What Small Businesses Need to Succeed

Bow-and-Arrows_Marketing-AimA logo that doesn’t connect with customers. A website that is difficult to navigate or unappealing. Tons of cluttery, poorly-written ads in the Valley News. You see it all the time; examples of poor marketing collateral —ads, business cards, brochures, websites— abound with small businesses in Vermont and New Hampshire. They fail to communicate and effectively interact with their market(s). What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design.

One of the clearest messages garnered from a local survey we initiated was that most people recognize the need for what I call Savvy Design. Savvy Design is design driven by intelligent marketing strategy. Another clear conclusion from the survey was that most people under-budget or don’t budget at all for marketing. As a result, they pay for someone to turn out design which has no guiding principles of marketing or market-specific goals, and, sometimes, is really poorly designed. What does a small business need to succeed? Savvy Design. Unique Design. And a budget that forces them to think smarter about how and where they invest their marketing dollars. How does a small business accomplish this?

Here’s five first steps towards successful, savvy design in small business:

#1) Set a marketing budget.

Survey Results: What percentage of a small organization’s revenue should be used towards marketing/advertising? 40% of respondents said they didn’t know, and the rest were divided among the four percentage range options given. 18% of respondents felt budgeting 6-10% towards marketing was appropriate.

Observations: There was no consensus on how much of a small business’s revenue should go toward marketing. With the dawn of the credit card, society relies less and less on budgeting as a tool. This trend spills over into small business and creates challenges that can lead to failures. The SBA recommends, “As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing.” There are many factors which go into determining what is the right amount to budget for your business, but this is a good percentage from which to begin.

What to do: A budget is extremely valuable when creating a marketing plan and making decisions. However, sticking exactly to your budget is less important than using it as a gauge.

A marketing budget can help you stay on track. For example, let’s say a new local bakery budgets 10% of their projected sales for marketing. Halfway through the fiscal year they notice they’ve only spent a quarter of this amount. The owner should use this information as an indicator to review where they should be. Does the bakery have a large-ticket marketing item coming soon, like an exhibition? Is the bakery realizing the traffic and sales goals for the first 6 months? On the other hand, if the bakery has spent MORE than half of the budget at the six-month point, they should assess likewise. Was there a larger-ticket marketing item within the first 6 months? More importantly, if an unplanned marketing opportunity arises, the bakery needs to think twice. Will this new marketing opportunity really hit the market(s) which are outlined in their goals? Is the possible gain worth the investment?

Creating a marketing plan is easier when you know that you have limited funds. Look at all your options for marketing. There are a lot of low and no cost options with inbound marketing, such as social media and writing blogs. Use your limited budget to question each decision. All businesses rely on having a home on the internet, but some rely on it more heavily. If you are selling via the internet, or your product or service requires explanation —think of a non-profit that needs to communicate its mission and vision in order be found worthy of a donation, or unique technology which needs to be understood— you need to place more marketing dollars into your website. If already know that most of your customers come from or will come from a home show exhibition, then you will want to put a good portion of your budget there. Strategizing how and where you spend your money is easier when you know how much you have to spend.

Budgets help keep your finger on the pulse of your marketing —and that will help you determine the best route to long-term success. Set a budget. Remember that marketing is an investment. And THEN, create a marketing strategy to achieve your goals.


#2) Set market-specific goal(s) to empower your marketing decisions.

Survey Results: How important is high-quality web and print design created with marketing savvy to the growth of a small business or organization? 94% of respondents said somewhat or very important.

Survey Results: What are the purposes of a website? Everyone agreed that a website should communicate, whether that be vision and mission, services offered, or another idea. 94% agreed a website should also brand the company, organization, or product it represents. 76% said websites should sell products or services directly, and 65% said they should solicit an action other than direct sales.

Observations: The reason respondents knew how important marketing was is that most people are consumers too. We KNOW we are influenced by marketing. If you have a favorite brand of anything, whether it be your local grocer, your cell phone, your cereal or your sneakers, you cannot deny being influenced by marketing. Remember, marketing is not limited to ads and websites. Marketing permeates nearly all facets of a business, from customer interaction in person or on the phone to how the product or service is designed. The response above, regarding a website’s purpose, is not far from what all marketing is expected to do —communicate and brand. Marketing is intended to make a connection and solicit a response. How are you going to get your marketing to do this?

What to do: “I want to be successful” and “I want to increase sales” are something that ANY business can say. Set goals which have specific market(s) in mind to guide each piece of marketing you create. A market-specific goal takes into consideration what you want to accomplish and what market will help you get to that goal quickest. Example: A bakery sees strong sales in all items except for gourmet cupcakes. Their goal is to increase gourmet cupcake sales by 20% by year end. With a little sleuthing, perhaps a survey, they determine that they have two major markets to target: people in the 50+ age group and high-end/specialty grocers. With this market-specific goal in mind, the bakery can ask this question with every piece of marketing collateral it creates: Does it reach and communicate to the 50+ age group? Or to high-end/specialty grocers? If you don’t hit this mark, you are likely throwing marketing money in the trash.


#3) Free and cheap is not a long-term answer.

