I’ve always believed that the best way to learn is to make mistakes in life. However, when it comes to business, we can’t always afford that luxury. Here are 10 common mistakes or problems I’ve personally come across in my experiences working with small businesses:

1. Not Having the Marketing Basics Down

There are still small businesses that do not have a firm grasp on their marketing fundamentals. What do I mean by that? Here are the questions you need to know inside and out.

  • Who is your target market or key demographic?
  • What problems or needs does your target market have that your products or services help solve for?
  • What is it about your branding, products or service that specifically appeals to your target market?
  • What are your unique value propositions or competitive advantages?
  • What makes you different from your competitors?
  • Why are you in business? What motivates and inspires you to be in the business you are in?

The answers to these questions should help direct you on the right path to attract the ideal customers for your small business.

A common mistake is believing your product or service is for everyone. It sounds counter intuitive to niche down or get specific, because of the fear of leaving people out. Even if it’s technically something everyone can or should use, casting a wider net is just not effective or cost efficient for small businesses. So narrow your focus on a particular group or demographic and speak to their specific needs.

2. Not Understanding How Yelp Works

Yelp plays a huge role in online marketing for small, local businesses, especially when it relates to food and dining. Having great reviews on sites like Yelp can help give your business more social trust in the eyes of potential customers. The aim is to get people to leave 5 star reviews, but you have to earn them.

A small business that I knew of called Yelp to ask, “how much 5 star reviews cost?” In case you were actually wondering, you can’t buy reviews through Yelp or from anyone really. The goal of Yelp is to provide unbiased reviews and feedback to help customers make informed choices. Soliciting and offering incentives for reviews is actually against Yelp review policy.

Be weary that review sites like Yelp have specific guidelines so it is important to review them. The last thing you want is to have your Yelp page removed, especially if your business heavily depends on it.

3. Not Responding to Online Complaints, Negative Feedback or Reviews

No one likes to hear negative feedback, especially when it involves your business. A common for small businesses to simply ignore the haters. They probably won’t be back anyway so why waste the time acknowledging them. The owner of a restaurant I worked with didn’t like to respond to negative feedback or reviews. He believed that people complained on social media to get free food. To me, that is not a good reason.

The problem with not responding shows others that you don’t care about your customers. Not to mention, bad word about your business will spread further than any good review will. If the negative review is legitimate, look at it as an opportunity to learn on how to improve your business while showing other potential customers that you care about their experiences. Having a some negative reviews actually, in my opinion, makes your business more legitimate. A business with tons of 5 star reviews can look suspicious.

Always respond to negative reviews and feedback in polite, respectful manner. If a mistake was made, own up to it and apologize. Don’t come off as a robot with a generic customer service response because it shows a lack of empathy. Respond by acknowledging their problem and provide excellent customer service. If the review or feedback is totally off base, others will see that so continue to be responsive and professional.

4. Buying Fake Social Media Likes and Followers

It’s easy for small business owners to get caught up with vanity metrics like Facebook likes and Twitter followers. In order to present a certain perception of the business, it’s common to consider buying fake likes or followers on social media.

Without having to say too much, a company I worked with got caught buying fake Facebook likes and Twitter followers. It was pretty embarrassing to say the least. Being exposed for having fake followers will discredit you and make you untrustworthy.

Another problem with having fake likes is it actually dilutes your audience on Facebook. What many small businesses don’t know about Facebook is that your posts does not get shown to all of your followers. Initially, only a small percent (2.5%) of your audience will be reached organically. So the more fake likes you have, the less chance your posts will actually reach real people that actually care about your business.

Long story short, don’t buy fake followers for your social media channels. Learn how to grow them organically.

5. Not Fully Understanding Social Media

A common problem theme with many of these points has to do with not being informed or educated. The thing about social media is it seems straight forward enough and how it works for business. Unfortunately, some small businesses don’t fully “get it.” They do things that turn people off and positive results don’t show.

The big mistake is thinking social media is a place to broadcast sales pitches about your products or services, which is not what it should be used for. Social media platforms are useful for building relationships and nurturing customers by posting content that interests them.

To learn how you should use social media for your business, check out my in depth blog about this topic.

6. Not Knowing How Search Engines Work

Search engine optimization is important for driving organic traffic to your site. It takes a lot of time and understanding to rank well in search engine results for the keywords that matter to your business or industry. For those need to see more immediate results, there’s PPC (Pay Per Click) services like Google Adwords that allows you to pay to place search engine ads for particular keywords.

