Marketing, for the little guy.
An oldie but a goldie, I originally wrote this piece back in 2018.
Over time this has become my most popular piece. It’s a testament to the fact that marketing doesn’t have to be for big businesses, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
It can be small, simple and effective. No nonsese, it just requires people to take a step back and think properly about what they’re doing.
Marketing isn’t about social media or advertising; that’s part of Marketing but you need to start way further back than that. Otherwise, in the long run, you’ll fail.
Don’t think you can’t compete, you can.
It all starts with now.
What do I mean by now? I mean, what is your business, who are your customers, who are you and what is happening today.
You can’t plan for tomorrow if you don’t know today.
A few years ago an old school friend of phone dropped me a message, initially I thought it was just to catch up. I haven’t seen him in years.
What he really needed was my help with his business idea, naturally I said yes.
We spent the next two hours on the phone talking things over, he told me all about his business idea. Professional lawn keeping, born out of his experience as a green keeper in one of Surrey’s most prestigious Golf Courses.
I agreed to consult him on Marketing, I charged him for the value I provided, not for the time. Overall we had things sorted within two weeks. I could end the story there but that’s not helpful to you.
The first question I asked him was, where are you now?
He had a van, he had the gear, he had eight hours a week to devote to the business.
With that simple question, we could look at what he could do to kick start his business.
The first thing we didn’t do was to make assumptions. It’s very easy for people to jump the gun and have unwavering faith in their ideas, or to jump on the latest idea and just copy what everyone else is doing. There is a reason most business fail within the first few years. Assumptions and guesswork is much to do with that.
Marketing is about humility, it’s about the realisation that you and your clients know absolutely nothing and the job of Marketing is to actually find things out. Marketing helps you make more money and leaves you with a business that is built to last with stuff that people actually want to buy.
The first thing we did was to look at the local competition, most people would just do a quick google search but that’s the lazy way out.
We were a little more James Bond than that, we started by inviting competitors to my friend’s house to give him quotes on his own garden and to judge their customer service ability. He asked the competition, without telling them who he was, where they were based, their working hours, their products and services and also where they can do business. No one wants to drive fifty miles for a job, for example. We tested the competition to try and find holes in their service provision.
There were several consistent issues we noticed.
This is competitive Market research, now my friend knows where he is. Now he knows where he can play, now he knows where he can get in to the Market and make money.
By using what we found out, we recognised the biggest frustrations and annoyances of lawn keeping, from a customer’s perspective. We did this by posing as potential customers. We didn’t make assumptions about the competition, we did the leg work to find out how things really were.
Initially he wanted to do what every other fresh faced business person wants to do, undercut the competition with a lower price offer, offer lots of different services to everyone. Then use some social media, some email and some print ads in trade magazines to promote himself. But all of that is just doing stuff aimlessly.
A word of warning.
Don’t listen to anyone selling you those things if you haven’t got a strategy, they are vultures and even if they are well meaning they are unlikely to be proper trained and experienced Marketers who know the difference between planning and strategy, more on that in the next section.
Now that we had that research information, we developed a strategy.
Let me just explain, a strategy is not a plan or a tactic.
A strategy is a simple, overarching focus that carries a business to success over the long term. Strategy is about understanding your customers, your products and how a narrow approach will make you far more money than a scatter gun and spreading yourself too thin in every direction. Keep it simple and keep it SMART.
A strategy starts with a lot of work, research mostly, it’s neutral too, the course of action may not be completely obvious initially but then it whittles itself down to its core components. Strategy is about simplicity, it’s like having a road sign that says “go this way”.
It’s about mitigating risk and having clear direction and not doing things that could waste your time, effort and money or worse, things that can hurt your business or even put you out of business.
Every strategy is different because every business is different, its goals, its customers, its products, its lifecycle, where it’s based, the list goes on and on.
Strategy is bespoke — don’t fall for the notion that you can follow someone’s success formula by emulation by reading their blog or their book about “how you can be like me”. You can’t just copy the plans of others, that’s not Marketing.
This is why Starbucks failed in Australia in 2008, it copy and pasted its model and Australians weren’t interested. Same goes for Walmart in Germany.
Strategy requires total humility, to find out the reality of a situation by learning and questioning. By assuming next to nothing.
Our strategy was simple, as strategy should be. Simple gets done.
We sacrificed low quality customers for high paying ones, and we targeted the biggest houses and the biggest lawns. We decided to go for a far higher price, with far better customer service and an image to back up that pricing level.
We made sure the van looked nice, had a clear and easy name to remember and everything looked and felt consistent with the concept of premium service, sparkly and clean. My friend is a nice guy too, very polite, goes a long way when you’re charging 70% more than your nearest price competitor.
My friend entered with a smile, did a great job and also gave two business cards to clients. The reason why is so he could ask them to refer his services to a friend and keep the other for themselves. It worked.
We didn’t incentivise with discounts or commission, which negates the quality of the work.
Happy customers will refer you, otherwise you’re just buying them.
Within a few months, he was earning more in his eight hours than he was in his job as a manager. That’s what I call success. Its long term success too, not short term sales success. He’s had stable, steady income growth for the past year, not massive spikes and chaos.
Why did I use such a small one man band as an example? Because the size of the business really doesn’t matter because the Marketing fundamentals always stay the same.
It wasn’t about social media.
It wasn’t about advertising.
It wasn’t about Simon Sinek’s infamous “why?” — Which personally I disagree with.
It was about plain old Marketing.
Where are we? Where are we going? Where do we want to get to? How are we going to get there? How do we ensure we’re going to get there?
On reflection it sounds easy but that’s because the best course of action is often simple.
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Diagnosis, Strategy, Planning, Tactics. Better marketing, better business.
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