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Old-School Marketing Rules Still Apply

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Many small businesses today should stick to classic rules of growing their business and avoid getting sucked into the latest and greatest in digital marketing fads.

If you’re an online or digitally-based business, this article does not necessarily apply to you.


It seems everyone has digital marketing or online marketing advice to give, and you as a busienss owner are most likely bombarded with well-intentioned advice from colleagues, entrepreneurs, family, friends and even marketers like us.

You probably often hear your business should be doing this or doing that, or you should sign up for this service, or you should be using that app, or why aren’t you on this social media platform – SEO, blogs, ads, listings, etc, etc, etc.

There is no shortage of where your business can be or what your business can be doing with regards to growing its sales and customer base.

Take a deep breath. If you heed the following advice, it will help ease the burden on your already limited resources of time and money. Besides, it’s not new and you already know it – You just need to be reminded of it.

First thing’s first – Average Lifetime Customer Value.

How much is a customer worth to you?  “A lot” is not an quantifiable answer.  I’m talking about a dollar value.  Figure this metric out because it will help with just about every marketing decision you make.

For example, if an average customer has a lifetime value of $1000 to your business, then any investment under that amount is worth considering.  If you spend $500 to acquire a customer then you win.  Think of the lifetime value being lifetime profits from an average customer.

Knowing this value also gives you a benchmark for increasing that value – How can you sell more to your customers?

You may do a deeper dive into this topic in the Entrepreneur article, “How to Calculate the LIfetime Value of a Customer” 


Get really good at using one or two marketing/sales channels before moving on.  Getting really good at it means being able to measure the results.

No. You don’t need to be on the latest social media platform.
No. You don’t need to be using the latest app.
No. You don’t need to be doing this and that.

Stay focused.  You are a small or new business with limited resources, the most valuable is time and you, the owner.  How many hats can you possibly wear, effectively?

Once you are able to systematize your marketing efforts and channels, meaning you got a good handle on it, it’s as efficiently managed as possible, and you can possibly hand it off to an employee if you had to, then investigate other channels, apps or services that are – and this is critical – appropriate for your business at whatever stage your business is in.

Old-School Still Rocks

Here is where hard-core online or digital marketers are going to freak – Your best marketing approach just might be to engage in old-school sales and marketing.  Business networking.  Social events.  Shaking hands. Finding earned media opportunities. Personally connecting with your customers and prospects. Maybe simply investing in some door hangers or postcards..

Let’s start with 101 Sales & Marketing

You just completed a sale or project with a customer. You, the owner, should send them a personal email thanking them for their business.  While you’re at it, ask them how their experience was, or if there are other products or services they would have liked available to them.

This conversation can easily lead into a add-on sale, just keep it personal and non-salesy.  This is about establishing a relationship with your customer, who just might tell everyone about how the CEO/Owner of company X sent a personal email and how this is the way all businesses should operation, etc.


Network with other businesses, but do it right.  What is “right”?  Approach each relationship with another business with the attitude of helping them, not you.  Find out how you can refer business and customers, or find them a resource, or whatever. Make making new business relationships about the other party.  You will be seen as a valuable resource and the theory of reciprocity will likely kick in providing you with unsolicited leads and business.

What if I literally have no time to figure any of this out?

If you are stuck, and it’s OK if you are – It happens to many business owners – then you need to ask for help.

Avoid well-intentioned friends, family and neighbors. Seriously. They can send you down wasteful paths.  

Avoid marketers who offer to do anything for you and your business without first learning about you, your business and your customers.  Your business is unique.  It may be in a popular industry, but it’s still unique.

Your marketer should consider the following:

  • How long has the business been operating?
  • Any significant changes in the history of the business?
  • The owner and owner’s available time – do you have any time available for DIY marketing?
  • What are the owner’s and staff’s strength’s and weaknesses regarding the business? Perhaps it is a more valuable use of time for the owner or staff to be focused on other activity in the business.  Maybe you or your staff are perfect for DIY and just need guidance.
  • What is the product or service being sold.
  • How does the owner want the business to be operationally?
  • What marketing and sales activities are being conducted now and in the past?  What worked and what didn’t work.
  • Who are your competitors?  Where are they located?
  • Who are your customers? What are they like? (Demographics, interests, locations, etc.)
  • What is the average lifetime value of a customer?
  • What is your budget? Yes. You should share this information because how else can a plan be crafted?  Even a range will be helpful.  If a marketer agrees to put a proposal together without knowing a budget, your’re wasting yourtime.  Having a $10,000 budget means you can explore a much different sales & marketing landscape than if you had a $1000 budget.  Be up front. If you have a $10,000 budget but want to start slow and low, then say so, “We got a $10,000 budget, but I want to start slowly, say at $1000.

Some closing tips:

  • Go to a marketer before you go to a developer for a website.  A website is a marketing asset. Treat it as such and speak to a marketer about it. Please, do not have your neighbor’s kid do your website without consulting a marketer, who can at least provide a framework and sales copy for the site.
  • Go to a marketer before designing and printing sales & marketing assets.  Same as above, but also consider that a good marketing plan is cohesive and supports all sales and marketing activities and assets.
  • Facebook page – Please make sure you are the administrator and that you have at least one trusted admin backup on the Facebook page.  Nothing causes stress like being shut-out of your business page and trying to prove you should have access, or an employee setup the page and left your business taking with her or him access to your page.  This applies to your website, too.
  • You do not have to be on every social media platform out there.  Seriously.  You do not.
  • Do not buy a media ad – radio, tv, print – just because a radio, tv or print ad sales person contacted you with a “deal of a lifetime“.  If you have money for an ad, contact a media-buy specialist who can get you more and more appropriate ad placements. Yes, we offer media-buy services. Consider this our disclaimer 🙂
  • SEO is not the be-all end-all for your business’s growth, unless it’s an online business. If you’re obsessing about SEO, please stop.  Too many businesses are skipping fundamentals and going right to SEO.
  • Do not under any circumstances entertain any service or scheme that hints at gaming Google’s or Bing’s or Facebook’s algorithyms.  “Our service guarantees top-page placement….” or “We can get your 5000 Likes in x-days“.  Hang up the phone. Delete the email. It’s not worth the risk, unless you’re not in business for the long-term.

The bottom line is this – Business is not B2C or B2B, it is person-to-person.  Marketing is a strategy to help your business grow and it helps prime the sales pump.  Social media, websites, apps, listings, postcards, ads, etc are tools in your business’s marketing toolbox.  Pick your tools wisely and use each for it’s respective application.  You wouldn’t use a hammer to carve a turkey, so don’t use a robo-call service to develop a strong relationship with customers.

The bad news is that small business owners are overwhelmed by choices for traditional marketing and digital marketing.  The good news is that small business owners have a plethora of choices for marketing and all that is required is choosing the right too at the right time for the right application.  So take a deep breath. Stick to fundamentals and proceed mindfully.

Feel free to add your thoughts and ideas to this discussion by leaving a comment below.

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