For many small businesses, each week is a battle to win new business and the owners and managers throw everything they have at their sales and marketing. In an effort to drive enquires, most of the budget is spent on short term drivers like Google Ads, social media ads and platforms like Uber Eats. The business then gets hooked on the short term fixes, spend too much money and are not always sure they work, so don’t cut their spend in case they lose enquiries. This cycle repeats so marketing spend ends up being like a gambling habit, at times more than 10% of revenue.

This kind of short game marketing is about the now, what’s happening this week and “how do I get more enquiries”. It has its place, driving new business and keeping the doors open, even when profit is compromised. Particularly for new businesses, it’s common to burn through the marketing cash as you figure out what works and get some traction. In many cases, however, it has become the only approach that has become a very hard habit to kick. We have seen quite a few businesses with serious social media and search engine advertising bills that can’t possibly be justified from the revenue they generate. My adage for marketing spend is “if you can’t afford to lose it, you can’t afford to spend it.”

Whilst short game marketing consumes your working week, building the long game has to be part of your marketing plan. The long game is about building the brand, your network, referral partners, organic search results and your reputation. These all take time and consistent effort, usually not giving immediate results, but after years in business can generate a steady flow of new and repeat business, for much less effort, and in many cases for no cost at all. At The Business Plan Company, the proportion of referrals has grown steadily over the last five years, now more than fifty percent of new business. These relationships take time to build and attention to high quality work that your partners can rely on, without question.

Long-game marketing is not luck and cannot be haphazard, it needs dedicated and consistent effort over years, strategic planning and a long-term view for generating outcomes. It’s not fast, but is the key to a sustainable business. For all of your efforts in the short game, don’t forget the long game and keep activity steadily ticking along. It’s very easy to delay such activities, not always seeing the results and thinking there are more pressing things to do. Recently a client told me that he had a revelation about his approach to grant applications after reading one article that we sent; he has since engaged us for five grant applications.

The types of activities that you should be doing for long-game marketing can include:

  • Focus on high quality work and client engagement.
  • Content marketing, blogs, e-books, commentary, email marketing and social media brand development.
  • Developing a community around your business.
  • Publicity.
  • Webinars.
  • Reviews from your clients.
  • Network and referral partner development.
  • Sponsorship.
  • Understanding customer satisfaction and getting feedback.
  • Focussing on the brand and how it is perceived and found in the market.

Next time you feel uninspired, can’t be bothered and put off the content marketing, the networking event or the social media brand building campaign, remember this: you are feeding the short term addiction. Long-term growth in revenue and profit needs both a long game and short game. The sooner you can cut back the short game, the better.