Skip to main content
8 min read

11 common marketing mistakes by small business owners

As a small business owner, you’ll be required to wear more ‘hats’ than there are at Ascot and Cheltenham combined. From CEO to salesperson, operations manager to bookkeeper, IT manager to marketer, there’s lots to do and not much time, budget or resources to do it.

So, where do you start?

The good news is that you don’t have to begin with a blank page. Learning from past mistakes can help steer your marketing strategy, but who said those mistakes had to be yours?

Here are some common (and avoidable) marketing mistakes that could cost you time and money…

Marketing for small businesses

‘Marketer’ is a particular hat that can weigh heavy, as many small business owners aren’t sure what it takes to make marketing work for them. They are experts in their business, but they simply don’t have the time to become experts in the ever-changing world of online marketing.

Almost half of all small business owners (47%), run their marketing efforts entirely on their own. This can feel overwhelming (and also a little bit lonely). If you’re not a seasoned marketer, chances are there are a few things you’re doing (and not doing) in your marketing efforts that could be holding your business back.

Failing to define you target audience

Don’t make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone. This is impossible. By defining a specific audience, you can create more effective marketing campaigns that speak directly to their needs, interests, values and budgets.

Failing to define your target audience will also lead to wasted resources, missed opportunities and inconsistent messaging.

Ignoring your competition

Failing to research your competitors can lead to missed opportunities, or a lack of differentiation in the marketplace. It’s important to understand your competition and find ways to distinguish your product or service from theirs, which will form the backbone of your marketing messaging. You could also be missing out on new product or service offerings, innovative marketing techniques or new distribution channels that your competitors are utilising ahead of you. You also won’t be keeping an eye on their pricing strategies, which could lead to you pricing your products/services too high or low.

By ignoring your competitors, you are flying blind when making business decisions.

common marketing mistakes

Not having a marketing strategy

A marketing strategy is an essential component of any business plan. It helps a business to establish a clear direction, increase effectiveness, build brand reputation, and maximise ROI. Without a marketing strategy, a business risks wasting resources and missing out on valuable opportunities to reach and engage its target audience.

Not having a clear message

You must be able to articulate what sets your product or service apart from others in the market. Having a clear message and value proposition is critical for attracting and retaining customers. And don’t forget, just because your unique selling proposition (USP) is relevant at the time of launching, it might evolve over time, so you need to be prepared to revisit it and adjust your marketing messaging accordingly, if required.

common marketing mistakes

Not using the right marketing channels

The wide variety of marketing channels available can be overwhelming. It’s important to research and understand which channels are most effective for reaching your target audience. Just because a platform is available, doesn’t mean you should have a presence on it.

Choosing the right marketing channels for your business requires a thorough understanding of your target audience, competitors, marketing goals, budget, and available options. By following these steps and testing your approach, you can determine the most effective combination. (And as always, keep a close eye on any market changes that could impact the channels you use e.g. a shift in your audience’s online behaviour, new channels on the market, a new competitor on the scene.)

Failing to track and measure results

Without setting business KPIs to tell you what’s working and what’s not, you could be wasting your marketing budget and missing out on opportunities that could significantly improve your results. You must track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, otherwise it will be difficult to make informed decisions about future marketing efforts.

Google Analytics is a good place to start, as it will be able to show you which marketing channels are driving the best traffic to your website. It’s an essential component to any marketer’s online tool box.

marketing mistakes

Being complacent

You’ve run some successful campaigns previously, so you keep doing the same thing… no? While it’s important to continue with successful marketing methods, don’t get complacent. Repeating the same content can quickly turn stale – your audience won’t appreciate it and will be less likely to engage with you.

There are always ways you can develop and enhance your marketing activity to further grow your business. Don’t lose momentum by getting comfortable and complacent. Keep analysing the data, keep challenging yourself, keep learning.

Not investing enough in marketing

You might feel hesitant to spend money on marketing, but investing in marketing is critical for driving growth and increasing revenue. It’s important to allocate sufficient resources to marketing efforts to ensure they are effective.

Working with an accountant when writing a business plan will help ensure realistic budgets are put in place, which align with your business goals. For example, if your goal is to increase sales by 20%, you may need to allocate a larger budget to marketing efforts that focus on lead generation and customer acquisition.

It can also be helpful to research:

  • Industry benchmarks

    Industry benchmarks to see what other businesses in your industry are spending on marketing. This can give you a baseline for your own budget

  • Your customer acquisition cost (CAC)

    Your customer acquisition cost (CAC) can help you determine how much you need to spend on marketing to acquire new customers. You should consider the lifetime value of a customer when calculating your CAC.

