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5 small business marketing mistakes (and what to do instead)

Are you fed up with doing all the things and not getting anywhere? Here is how you can overcome the most common small business marketing mistakes.

As a small business, you have lots to juggle and not many resources.

It’s easy to do too much, too soon, in as many directions as you can, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, it’s not only unproductive, it’s also exhausting.

What if there was a way to see the woods for the trees and find your focus? What if you could work smarter instead of harder?

This article shares some of the most common marketing blunders made by small businesses and what you can do instead to go from flustered to fabulous.

Whether you’re selling online courses or running a brick-and-mortar business, we’ll provide you with the outside perspective you need as well as plenty of ideas to take your marketing up a notch.

Mistake #1: You don’t have a plan

Look, you know what I’m going to say: you need a marketing plan.

A marketing plan sounds daunting — it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing.

Unfortunately, not having a marketing plan makes your long hours and juggling acts harder, not better.

With a marketing plan, you can focus on the necessary tasks, leaving you more time for everything else.

Wouldn’t you rather spend your free time doing something relaxing instead of falling down a social media rabbit hole for new marketing strategies?

Marketers with a plan are 313% more likely to report success than those who don’t. But a third of those surveyed still didn’t have one in place.

You’re already a step ahead of most businesses because you know you need a plan, and you’re ready to create one. Here’s how to create a simple marketing strategy.

How to create a marketing plan

Your marketing plan should support rather than disrupt your work.

In other words, it must be:

  • Clear and short. A 50-page dossier isn’t going to be helpful.

  • Realistic. Your time, money, and people (yes, even if it’s just you) are finite resources. A good plan takes into account those three things.

  • Repeatable. You should spell things out clearly in your plan so anyone, including you, can see how each part of it is done. In future months, you can repeat it or tweak it, and most importantly, track its success.

There’s a couple of easy options for getting started.

The first is to use Hubspot’s marketing plan generator, which is goal- and metric-focused.

The second option is to follow the work of Brittany Berger‘s step-by-step guide to practical planning.

Here’s the method:

  • Define your containers — what’s your capacity this year?

  • Define your existing commitments.

  • Figure out how the two combine, bearing in mind we tend to underestimate how long things take.

  • Break down your projects into small tasks.

(You can read more about Berger’s planning mindset on her website.)

If you’re feeling fired up, why not create a plan now? Open up a document and answer the following questions:

  • What are your commitments this year?

  • What are your resources this year?

  • What do you want to achieve this year?

  • How are you going to achieve that, and when? (Having a timeline here will be helpful.)

That being said, take heed. While you need a plan, no plan is worth its weight in salt if you’re making the next common marketing mistake.

Mistake #2: Spreading yourself too thin

Being on all the social media platforms is great until you hit entrepreneurial burnout, lose your motivation, and abandon them one by one.

The stats for startups and small business owners are bleak: 30% of entrepreneurs deal with depression, and more than 50% of those reach burnout status. Furthermore, 91% of workers surveyed said burnout damaged the quality of their work.

Being everywhere is not sustainable for a one-person band.

The alternative is simple: focus on a few online marketing channels and do them well.

You might already know which platform(s) to focus on. Maybe one social media platform, such as LinkedIn, regularly brings you in leads or gives you more engagement than others.

But if you feel torn, we recommend concentrating on Facebook or YouTube. Here’s why.

The case for Facebook and YouTube

Despite the rise of shinier platforms such as TikTok and ClubHouse, Facebook and YouTube are still the most used social media platforms.

Entrepreneur Joanne Allsopp, CEO of Chrome Events UK, has found success by focusing entirely on Facebook for her sales funnel instead of building a website. She chose this approach to inspire her clients, who are also small business owners.

Her strategy has worked well for her; she has reached 35 million people in the last three years. She achieved this by being consistent and posting engaging content, including regular giveaways.

Allsopp’s advice is simple, recommending that you choose your platform based on your target audience: “This will be so much more beneficial to you rather than burning out trying to manage seven different platforms and constantly trying to follow the crowd.”

Maybe you, or more importantly, your audience, prefer YouTube. And while this might seem intimidating, it’s easier to get into than it sounds.

As French teacher Antony Thirion discovered, you don’t need to be an influencer with a large following for this to work.

His channel is dedicated to helping first-year medical students with their studies. Every day he publishes a video which then funnels over to his course. Through this approach, he now has over 3,000 students enrolled.

This is a grueling schedule, which he manages by dedicating one day a week to recording and editing his videos. Were he spread out across other platforms, he wouldn’t have such an effective sales funnel for his business.

Whatever platform you choose, the advice is clear:

  • Focus on one platform before spreading out to others.

  • Be consistent — post regularly.

  • Add value with your content — share relevant information.

  • Have a goal — what result are you expecting from your activity?

Finally, instead of focusing so much on social media marketing, you could pour your energy into email marketing.

The case for email marketing

If you’ve been sleeping on email marketing, now is a good time to wake up.

Why? For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you get a return of $42. The other advantage is you don’t have to put up with the whims of algorithms or the high costs of social media advertising.

Are you wondering how to build up a lucrative email list without exhausting yourself? The answer is simple: lead magnets.

Lead magnets are a freebie you can offer someone in exchange for them signing up for your email list. Watch our video to find out more about this process.