Survey Results: The majority would expect to pay $50-$90 per hour for graphic design services and $500-$2000 for a owner-modifiable website with unique design and modest functionality including a blog and contact page. That value increases to $2000-$5000 if the website were to included higher levels of functionality such as client login or a store.

Observations: Many respondents recognize the value of design because they do not have the time or expertise to do it themselves. The respondents might not have considered that their need for marketing.

What to do: Small businesses do not have the large budgets of mega-marts and corporations. But there are many options for no and low cost marketing which should be approached with marketing savvy. For instance, a new bakery may decide it needs a website, but as a start-up it has a very tight budget and needs to spend a larger portion on a wedding exhibition within the first two months. The bakery decides to build a website by itself using the many low-cost, one-size-fits-all web design sites. They have the time now to do this themselves, but won’t as the business launches and grows. Minimum viable product. The bakery is going to do what it minimally needs for a website to get started. Marketing savvy means recognizing that no business starts out saying, “I’m not going to grow.” You should grow. And all your marketing collateral should grow ahead of you. With this in mind, the bakery plans to hire a professional to design their website at the nine-month mark because they know they cannot keep momentum rolling without a website that supports their unique proposition. The benefit is that by the nine-month mark, they will know their market(s) and the business’s identity better. This will guide them in creating a new website that caters to both these things, and thus, makes it a more powerful marketing tool. So, economize and think of less expensive ways to market yourself, but remember to plan for a professional answer. Remember, your job is not marketing, it’s guiding the marketing so that you focus on your product or service. With very rare exceptions, free or cheap is not a long-term answer and not a good investment towards success.

The next concern is time and talent. How much time away from your core business can you dedicate to marketing and designing? And, how much skill do you have in these areas?


#4) Plan what you CAN do yourself.

There were no survey results that shed light on this step. But I can tell you that I’ve had more than a handful of well-meaning speakers and articles telling me what specific marketing tools I NEED to employ to succeed, and, frankly, they are all right AND all wrong. There is no one answer. Each business and each market is unique.

In October, I went to a very large small business exhibition in Boston. A charismatic speaker had finished his stage “commercial” and was sitting at the edge surrounded by a group of curious small business people. I was in the crowd, but because I felt like his act was more like a car salesman than a knowledgeable professional, I was not as receptive as others in the crowd. He took a look at my business card and, not knowing a thing about me or my clients, spouted off that I needed this or that on my card. Why was this missing on my card? At that moment, I realized that many people, some with more altruistic aims than this man, have great ideas to offer, but in one minute or five minutes, they cannot completely understand you, your market(s) or your goals. It was a valuable realization.

So, listen to and read as much as you can get your hands, eyes and ears on, then sift through it by asking, “What can I do without going insane? What is best for MY business, MY target markets? For what do I have an aptitude?” You cannot do it all, or you won’t have time and energy to do what your business does. And don’t forget that this may take experimentation. Reassess every month or two to determine if your time, energy, and money is being well spent. And then, pick something new to try. Do what you CAN do yourself; don’t do everything.


#5) Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do.

Survey Results: Respondents were asked to rank the order of importance of seven factors by their influence on the decision to make a high-dollar purchase. 73% of respondents put “quality of product or service” in the top 3, followed by “quality of customer service” and “timeliness or responsiveness” at 65% and 53%, respectively. 75% of respondents indicated “availability of payment plan” in the bottom 3, followed by “convenience or location” at 69%. The remaining factors, cost and whether the business is local, were more evenly spread.

Observations: The responses clearly show a high value placed on the quality of products/services, customer service, and responsiveness. Your business may very well possess these qualities, but this is only part of the solve. You have to communicate this value and marketing is your communication tool.

What to do: Go to professionals for what you CANNOT do…sometimes. The real step should be: take a look at your bucket of what you do NOT have the time and/or skill to do, and pick the items which will provide greatest support to your marketing goals. Take those to the professionals. The rest of the bucket, well, just keep nearby. Down the road, you many find that one marketing idea did not work as anticipated, and you may need to experiment. Or you may discover a new item to put in the bucket and it may require a shift or change-out. The key concept to take away from “go to professionals” is that you are a small business, and there are a lot of hats you must wear; you can’t do it all. You must wear the marketing hat part time. But don’t become a full-time marketer, web designer, or graphic designer unless that is REALLY what your business is all about. And spend your marketing dollars wisely to get the best long-term return.

On-Target-Market-Aquilino-ArtsThe need for small businesses to have quality marketing collateral was the inspiration for our business, Aquilino Arts. Since inception, we have used principles of branding and marketing to guide our production of websites and graphics. As we absorbed the results of this local survey, our team recognizes that small business needs intelligent, unique design to truly succeed and have added to our offerings. Here’s a short list of what we offer to support Savvy Design, including some new twists:

  • One-page website package (with a future-growth option)
  • Payment plans
  • Marketing planning (a campaign, a marketing calendar/plan, or a marketing assessment)
  • Unique, One-Size-Fits-ONE graphic and web design —all original artwork, no clipart
  • Personalized, responsive attention for you and your vision

Talk with us. There is no fee to meet and discuss your dreams. Call Maria at 802-291-3655.

Make every arrow count & Happy Marketing!

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