Is Your Small Business Failing? How to Determine If Bad Marketing Is the Problem

About half of small businesses fail in their first five years. But they shouldn’t fail because of bad marketing. The big uncertainty is whether people need your product. That trumps everything. Even bad marketing can’t kill a product, if it fills a need. But if people don’t need it, the world’s best marketing isn’t going to save it. In my book, “The CEO’s Guide to Marketing,” I explain how to tell the difference.

When my wife Robin and I started our marketing agency from our laundry room more than 30 years ago, it was pretty much just the two of us. I know what it’s like to do everything yourself, from accounting and sales to stuffing envelopes. We learned by doing, and made our share of mistakes along the way because we weren’t experts at many tasks that needed to be done. You’re probably nodding your head, right?

Now that we’ve made a success of our business, I’ll let you in on an ugly little secret: Most marketers don’t know much about marketing. They don’t understand if their actions are causing a sales problem or accelerating the product’s natural lifecycle.

The truth is that when you use a good marketing process, you’ll find out faster if a product is floundering because no one really wants it. You’ll be able to cut your losses sooner. I wish I’d learned this earlier in my career. It would have spared me a lot of frustration!

One of the best ways to tell if your marketing process is effective is to ask yourself these questions:

“Was your messaging on point?”

“Was your product positioned correctly so that it resonated with the right people?”

“Did you follow a marketing calendar, and cycle through your messaging and promotional mix as planned?”

If you can honestly respond yes to all these questions, and your product didn’t sell, then you can truthfully say marketing is not to blame.

Small business owners are typically short on time. My book, which is fully illustrated, takes about 90 minutes to read. In it, I outline a six-step process called Strategically Aimed Marketing, or SAM 6 for short. This process will improve your marketing by helping you stay focused and on track.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone helping with your marketing, make sure they also read and understand the SAM 6 process so you’re speaking the same language and understand the same end-points. It’s not difficult and once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature.

You’ll learn a lot about promoting your product by following the SAM 6 steps:

  1. You’ll gain competence in marketing concepts and principles. Lawyers can define legal terms. Physicians know the difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. You’ll learn the marketing principles and concepts that will lead to your becoming a more effective marketer.
  2. You’ll learn how to create code sheets. These are a means of gathering and documenting the most information about your business and products that will resonate most with your buyers.
  3. You’ll learn how to select the optimum promotional mix channels. The promotional mix channels are publicity, website, advertising, social media and personal selling. Which ones you use, and how often you use them, will depend on your market, your resources and your messaging. Small businesses, for example, may tell their stories through websites, social media, publicity and advertising.
  4. You’ll get instructions for creating a schedule calendar. This will teach you how to organize your products and messages according to which ones should get the most attention, while staying within your budget.
  5. It will walk you through creating a control template. Not every small business owner is a great writer, even though you may be thrust into that role. Using a template will help you create on-point, attention-getting content.
  6. You’ll get pointers on assembling your creative team. Your team’s composition will, of course, depend a lot on your budget. Once you know what you want to say, and where you want to say it, you’ll have a clear idea of the skills needed. You may need a writer, a graphic artist and someone to help with PR. As your business grows, it may be more efficient to outsource this work to professionals who do this for a living. That way, you can continue to spend your time where you’re most effective.

This simple SAM 6 marketing process helps small business owners stay on point. We’ve also made free SAM 6 tools available on our website,, as well as a companion manual with practical tips and advice.

After serving as CEO of Media Relations Agency for 30+ years, and working with hundreds of clients, I can verify that companies following a logical marketing process tend to get the most results for their dollars.

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