To make this process super easy, check out our free digital download generator.

Alternatively, swing by our free email copy generator.

Of course, just because Facebook, YouTube, and email marketing are all fantastic options for small businesses, doesn’t mean they’re perfect for you. After all, you want to be where your ideal audience is, and it’s a lot smaller area than you might think.

Mistake #3: Trying to sell to everyone

When asked who your potential customer is, it can be tempting to say “everyone”.

Except by wanting to sell to everyone, you run the risk of selling to no one. Making a connection with a product or service is hard when it’s too generic and vague.

People don’t mind having personalized marketing campaigns; relevant marketing messages drive the highest open rate.

As a small business, getting noticed by customers and search engines is tricky. You should target specific customers because you’re not Coca-Cola.

But first, you need to know your customer base and build persona profiles. These are little profile documents based on your customer research.

It might feel counterintuitive, but being super specific about your demographic is incredibly powerful and helps you transform your messaging.

For example, the Middle Sister Wines company has found success by targeting (literally) middle sisters.

As well as winning numerous wine awards, their Facebook page is over 100,000 people strong.

You see, it turns out everyone either is a middle sister, has a middle sister, or knows one. So while it seems like a super-focused target market, it still allows for broader appeal.

If you go niche, your marketing efforts will be rewarded. But it’ll be in vain if you then spend beyond your means, which is the next mistake to avoid.

Mistake #4: Spending too much money

I’m willing to bet that “budgeting” is not one of your favorite words.

61% of small businesses don’t set a budget — so you’re far from alone. But budgeting shouldn’t slow you down. Instead, it should help you spot opportunities.

With marketing budgets, it’s hard to know where to start. As your business expands, so do your needs, and so does the digital landscape.

There are so many digital marketing apps it is all too easy to keep subscribing to new apps. But while they might be individually cheap, they add up.

Becky Mollenkamp found this when she looked at the costs of hosting her online course on a platform with limited functionality.

For example, she’d spend:

  • $120.00 a year on Google Drive storage for her video content

  • $720.00 a year on administrative fees for managing her membership

  • $360.00 a year in hosting platforms for her courses and digital downloads

This all quickly adds up to a not-insignificant $1200 a year.

Becky decided to switch to Podia for her masterclasses, memberships, and digital downloads. After the switch, those added-up costs vanished as she only needed one platform instead of several.

Here’s what you can learn from Becky’s example:

  • Make a list of what you are spending: apps, memberships, software, etc.

  • Bundle them into categories. For example, “content marketing” or “SEO”.

  • Go through each category and do some online research: can you find tools that save you money and time by doing several tasks in one?

  • When researching apps, look for those that “play well with others”. In other words, check out the “integration” section to see if your other apps feature there. This can also be a great place to discover new apps.

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A great side effect of reducing the number of tools you use is they also take up less real estate in your brain.

And the more real estate you free up, the better, because you’re going to need that space to avoid our final marketing mistake.

Mistake #5: Forgetting about your existing customers

Running a small business can feel similar to being a hamster on a wheel. You’re so focused on what’s in front of you, you forget to look back.

And yet, your existing customers can be the biggest opportunity of all.

Loyal and happy customers are five times more likely to buy from you again and four times as likely to act as referrals.

Conversely, losing customers (a.k.a. customer churn) comes with a hefty price tag: it can cost up to seven times more to get a new customer than keeping one.

Some ideas to keep your customers enthusiastic about your business:

  • Offer them benefits such as gifts, discounts, and

    to encourage their loyalty.

  • Involve them in the company’s trajectory by listening to them and incorporating their feedback.

For example, Ashleigh Renard has built her marketing strategy around helping other authors. She does this through Instagram reels, newsletters, and free training sessions.

She has also found a great way to encourage pre-orders of her memoir Swing by offering a free audiobook to anyone who does so. You can see how she framed the request below in her newsletter.

First, she shares her pre-order insights and tips on making the New York Times bestseller list — all highly valuable to her audience. She then ends with a simple call to action.

The takeaway from Ashleigh’s marketing campaign is this: you should lead with value first, promotion second. Subscribers won’t care about the promotion otherwise.

It also shows that keeping your subscribers in the loop pays off. If they feel involved and follow your process, they’ll feel a stronger connection to what you do (and they’re less likely to unsubscribe).

So let your audience into your world, and if you’re lucky, they’ll invite you into theirs, too.

Take time and look at the big picture

All of the common mistakes discussed in this article have one thing in common: you can avoid them. Simply take a step back once in a while to assess your situation.

It’s all too easy to pour time and energy into an activity because “everyone else is doing it” or it’s “what you’re supposed to do”. But when time is precious, that’s not the way to go.

To save up your energy and make brilliant marketing decisions, remember to:

  • Create a practical and clear marketing plan to focus on essential activities.

  • Concentrate on the social media platforms that love you back. You don’t need to be everywhere at once.

  • Sell to a specific audience instead of trying to sell to everyone.

  • Streamline your budget by reducing the number of tools you use.

  • Prioritize your existing customers. They’re as important, if not more important, than new leads.

The effort is worth the reward, you’ll create a marketing strategy as unique and special as your business is, and we can’t wait to see what you do.

About the author

Claire Trévien is a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Claire also enjoys writing poetry, painting landscapes, and watching the world go by on the terrace of a café.