clients is they put a lot of work into developing a “formal marketing plan” that has a lot of time and effort put into it, and they put it into a pretty wrapper, and then it sits on the shelf and collects dust, and no one in the organization could even begin to tell you what was in it just a few months later.

One of my clients had a really pretty marketing plan document.  They were very proud to show it to me.  And then they put it right back on the shelf without us even opening it up – during a meeting about their marketing strategy!  That’s what triggered a discussion about what was in the plan – and they couldn’t remember.  While the process of planning is very beneficial, having a plan that is never touched again doesn’t do so much for the business.

Or the company focuses so much on trying to look like a Fortune 500 global company that the forget that they’re not, and start enacting tactics that are more complicated or fancier than they need to be.

Some of this goes back to sustainability, and some of it is related to being authentic.

Unless you’re going for VC or bank funding for your business, you probably don’t need to do the whole formal and fancy marketing plan.  You DO need a plan, and it does need to be written.  It needs to be a marketing ACTION plan that will actually get used – something like our 3 by 3 Marketing Matrix™.

You don’t need to look like a Fortune 500 company – not even if you’re wanting to sell to Fortune 500 companies – because it’s pretty easy to figure out really quickly that you aren’t on that list.  A big problem I’ve seen in Fortune 500 companies is that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and sometimes doesn’t even know the other hand exists.  These companies work every day with lots of other companies that aren’t on the Fortune 500 list, and they appreciate working with a company that can be consistent.

You DO need to look professional, and polished.  That professionalism can happen with fairly basic tactics.

You don’t necessarily need a $5,000 logo or a $10,000 website.  Something less expensive can work if you focus.

You don’t need custom-designed graphics for all of your website and social media.  The right stock photos can work until you’re to the point to have custom images, especially if you stick to your branding.

You don’t need to spend $1,000 on professional headshots during a personal photo shoot, if you pick the right ones from what you have.

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy marketing CRM system – likes Salesforce or HubSpot (and as much as I love them both they are WAY too expensive for a small business) – especially when they need special expertise to run properly, when something much less expensive will work just as well until you get a LOT of staff on board.

You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars each month on a service to help you manage your social media, when – if you only have a few profiles – there are options to do that for free.

You don’t need to spend hours and hours developing a detailed formal marketing plan until you’re at the point that it’s required for your business – you just need an action plan that helps you focus and get the job done.

Small Business Marketing Problem #7:  You Do Need to Diversify

We’ve talked a lot about how small businesses need to consolidate their marketing efforts, but there are also times when you need to diversify – at least a bit.

You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket.  You also don’t want someone else to be holding the only basket.

I’ve consulted with a few clients who planned to only use a Facebook business page as their “website” and not have a website of their own.

I immediately told them that was a bad idea and they needed to diversify that plan and have their own basic website.  It didn’t need to be expensive, it just needed to be in their control.  Why?  Because you don’t own Facebook. They can change at any time, and you risk losing everything that you have worked for.

Or similarly clients planned to use Facebook as the primary method of communicating with their prospects and customers. Again, I told them not a good plan – for the same reasons.  We’ve all seen in the past year how Facebook has changed their algorithm so that posts by business pages are seen by even fewer people.

At a minimum, I recommend that all business have a basic website (which will require basic hosting), and a basic bulk email program, and one social media profile (the one where their customers are most likely to be).  Plus, if you are service business, a basic CRM.

These don’t have to be expensive – and this is the very reason that we help businesses set up a basic website and email program for $1,000 or less.

If you must do it yourself, we also don’t recommend putting the website on Wix or Squarespace or some of the other platforms you’ve heard of (same reason, they own the platform entirely – not you).  Put something very basic on Google Sites with a custom URL.  We don’t recommend this as a long-term solution, and as you grow you definitely need to move it (we always suggest WordPress).  We also recommend setting up a basic email list for bulk emailing capability, such as on MailChimp (even their free version).  If you will benefit from a CRM system, which a lot of service businesses do, then we recommend a basic setup on Dubsado.

With just these few systems, you maintain control of your online presence, no matter what outside vendors may decide to do later.  So you do need to slightly diversify and not expect to have everything in only one place, and then do it in the way that makes the most strategic sense for your unique business.

What areas do you need help with?  We provide a free marketing strategy session, along with the option for hourly marketing support.

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