$24,000. That is the amount quoted to a colleague recently just to manage Facebook for their small business for a year, an amount larger than the whole marketing budget for most small businesses. In fact, this is not an isolated case, with many clients being quoted 5-figure fees to manage small parts of their marketing activities. Such fees are not unreasonable for larger businesses, with larger budgets and some form of marketing coordination. The fact that these fees were then paid by a small business operating a knee-jerk marketing strategy is foolhardy but typical. Many businesses jump on the nearest passing bandwagon, in the absence of an overall strategy or plan, and just look for quick fixes, not knowing any better and feeling anxious that they ‘need to be on social media’.

So here is a reminder that marketing needs planning, research and evidence to build a cost effective plan which won’t bleed your cash. Here is my list of tasks that small businesses should tick off when approaching their marketing, in order:

1. Fundamentals – work out the basics first
Define your target markets
Assess buying cycles and seasonality
Customer surveys
Competitor analysis
Branding and positioning

2. Deciding what to do
Research marketing channels and costs.
Work out your budget.
Create a short list.
Assess the risk of each.
Create an annual schedule for marketing activity and spend that fits your budget.
Create a schedule for marketing for at least 6 months.

3. Measurement and review
Set up your systems so you can measure what worked.

4. Execute plan
Spend money here

5. Review
Watch the results, outcomes and measurements closely
Decide what to do next, based on what worked (and didn’t).

In this schedule, note that money is not spent until Step 4 but in most cases it’s the only step that most businesses do. No research, no planning and no measurement. The problem with managing a marketing strategy on the run is that your messaging can be off, targeting the wrong markets using a shotgun approach that costs more than it needs to; not that you would know because no one is measuring anyway. It’s like putting the car in full speed with no roadmap.

So next time you get the feeling that you want to place a big bet on one single type of marketing, go back to the plan and ask yourself does it fit into the strategy and budget? Do your results suggest that it will work. Most importantly, can you afford to lose the investment if it doesn’t work?

At the end of all that, if $24,000 ticks the boxes, go ahead, but put your guru under the pump and have agreed outcomes before you start. Small business marketing needs to generate results, i.e. get clients. There is no point having more followers if no one is buying.