Marketing Channels, Marketing Planning & Reporting

13 Marketing Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Small Business

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If your small business marketing is not delivering the results you were looking for, it’s important to find out what the most likely cause is. To help you with that, I’ve put together a list of 13 common marketing mistakes.

Pouring time, effort and money into marketing, only to find yourself no further forward is frustrating. Not only that, however, but some marketing mistakes can actually be hugely detrimental to your business growth and your reputation.

It’s so easy to sabotage your business with these simple marketing blunders. And they can make the difference between failure and success for your small business. So have a look and make sure to give them a wide berth in the future!

1. Expecting quick results

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I’m probably the most impatient person I know! But if I’ve learned one thing in the past 20 years, it’s that marketing only works if you are in it for the long run.

One advert won’t make a difference to your bottom line. As much as one leaflet drop won’t get you a huge amount of new business. It can be tempting to give up a couple of months in if you haven’t seen a drastic transformation.

Truth is, though, people need to see more of you over a longer period of time before they start trusting or even remembering you. And it often takes even longer for them to actually buy from you. So give it time, keep at it and you’ll reap the benefits.

Find out more about touchpoints and why good marketing takes time.

2. Abandoning profiles & blogs

This is probably the most popular one among all possible marketing mistakes: websites with Twitter widgets that show tweets from two years ago, blogs that have been withering away with the last entry from 2014.

Bottom line? Either you get in the game or take it off your website.

Nothing looks as bad as old content that makes potential customers wonder if you’re as quick to give up when working for them. Or if you’re even still in business!

3. Being out of date

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The same goes for not updating your copyright on your website, your price list or opening hours. Always make sure they are up-to-date lest potential clients get turned away. Out of date information not only looks lazy, but it can also make customers think you’re not operational anymore!

Nothing is more off-putting than a website that still shows their Christmas specials in March. So keep your marketing updated at all times. And make sure that next time somebody needs your services, it’s you they call and not your competition.

4. Being too generic

As marketing mistakes go, this is a subtle but painful one: Being too generic. For example, I’ve recently googled for a company called “E.A.T.” and – surprise! – I couldn’t find it!

All Google gave me was sandwich shops and other food and drink-related websites, even when I added their location to my search.

So when creating your company name, website URL or product name make sure you’re not too generic. Otherwise, it’ll make ranking in search results a living hell and very costly.

5. Hiding your premises

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I know it’s not always easy but please don’t hide your shop or offices from your customers! Have appropriate signage installed that is visible from further up the road and makes people aware of where you are.

And it’s not just about signage. A few years ago, a new restaurant opened next door to our flat. Probably to give a private and cosy feel to their customers, they had the blinds in their windows down all day.

You couldn’t look in and you couldn’t see if they were actually open or not. Nothing is scarier than entering somewhere and not knowing what you enter into. So be visible and don’t hide your business.

6. Sending unsolicited emails

This happens all the time: I receive emails to my personal address selling me something or informing me about the event of the year. Only problem: I have never heard of these people or companies. Ever.

Of course, this is more than a mistake, it’s simply not legal. So please ask your recipients first if it is ok to put them on your mailing list before you sent them unsolicited emails. Otherwise, you risk ruining your image – and being reported to the ICO.

Looking to start a GDPR compliant mailing list? Here are some of my top tips!

7. Being a copycat

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As marketing mistakes go, this is a bad one: When doing some research among a client’s competition, I saw that one of them had actually copied the text word for word from their website!

It’s one of these things you simply don’t expect to happen, but there it was. After a firm but polite nudge, we got a quick ‘We’ll check it out’. The next day, the content had been taken off their website and we never heard from them again. But still.

So keep in mind: No matter how awesome your competition or even just other small businesses are, never copy their content or images. Find your own brand and USP and you’ll be better off anyway.

Read more about how to define your small business brand as well as your niche and USP.

8. Being too cheap

A very important principle in marketing is that you have to convey value with everything you do. And we’re not just talking about pointing out the benefits of your services or products.

So one of the marketing mistakes on this list had to be your pricing and how your customer value your services or products. As much as people like to shop by price, if you’re too cheap, it’ll likely put them off.

The same goes for your marketing: If what you’re selling is expensive then your marketing material has to match this by being high quality as well. Nothing is less convincing than a cheap home-printed flyer that wants to sell me an up-market product.

9. Trading incognito

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Something that strikes me very often when looking at small businesses is that a lot of their marketing material doesn’t tell you what they actually do. If that’s the case for you, it’s one of the worst marketing mistakes you can make.

Think about it: People only spend a split second to look at your signage, homepage or business card. If your company name or logo is obvious (e.g. East Coast Printers or Edinburgh Car Wash), you’re fine.

But if it’s rather obscure only an explanatory headline can tell them who you are and keep people from turning away. Take my business name, for example. If it didn’t say “making marketing work for small businesses”, I’m sure sandstonecastles wouldn’t give you a clue of what I do.

And for the same reason, stay away from fluffy taglines like “Realise what’s possible” or “For a better future”.

Check out this post for my advice on pausing, re-evaluating and promoting exactly what you’re offering!

10. Being the same

This is something that I encounter often online: Yes, I know that there are lots of website templates out there that make creating your own website easy and affordable.

But please try and make that design your own. Just like your marketing strategy and brand, you need to find a way to stand out among your competitors.

Having a bog-standard website might save you money, but it can cost you business in the long run. If you’re just one of many with the latest fashionable web design, you will have a harder job being remembered and attracting customers.

11. Trying too much at once

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Sometimes it is better to do one thing properly than doing many things moderately well. ‘A Lot Helps a Lot’ unfortunately does not apply to marketing your small business!

As mentioned above, there are no quick results in marketing. And as odd as it sounds, this is one of the marketing mistakes you should definitely avoid.

To have sustainable success with your small business you have to accept that marketing is a slow burner and tackle only as much as you can sensibly take. Always choose quality over quantity.

12. Driving company cars

Larger companies often have branded company vehicles. This is an often-overlooked marketing opportunity for small businesses.

Although it’s one of the marketing mistakes with an easy fix. There are solutions for every budget from magnetic signs to wrapping the whole car.

But – and it’s another bad mistake to make – always be aware that when you’re driving in a branded company car or even just walking around in your branded work clothes, your behaviour reflects back on your business. So drive sensibly!

13. Sending drunken tweets

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Last but not least in this list of marketing mistakes to avoid, is the mix-up. This is something that has the potential to bring your small business in quite some disrepute.

As small business owner, you probably have personal social media profiles and company profiles. And thanks to most platforms and apps you have access to all your accounts and can easily switch between them.

But be careful: Always double-check before posting, especially when tweeting from your (Zoom) night out with your best pals. On social media, your updates should always be personal, but your company followers might only take so many drunken tweets before heading off to your competitors. Keep it professional!

So there you have it – 13 common marketing mistakes and how to avoid them. Have you encountered any of these issues in running your business in the past?


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at these:
Why Good Marketing Takes Time: Touchpoint Marketing for Small Businesses
Customer-Focused Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses
How to Tackle the Biggest Marketing Challenges for Small Businesses
How to Respond To Negative Reviews – with Examples

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.