6 steps for better small business budgeting

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I say it’s all in the planning:

To realise the best from your marketing budget first requires an understanding of what exactly marketing means for you and your business, and for your customers. Because in times of tough economics, intense competition, or limited budgets, ‘marketing’, in a general sense, tends to get pushed to the end of the list.

More often than not it’s the costlier stuff we immediately associate with marketing – advertising, pr, fun stuff and events, sponsorship, snazzy literature…

Actually, all that activity happens – or should happen – much further along the marketing continuum. Because as a management process, marketing starts way, way earlier. I’d go so far as to say that real, effective marketing starts even before the beginning. By that I mean it starts with a concept, research, a customer, a strategy and a plan of action. Only then can you be truly ready to make the activity happen. And it doesn’t stop there – because next there’s feedback, follow up, measurement and analysis, and review… to start the process all over again.

When you look at marketing as an overall process, it’s easier to figure out what investment is needed where, and when; and what can be done with the very bones of your business – using existing resources.

So rather than look at your marketing budget as an advertising or similar activity price list, have a think about building in planning, resource and time elements for a truer picture of your marketing spend.

Here are a few things you might wish to consider:

  1. Set clear objectives
  • What is your offering, to who (target market), and what do you need it to do for you – profit, brand awareness, customer growth, engagement, exit strategy etc.
  1. Get your message straight
  • Test, test and test again for clarity and sense. What you hear yourself saying can be very different to what your audience hears.
  1. Set goals
  • Not dissimilar to setting objectives, but think of this on a different scale. These are tangible things – like how many customers do you want to sign every month? What element of the service do you want to focus on most? What balance do you want in your bank account at the end of the quarter? How much time do you want to spend in your business, on your business, or away from your business etc. Once you can visualise your goal, it’s easier to visualise a way to reaching them.
  1. Review your existing processes
  • Doing this is a useful exercise – it helps efficiency and time saving, but also a good reminder of what the customer experiences… and you definitely need to ensure that your processes are robust enough to cope with increased customer demand.
  1. Make a plan
  • Yes, it will take time, so there is a cost attached to this. You may even look to the outside world to get help with it, so there is a financial element potentially. But once it’s done the first time, you have a blueprint going forward that only needs to be revised on a periodic basis; you also have a benchmark document to compare with as time goes on; and you have gone through a conscious process of thinking through the elements of your business and mapping them out – which makes the whole thing more tangible amazingly… and easier to stick to.
  1. Consider a menu of marketing activity
  • mix your platforms and timings of campaigns to get maximum impact
  • remember free options are not always most cost effective… and just because it is free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing for your business
  • choose what is authentic for your business… it’s a menu, not an entire shopping list

And there you have it. A little time and mental energy spent up front can shave so much off your eventual budget – thanks to making sure that your message fits your objectives, which fit with your market. And with some thoughtful, realistic planning, your processes won’t let you down either – which means that your customers’ positive experience will encourage repeat business, but also turn them into loyal advocates for your business.  And that’s something that money can’t buy.

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