  • The competitive landscape

    The competitive landscape. The level of competition in your industry can impact the amount you need to spend on marketing to stay competitive.

  • Available resources

    Available resources. Your marketing budget should also take into account the resources available to you. For example, if you have a small marketing team or limited resources, you may need to allocate more funds to outsourcing marketing services.

    The right marketing budget will depend on your unique business needs and circumstances. It may be helpful for you and your accountant to work with a marketing consultant or agency to determine the most effective budget for your business.

Being inconsistent

Some small business owners may start a marketing campaign, then stop it before it has a chance to make an impact. Being too quick to abandon ship can cost you – jumping from idea to idea isn’t going to give you the data you need to make informed decisions and will confuse your target audience. You’ll end up throwing money at the wall as a result of unreliable data.

Consistency is key. It will help you to build brand awareness and recognition, maintain customer engagement, establish credibility and increase sales and revenue by keeping your business top-of-mind amongst your audience. But, it’s not easy, especially when you’re wearing many other hats. There are a number of useful online tools that can help you schedule your marketing content ahead of time e.g. HootSuite and Buffer. Set a certain time each week dedicated to creating and scheduling your social content. This will ensure a steady stream of marketing content goes out, and avoids radio silence situations cropping up, should your attention be needed elsewhere.

Neglecting your website

Your website shouldn’t be seen as a launch-it-then-leave-it channel. It’s a crucial marketing tool for establishing your online presence, building credibility, engaging your audience and attracting new customers. If well-optimised, mobile-friendly and user-friendly, it is a cost-effective way to promote your business and reach a wider audience. It also provides a base camp for your marketing activities to reach back to.

When you neglect your website, you not only run the risk of driving away potential customers who might think your business is no longer open or poorly operated, but you also hurt your search engine optimisation (SEO), which means you’ll drive less traffic from search engines over time.

Keep your content engaging and relevant, consider adding a blog to showcase your knowledge and add personality to your brand. Optimise key landing pages for search engines. Be clear on your website’s goals – do you want visitors to make a purchase? Subscribe? Sign up? Look at your data – is your website achieving these goals? If not, why? Does your code need cleaning up, to speed up your load time? By taking proactive steps to engage your site visitors and keep your site clean and running smoothly, you are supporting your longer term business goals.

If you’re managing your website on your own, make a point to set aside some time at least every month to check for broken links and update website copy such as your contact information and hours of operation if needed. Consider working with an SEO professional to help you check for technical SEO issues on a regular basis – at least every six months – and make it a point to update your content on an annual basis to keep your site feeling fresh (blog posts more regularly!).

marketing mistakes

Stepping away once you hire a marketing professional

Just because you’ve hired someone to take care of your marketing, doesn’t mean you can step back entirely from the responsibility of marketing your business. If you’re new to the world of marketing, how do you know what to look for in a marketing executive, manager, freelancer or agency? You are putting your business’s reputation in their hands. You need marketing literacy, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. This will help you hire the right people and put in place a realistic marketing strategy for your business.

It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

Unfortunately, small business marketers don’t tend to have much margin for error. While there are common mistakes to avoid such as the ones above, there’s also a lot of value to gain from speaking directly to those who have been there and got the t-shirt. Consider joining a small business network near you – or online – and see if members might be willing to discuss their personal marketing journeys with you. Could you persuade a successful entrepreneur to be your business mentor, who you can go to for advice and insight?

Harnessing other people’s hindsight into your marketing plan is a move that is often overlooked by budding business owners. There’s been a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned in the business world, and many don’t mind sharing them, particularly when they form part of a success story. (There’s also a number of insightful case studies and success stories online that are worth a read.)

Let’s not forget, mistakes and setbacks are part of the entrepreneurial journey. For many, it’s what has made them the successful business owners they are today. While it’s smart to avoid the above instances from the get-go, don’t be hard on yourself if errors are made and results don’t go the way you thought they would. Keep learning, befriend your data and don’t be shy to ask for advice. (Own that hat.)


End of Article
Share this content

Brought to you by:

AAT Business Finance Basics

AAT Business Finance Basics are a series of online e-learning courses covering the core financial skills every business needs. They draw from AAT’s world-leading qualifications and will quickly build your knowledge on key topics including bookkeeping, budgeting and cash flow.

Visit partner's website

Register with Informi today:

  • Join over 30,000 like-minded business professionals.
  • Create your own personalised account with curated reading lists and checklists.
  • Access exclusive resources including business plans, templates, and tax calculators.
  • Receive the latest business advice and insights from Informi.
  • Join in the discussion through the comments section.