I have worked in advertising since 1988. Back then only large businesses could afford professional marketing and I cut my teeth on accounts such as Adidas, Sharp and Mazda not to mention LiquorSave and Yugotours (who remembers them).
As the UK economy splintered into millions of small businesses, I became convinced that the advertising industry which I loved was wholly unsuited to meet the needs of SMEs. not to mention the self-employed and micro business owner.
Put simply, we were far too expensive. Consequently, small business owners turned to our supplier base of printers and graphic designers for their marketing materials
The problem was that, unlike a full-service advertising agency, a printer or graphic designer could only provide part of the solution and were rarely equipped to offer any strategic advice
The Internet promised to solve this problem, as for the first time SMEs have the potential to compete with established brands on an equal playing field. Web designers became the go-to marketing advisors and I established Online Business Builder developing websites for professional services firms such as solicitors and financial advisers having myself worked for several years as the marketing director of a large regional law firm
It was when I joined a BNI networking group that I started working with small business owners like myself and started to understand the two fundamental truths that have driven me to relaunch Online Business Builder.
Firstly, working with SMEs it is the most satisfying activity in marketing.
When you apply professional branding and strategy to a small business you can literally change lives. I can only claim to have helped create two millionaires in my time working with SMEs but there have been plenty of great stories and friends made along the way
My second realisation was few small businesses owners do any marketing at all!
We rely on referral and word of mouth as our only source of new business opportunities. This is clearly unwise as referrals are hard to predict and without any reliable source of new business, it's virtually impossible to plan or scale a small business.
It has taken ten years of research, training and some frustration to understand why this is the case. The explanation is a little long-winded but if you have got this far you are probably looking for some answers and this will hopefully resonate with your experience
There are three mechanisms by which small business owners can access professional marketing. They are called ‘Do it Yourself’, ‘Do it with Help’ and ‘’Done for You’.
Done for You Marketing
Let's start with the easy one. ‘Done for You’ marketing was just too expensive for most small business owners.
The UK advertising industry is still there and doing amazing work. They now call themselves digital agencies or some such, but the concept is the same as before. They deliver a combination of strategy, creativity, and technology. It is exactly what your business needs. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost only a few can afford.
I sincerely hope that one day, when your business can justify the investment, I can hand you over to the care of one of these world-class agencies.
Do it Yourself Marketing
Do it yourself is a concept we all understand. In marketing, DIY has led to the development of an enormous array of SaaS (software as a service) offerings ranging from free to play products such as MailChimp and Wix to enterprise systems like HubSpot
Unfortunately for most small business owners, the effect of this cornucopia of options is paralysis.
How do you choose? How do you find time to learn? Where can you turn for advice in a world of videos, webinars, ebooks, and hype?
I used to guest lecturer at Glyndwr University and present Tech Tuesday for the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. I would tell everyone about the latest marketing applications, we would all get excited.
Then no one would follow through.
When I think about it now the reason is obvious. Why should someone who loves to cook or design clothes or repair computers have to spend time learning to design a website or develop SEO backlinks.
Whilst it promises so much, DIY marketing isn’t for everyone and in reality can be frustrating and extremely time-consuming.
Do it with Help Marketing
Like thousands of other marketing professionals, I believed consultancy was the best way to deliver effective marketing to small businesses.
In principle, the idea of providing expertise and specialist skills to support a business owner’s own marketing efforts is both practical and cost-effective.
Maybe I was a terrible consultant or perhaps this is the worst of all worlds for the owners of small businesses.
I am exaggerating a bit but essentially most projects went like this.
Firstly a couple of great strategy sessions took place and we would agree to split the work to keep costs at a reasonable level. Typically I would do design and tech and the client would commit to preparing content
Maybe the next meeting would go well but more often than not the client had been too busy or not quite sure how to complete the work they had agreed to.
This situation would only get worse in the following months. Often in frustration, I would volunteer to do the extra work, effectively delivering a ‘done for you service’ at an unsustainable rate.
It was depressing and I naturally blamed myself and invested in hundreds of hours of personal development and training as a mentor
However, that was before I started talking to other marketing consultants who had exactly the same experience
The bald fact is this:
Small business owners rarely have the time or necessary skills to do any effective marketing
To be honest my conclusions were quite disheartening
Marketing is essential, truly essential if you're going to grow a small business and I had failed to make an impact unless I provided a ‘done for you’ service
I really couldn't see how it was possible to provide this service at price point most small businesses could justify.
I went back to working for large organisations who could afford to pay for someone to do the job for them
However, I kept putting in the hours, learning the latest marketing technology. I honestly do that for fun and as they are now over 5000 marketing apps I must confess to a small level of fanaticism
Then things started to change.
The explanation is a little bit techie so if you hate that stuff please skip to the conclusion
The first breakthrough was the availability of Amazon Web Services which enabled the development of a modern website content management system and blisteringly fast, secure website hosting at a reasonable price
I would still have to put in the effort to write design and code a website. However, now I didn't have to rely on overpriced infrastructure or flaky WordPress plugins
The next big deal was Google's announcement of its local search algorithm
Until recently if you searched for a greengrocer in Gretna Green or an estate agent in Exeter you got a page full of directories like Yell and 192.com
Local businesses now get preferential treatment when users search for local products and services.
It still takes on-site optimisation and a consistent effort to build backlinks to rank on the first page of Google but now it is much easier,
Be honest when was the last time you had 20 new business leads every month? That is how powerful the first-page position on Google is. Now it is possible for every small business
The final element was the automation of back-end business systems
Publishing to social media, reporting on search engine rankings, checking for online reviews and even invoicing takes an inordinate amount of time. Automating these essential services has a significant impact on price
So Online Builders Builder was reborn to provide the essential elements of professional marketing at a price that most small businesses can afford.
A beautiful, modern website, local search engine optimisation and social media marketing are all included to help drive new business leads and build and protect your online reputation. The option to add Facebook video advertising to kick-start your marketing is also available.