3 Ways Small Business Marketing is Different

small business marketing

“A small business is not a little big business.” This adage comes from executive leadership coach John Welsh and I couldn’t agree more. Every small business owner knows on some level that small business marketing is different from big business marketing.

Yet most marketing advice implies we should all be they mirroring what the most successful big businesses are doing for marketing. For example, the best practices for building a website, running a promotion and using social media are all based on the model that works for the “most successful” businesses.

Overnight Success? Not Usually.

What marketers don’t tell you, or perhaps don’t realize themselves, is that “success” does not equal immediate massive growth for everyone. Not every small shop wants to become Wal-Mart.

More importantly, even if that IS your dream, you need to accomplish this one, small-yet-nearly impossible thing first.

Small Business Marketing Mistake #1: What got you here won’t get you there

It’s not a good plan to use, say,  Apple’s marketing best practices for small business marketing.

That’s because you need to kick ass at being a small business before you can become a big business. It’s like a version of that old expression, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Foundation First

I had a brief –very brief—stint at big marketing agency when I first left television. I was working with a client whose brand new product had a spot in an LA gifting suite at an upcoming event. She wanted press releases sent to Vogue, Refinery29, and Paris Hilton. Like, not Paris Hilton’s company, just… Paris. Spoiler alert: Paris didn’t care.

My suggestion would have been to hold off on the LA press push until she had a sale or two but no one asked me. So I was left suggesting that her time and money would be better spent by getting some credible media attention in her own city, or at the very least her own country, before trying to out-compete every Hollywood starlet with a beauty line.


I had no doubt she could be very successful, but I also wasn’t surprised when she didn’t get a single media appearance from her press release about the LA gifting suite. She hadn’t done the hard work of building a fan base before trying to attract the most competitive attention there is.

Small Business Marketing Mistake #2: Blindly following trends

Many people struggle trying to gain traction on platforms like YouTube, TikTok or Instagram for small business marketing. Do you ever ask yourself why you’re trying so hard to beat the algorithms?

If you’re Home Depot, it really does make a difference whether you have more followers and more engagement than Lowes. Both of those companies want to attract as many millions of people as possible to their stores. While focusing on the sheer volume of inquiries can  work for small business marketing, is not a requirement for small business marketing. Often it takes less effort and therefore less money to bring in a far, far lower volume of much more interested parties, and carefully nurture your relationship.

Faster Isn’t Better

Fast growth is almost always terrible for small business. Let’s be honest, if everyone who went to Home Depot today called your business or came by, it would be impossible for you to handle the sudden traffic and you’d likely just end up angering your existing companies.

Grow to that size eventually? Sure! You absolutely can. Grow to that size tomorrow? Uh, no. That wouldn’t turn out so well.

Back to the “trying to beat the algorithm” thing for a second, in small business marketing you have a choice whether you chase social media success.

That’s because no matter what you do, you’re not going to beat the “Home Depot” of your industry. At least, not yet. You could view that as a negative, but you could also see it as very freeing. Often we focus so hard on using a particular trendy tactic that we don’t stop to consider if there is an easier and more effective way that is more well-suited to small business marketing.


Small Business Marketing Mistake #3: The Amazon Prime Day Fallacy

In case you have been camping without internet or something, Amazon Prime Day was a few days ago. Ostensibly, this is an online shopping event on par with Black Friday. If you enjoy it, I love that for you. I am just not a huge fan.

Here’s my issue. The first year Amazon offered Prime Day, I didn’t find a single thing that was particularly good value. It seemed like a scam to drive traffic. (Gasp.) So now I’m forever suspect of how good the deals on Prime Day are going to be. My trust level for Amazon is lower than ever.

I’m sure Amazon is really broken up about my lack of interest in Prime Day. Of course they aren’t. They don’t need me, specifically, to shop Prime Day. They just need a certain percentage of middle-aged soccer moms like me to shop Prime Day. If a few of us are disenchanted along the way, no big deal.

You Need Your Audience

Having a cavalier attitude toward disappointing people is not a luxury small business marketing can afford. Chances are you need a much higher percentage of your leads to convert than Amazon does. If one potential client in your target audience gets turned off by a marketing tactic you choose, that is a bigger deal to you than it would be to Amazon.

Web designers in particular tend to forget that for SBSBs with fewer than 50 employees, it’s far more valuable to make sure each individual site visitor has an ideal experience than it is than it is to make sure your website is ready to handle millions of visitors in one shot.

If you find out that someone came to your website, found it too slow, and bounced, how does that make you feel? For most of us, there is a certain amount of disappointment or concern if even one person has a negative experience.

Amazon’s web designers are absolutely right to put their time and effort into making the site stable enough to handle a ton of traffic. However, web designers that make site stability top priority on small business websites are misguided.

Where Small Business Marketing Should Focus

Instead it makes more sense to focus on your SERP performance and your mobile web speed. If your site is sluggish, you might lose the opportunity to connect with one specific audience member who could really help your business. Each individual visitor is important, yet many designers don’t make that their priority.

If you suspect you’ve been following advice intended to help companies with an audience of millions and you’d like to bring more people in your own neighbourhood through the door, book a no-obligation consult call. Brainstorming marketing ideas and sharing them with small business owners for free truly is one of my great joys in life, and I’d love to hear from you.

picture of author bridget brown