We get into some odd conversations at market and this weekend it was one of fantasising about how to spend $3,000 on marketing for our own businesses.
Now the reality is very few creative businesses will have $3,000 to spend on marketing and advertising in one fell hit. Yes, we’ll put that sort of money into trade shows, making stock and other direct methods of growing an income but that in itself leads to a very good question of why not invest $3,000 into advertising and marketing?
Doubling in Value
After making my own living full time from my creative business since 2001 I have some fairly solid views about what $3,000 should do for the business. It needs to at least double in value, preferably triple or quadruple. If you don’t have that mind set you’ve got a great chance of losing your precious small business fairly quickly.
I do understand this attitude of direct return on investment of this amount of money is very different to how medium and big businesses see it.
The Value of Branding Exercises for Small Business
I’ve also come to realise that small business owners can’t invest solely in branding exercises – not with working capital money at least, nor with money that is meant to bring a financial return. For the very simple reason that we can’t compete with the large businesses who can afford to throw money away on what might be a money bearing return or what may be a money pit.
Yes it is important to create the look of a brand and to put effort into it but you’d be a fool to think you can compete on the big stage and become a household name – that literally costs millions.
So coming back to how a small creative business could intelligently spend $3,000. Well the answers seem to be as simple as they are complicated.
How NOT to Spend $3,000
Let’s start with three what not to do’s:
- Don’t pay for an expensive print magazine ad, not unless it is fully and thoroughly backed up with a very well considered and actioned online social media campaign that sends you really qualified and targeted website traffic.
- Don’t sponsor someone else’s annual event (or whatever) with your precious $3,000 (or $1,000) cash unless you are working closely with the organiser to directly double or triple your investment in real terms, eyeballs at this stage aren’t real terms. Also apply the alternative solution for the point above.
- Don’t be lured into the free postcards at cafes promotional product, pretty much for the same reasons as above. It is really easy to get the structure of an effective advertising campaign wrong if your intension is to make money from this. If it is just for branding like the government agencies or the flagship events that have sponsorship dollars coming in, then it is different. But for a small creative business the idea is just one of those nice ones that should never progress for financial return reasons.
What You Want Your Money to Do
Here’s five things you would want your $3,000 to do:
1. Get immediate sales.
This is the most obvious aim and a thoroughly healthy one too. It means having your promotional copy and images on message for the targeted audience. This in itself can be tricky so it makes it important to test individual ads and tweak them as you go based on results.
Personally I doubt whether you or an advertising agency can come up with the totally perfect ad the first time round without any testing and modification at all. I’ve heard that sort of result from people trying to sell their services but I’ve never heard it from a small business owner actually making it happen. Everyone has to test and modify to find which ideas and words work best at any given time – and it does shift from week to week even.
The key is to spread your spending across a range of ads rather than throwing it all into just one effort.
2. Grow your newsletter.
For me this is the most valuable type of investment, growing your email newsletter list with the right people. Of course this means you can’t buy an email list (think of the legality of this as well) but you can grow it with well placing promotions to exisiting and potential customers.
The shear power and value of having your own email newsletter list is in the ability to regularly (read repeatedly) communicate with them. If they didn’t like what you were doing they wouldn’t have joined your newsletter.
Of course your newsletter needs to be about them, sharing information, behind the scenes insights, design updates and where to find you, in terms of what they are interested in. It doesn’t work for them if it is all coming from your own point of view with me, me, me talk.
Your followers are going to be the most interested in your new design launches, they are the ones who will help you with suggestions and recommendations.
The key is in your ownership of this list, this database of valuable people. No one else owns it. Not Facebook, or any other capricious organisation that disrespects small business. For business safety reasons you do need to do database backups from your email newsletter provider but you have to backup everything anyway.
3. Build on your Instagram following.
It’s amazing how customers feel more secure doing business with someone who has an online presence, not just a decent website but also on the social media platforms.
