Person jotting down notes on marketing for a small business

6 Things We’ve Learned Marketing Small Businesses

If you do what you love, it won’t feel like work. If your work has a purpose, you won’t work a day in your life. These common sentiments carry huge weight for us as small business owners. And rightfully so. We’re the ones with the most passion, right? Well maybe not always the most, but we’re certainly the folks with the motivation to wake up at 4:00 am to do what we love. The people who haven’t taken a vacation in years. The people who, when we do take a vacation, can’t help but be only halfway away. We’re the ones with the dedication to do what we do, most the time, for the well-being of our employees and their families and sometimes to the detriment of our own.

You see, it’s the small business owners that find purpose not in profit, but in pride.

To look across our organizations, however small, and believe that what we’re doing is making a difference. We are tactful, resourceful, and scrappy. And our bottom line is not always our bottom line – it’s our integrity.

Our agency has been blessed to work with organizations of all sizes, from non-profit local community influencers to for-profit international game-changers. And I wouldn’t have that any other way. I know for a fact that my team is one of the best at finding an impact in every space we have the opportunity to work. Each and every person on my team understands that whether you’re solving the global water shortage crisis, or installing automated sprinkler systems in homeowner’s lawns; there is a purpose in what you do every day. And we’re proud to help you fulfill that purpose and achieve your goals.

Over the years, however, I have noticed a few trends in marketing small businesses, that can’t be found in quite the same way anywhere else.  

You Care About “Local”

You’ve started your business in town, and you’ve grown it within your local economy. Whether you want to work locally to give your hard-earned money back to the community, or simply because you want a partner with whom you can meet with face-to-face, your priorities are with someone born and bred in the same environment you and your business were. There is an unspoken connection in that for you. Letting that requirement go feels a bit like selling out. After all, you probably have national competitors that steal your local customers all the time, and you can name a million and one reasons why you would have taken better care of them. So you know the deal. How can you turn around and offer YOUR business to a national firm when there are perfectly good folks doing honest business here in town? Here in Grand Rapids, we have an awesome “local first” culture, and we’re proud to be a part of that.

You Are Skeptical

It’s not that you’re inherently distrusting. But you are protecting a serious investment – of time, of money, and frankly – of emotions. As a small business owner, getting burned costs more than the lost money. So you do your research. You ask around, and you ask the right questions. Often you’ll take a single referral of someone you trust over a thousand positive reviews from strangers on Facebook.

When someone is selling you something, it is not enough for you to trust the product or service – you have to trust the person selling it to you as well.

Going by gut instinct has always served you well, and if you get a bad feeling, you’re cutting and running. On the flip side, if you get a good feeling, it’s likely all you need to move forward.

You Are Loyal

Once your trust is earned and you’ve built a relationship with someone, you keep it. You are willing to pay more to someone you trust, who is still learning, than to a stranger with decades of knowledge. Your handshake matters and you would rather be held to a commitment of your word than with a contract. You know the value of a relationship. And when you find someone who cares about and believes in what you are doing (almost) as much as you do, you don’t let them go for (almost) anything.

You Recognize Hard Work

You’ve gone the extra mile for your customers. You’ve bent over backward. You’ve done every other cliche-ridden, above-and-beyond laden thing to make your customers happy. You’ve even gotten ridiculously creative with not-so-cliche solutions to problems to ensure complete satisfaction. Which means you know what it takes. You know what great service is, and you know what it means to appreciate someone’s business.  So when someone makes it a point to show you they’re appreciative of yours, it’s that much easier to see.

You’re A Real Person

You aren’t defined by your role as “business owner”. No matter how successful your business, you’re humble and grateful. You’re a person that works hard and believes in what they do. But at the end of the day, you’re a mother or father, husband or wife, best friend or PTA chair. You have hobbies, you might go to the gym, you enjoy a drink every once and a while and the occasional long walk on the beach at sunset. Whatever you enjoy, the point is, you’re a real person, and you value genuineness. You want to work with real people too. People that have families and hobbies, and put their pants on, well, on their legs I suppose. You know that sincerity is key to building lasting relationships and if you’re not a real person, sincerity will not come easy for you.

Results Matter

One of the biggest challenges we face as small business owners is investing in our own growth. We’re terribly guilty of this at SWELL. As small business owners, we often get so busy worrying about our clients and customers, or keeping our best employees around, that we forget our business is a living, breathing organism that needs to be nurtured and fed. In addition, with scores of advice on the internet and in books, there are so many possible things we could be investing in, that it becomes overwhelming to know what the best strategy is for our businesses. After all, you know how to run a fleet of lawn maintenance crews, or litigate a class action lawsuit – not develop and market a small business. Which means that if you ARE going to invest in something intended to grow your business, it better damn-well do just that. You better get results, and it better provide a return on your investment. Because otherwise, that’s money that could have and should have been put elsewhere.

We get it. We’re a small business too.

Here at SWELL, we have a core team of six. And call me boastful, but I’d put the work of my six up against the work of “their” 12 or even 120 any day. We are agile, talented, and we work together. Sure we have our weaknesses, and I’ll be the first to be honest about what those are if you ask. But they will never be our quality, our ability to be trusted or our dedication to providing results. Over the years of working with companies of every size and shape, we’ve learned a lot about our customers and a lot about ourselves. And we’ve realized that we care most about our relationships, working with real people, and earning the loyalty of our customers day in and day out.