The one thing you can’t do, however, is hack into Google to rank your website on top. Yes, just to be clear, you cannot hack into Google. A client I worked with, who obviously has no idea how this works, actually demanded our agency do this to help him outrank his competitor. To be fair, the average person isn’t going to know how it works but that’s why here to inform you in case you didn’t.

With that being said, don’t listen to those annoying telemarketing calls claiming they can get you on top of search rankings quickly. Actually, just ignore all calls that try to solicit services related to Google rankings or search engines.

7. Not Having Web Analytics

This is a mistake that many business owners are not even aware is a mistake, which is totally understandable. Not every business owner knows that Google offers a free service called Google Analytics that tracks valuable web traffic data on your website. It’s relatively easy to install so hopefully your webmaster has already done so.

Well now that you know, there is really no excuses to not having web analyitcs on your website. Make sure if you have someone putting a website together for you that they install Google Analytics to your site. What valuable information can you learn from having analytics on your site?

  • See what channels are driving traffic to your website to help guide your marketing decisions.
  • Identify problems with your website that may turn visitors away.
  • Learn the demographics and interests of the people who visit your website.

Navigating the Google Analytics interface is not easy for most, but having it installed allows you to collect valuable data that someone else can analyze for you. Custom reports can also be created to automatically send to your email so you don’t have to deal with it directly.

8. Lacking A Social Media Plan and Strategy

Social media is one of those things that many businesses are told to do just because it’s what you do nowadays. What ends up happening is you’re on every social media channel posting every other day with no clear direction. As a result, you get no results.

You don’t know if your efforts are effective because you don’t have a plan or process that measures success. For social media to be an effective marketing tool, it takes a good amount of time and planning for it to pay off in the long run.

I’ll admit, that when I first started off managing social media accounts for 10 different businesses, I didn’t really have a concrete plan or calendar. At this level, it can get hectic. Things went smoothly once a plan, strategy and calendar was set in place for each client.

As I mentioned in the first point about the basics, it start by knowing who you target market is. You want to establish your business goals and understand how social media specifically helps you reach those goals. For each goal, you need strategy and tactics. You also need to know what metric to track for you to know if your efforts are effective. Once all that is established, you’ll want to create a social media calendar before each month to map out when and what you want to post ahead of time.

It can definitely be time consuming but that’s how social media marketing needs to be approached if you’re serious about it.

9. Expecting Instant Results

With our technological advancements, we are accustomed to the fast life. Our attention spans and patience have run short. I’m here to tell you, unless you pay to play, don’t expect any online marketing activities to bring in an instant return on investment. Don’t forget that sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google make money on selling advertising to businesses of all sizes.

Unless something miraculous happens that causes you to go viral, chances are you’re not going to see any instant growth in business by just being on social media. Otherwise, you need to spend money or devote the right time.

Especially when you’re talking about search engine optimization and content marketing, it’s going to require a lot of patience. Sure, there are strategies and tactics to accelerate these processes but just don’t expect things to happen right away.

A client I worked for in the real estate industry didn’t quite get it. He kept expecting leads to pour in through social media. It goes without saying that the relationship didn’t last.

The point here is to know what to expect when when it comes to online marketing, especially if you do bring someone for that purpose. You have to keep expectations in check and know that good things take time.

10. Not Having a Website

What’s the most fundamental thing you can have online for your business? A website. Yet, nearly 50% of small business owners still do not have a website. Sure, not all small businesses need one to be successful. There are certainly a few industries that are not as dependent on a web presence as others. My friend’s dad is a successful holistic doctor without a website. But with many free and low cost options out there, it’s hard to justify not having one when the internet is such a core part of our society.

There are two big benefits from having a website.

First, it saves time. If you have all the info you need on your website, the less people will have to call in to take time away from the business to answer common questions.

Secondly, it can directly increase sales. A trend I’m noticing now is that people are more inclined to fill out an online lead form for a service they are interested in. People may want your products or services, they just don’t want to call. By not having a way for people to indicate interest on a website, you may be missing out on sales.

Many of us, including myself, tend to think that people are more comfortable with just calling on a phone but it seems that isn’t the case. This trend makes sense though with the popularity of texting and online messaging.