3 Marketing Toolkit Essentials for Small Businesses

Customer Service

For a small business to operate its marketing effectively it needs three key systems in place, these are: customer relationship management (CRM), email marketing and central file storage.

These can boost your business’s visibility, help to manage and analyse customer contacts, increase your ability to respond to opportunities and streamline information for staff. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

A central database of your customers is just as important for smaller businesses as it is for larger companies, in some cases even more so. As a small business has fewer employees, one person is often responsible for a particular area, say customer contact details, and if that person is away or leaves then no one else will be able to gain access.

A good CRM is also a great way for a small business to enhance customer visibility. Email marketing functionality allows you to see which of your customers are opening your emails and clicking on the links. These are the customers most engaged with your business and more likely to do more business with you.

But there are a lot of CRM software options out there so what is the best one to get?

Firstly, get one that is easy and intuitive for staff to use. If it’s not then it becomes an under utilised resource, more frustrating and time consuming than helpful. Other factors to consider are:

  • how well can the CRM can handle your current processes?
  • is the data it provides easily understood?
  • is it able to grow with your business?

Some of my marketing software recommendations for CRMs include:

  • Agile CRM – provides sales and marketing automation for small businesses and has powerful functionality but at a cost effective price.
  • ActiveCampaign – an all-in-one marketing platform allowing easy communication between staff members, and management of existing and future contacts.
  • Infusionsoft – an email, marketing and sales platform designed with small businesses in mind. If you’re new to CRMs then this isn’t the one to choose. It has a lot of sophisticated options that most small businesses will need technical help to use and is is a more expensive option.
  1. Email Marketing

If you choose not to set up a CRM, then having an email marketing provider is the next option. For many small businesses this is a standard way to communicate with customers. With email software, such as MailChimp, you can send a bulk email to your database of clients to let them know you’ve published an article, were featured in a news piece, launched a new product or opened in a new location. You can also manage subscribers and track results, for example, the average open rate and average click rate, to help your business send better targeted emails.

Using a software system to manage the sending of bulk emails is easier as most email marketing systems have servers that can handle sending thousands of emails at a time. Regular servers associated with a domain only have a limit of 500 emails being sent per hour so, if you have a list with several thousand emails, trying to send an email to a list of 10,000 is going to take most of the day.

Apart from the technical perspective and ease of use, good email software also has protocols in place to deal with bouncebacks (where the email address is permanently or temporarily unavailable) and unsubscribers.

  1. Central File Storage

Establishing a central file storage system for your business saves many headaches for staff and makes it easier to:

  • share files
  • ensure the most up-to-date version is used by all staff
  • access information at all times, even if a particular staff member that handles that area is away

Google Drive is one option, Dropbox and Sharepoint are two others. You can see a complete review of different cloud storage options here.  Having this central filing system is beneficial for many parts of your business but is particularly important for marketing.

Having a central location will make it easier for the following:

  • logos
  • images
  • website uploads
  • marketing collateral
  • market research
  • general customer information

This means that when a customer problem arises, a journalist asks for a product image or a partner wants a logo for the joint promotion you’re running, the information is right there, ready to be shared. Again it is also a great way to operate and combat against knowledge lost through absences or staff turnover.

Benefits of These 3 Systems

With these three underlying systems to support your business, marketing becomes easier to put in place, organise and control. Email marketing helps to grow your customer base, while central file storage relieves staff stress and aids productivity. A CRM gives you the means to collect, store and analyse customer data thus giving you vital information for analysis and planning.

But many small business owners often do feel pressured to get the attention of their target market by jumping on the bandwagon of the next new ‘must-try’ platform. They become overwhelmed by choice and often act for the sake of doing something.

But the knee jerk approach isn’t always the best way to attract more customers, and can lead to all kinds of costly and wasteful decisions. I would liken this approach to gold mining, where any new sighting of customer ‘gold’ acts like a magnet for all other would be gold miners.

Small businesses often don’t have the resources or expertise to take advantage of these new marketing platforms and work them to their best advantage either. Let’s take the example of Periscope, a new video service that operates in real time to enable users to access live broadcasts so they can ‘explore the world through someone else’s eyes’.

This innovative platform for reaching audiences has grown quickly since it was established in 2014 and in August 2015 had over 10 million accounts. Periscope presents many exciting opportunities to get closer to potential and existing customers. But there’s a catch, your customers have to know about it and already hang out there. If they don’t know about it then you need to spend time trying to encourage your prospective customers to open an account on this site they’ve never heard of and then view your offerings.

If you have a small business budget, and you aren’t a well-known brand amongst your prospective audience, the time and money you spend building an audience on that platform could be better used elsewhere. Focus on being innovative with how you communicate or the products or services you offer, rather than the medium you communicate through.

So what’s the right approach?

  • Focus your attention on the social media platforms that already work for your business and that you can regularly service and keep up-to-date. If Twitter is a platform you enjoy using, and your audience is engaged with, then stick with that. If it’s Facebook, then by all means concentrate on that.
  • Try something different with the social media content you provide, there’s always room for being more creative – check out what your competitors are doing and see if can work for you.
  • Test out different approaches and measure the results to see what works. This iterative approach will teach you a lot about your target market and improve your results.

By taking a conservative approach you avoid the kind of ‘promotional origami’ that many small businesses feel the need to put themselves through. Focus on the key platforms that matter to your customers, rather than running after the next shiny platform which, ultimately, your business doesn’t really need.