While Instagram doesn’t allow for working links from your individual posts it is possible to include short links that people can type out easily in the posts. Yes, you can put a live link in your bio and it is important to keep that short too.
I decided when I was starting with Instagram to skill up with it and go in prepared. This has made it loads easier to grow my following fairly quickly and to have some interesting connections from it.
As for Twitter, it is good for sharing the blog and my stories while Facebook is more useful for the groups that I belong to there. Facebook doesn’t want small businesses to be using it as an important platform for connecting and sharing with treasured customers – if they did, they would make it a viable option. Having said that, it is important to have some level of presence there with your business, probably more for SEO reasons and to meet the expectations of some customers.
As for advertising on Facebook I haven’t had any decent returns on the expense but I do know some have (although I haven’t met anyone in person who has). I’ve heard good things about Instagram paid advertising and have thought about it but I’m still to test it.
4. Help stake ownership of defined important hashtags.
I’ve been finding on Instagram, and to some extent Facebook, that hashtags are important. Consider hashtags to be in two groups – one that you test out for different posts and audiences and the other being your core hashtags.
You’ll find that there are a select number of hashtags that you want to be involved with as often as possible, they are probably the smaller ones but they are key to your audience and business.
Another one I’ll include on a semi-regular basis is #shoplocal as this is obviously important for ethical, financial and attitudinal reasons. I am unsure how many of my customers go straight there to find funky, interesting presents but it is worth testing out and being involved with.
5. Have a lasting value, not just for a week or a month.
I think what scares me the most about the splash in the pan big promotions costing thousands of dollars for a short time is the lack of lasting value with them. To me, it is too easy for them to be done poorly and be more about the advertising agency making money, claiming they are building a brand name and the business paying the bills just seeing their cash disappear.
The key to any investment of precious cash resources into your business is having a lasting benefit.
And getting another hundred or thousand Facebook followers only means you need to spend money with Facebook to actually communicate with them – funding Facebook but not your own business. That’s just a plain stupid waste to me.
Getting another thousand qualified, interested and well targeted email newsletter followers who actually shop online, well that’s a different thing all together. There’s actual real value in that, especially if you understand the financial value of your shoppers, of your readers. Then you can clearly see where the money is, how much it costs to acquire each one and how long it will take to recoup the investment.
Ideally you would want the marketing/advertising campaign to bring in some immediate sales, grow your email newsletter list and add to your social media followers. That would be the perfect way to spend $3,000 on marketing and advertising for your small creative business.
It would take some time and care to plan out, research the right messages for the right audiences and then carefully test the ads themselves. That’s if you want every dollar of your hard earned cash to have the best chance of working. If you’re happy to be a whole heap looser with your money like the big corporates and government agencies are with the flashy advertising agencies then go for it – there’s less work involved initially for you and you could churn through your working funds much faster. Personally, I love this creative life I’m living and I much prefer to keep doing it with a bit of smarts.
Skilling Up Makes the Difference
I think the key difference in making this sort of budget work for a small creative business is in how prepared you are to skill up, to grow and learn the range of different areas of having a business. You don’t have to be proficient enough to do everything yourself, and I don’t think that’s a good use of time anyway, but you do need to have a decent understanding of what’s involved, it is your business after all.
My new stationery range is something I’ve wanted to do for years and I’m thrilled to have it happening and selling well. But I have had to learn a heap of new skills with Photoshop so I can get my paintings onto the cards. There have been days when I thought my head was about to explode learning this obtuse tool but it’s necessary and once you push through each barricade you are better equipped to get through the next learning curve at a faster rate.
The same goes with making any of the social media platforms work for you. Farming it out to external help will only work when you understand how the sites work and what you want to achieve, realistically, from them. You’ll still need to do the strategic planning and plotting it out.
Come Up with Your Own Way to Spend $3,000
So how would you like to spend $3,000 on your own business and what would you like it to achieve? Tell us on the comments below.
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