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10 Small Business Marketing Mistakes You Should Avoid

Updated: May 11, 2023

On average, almost 80% of leads you receive will never convert into sales. This is compounded if you are conducting your small business marketing without a strong marketing strategy. However, there is a catch: Most small business owners skew that percentage downward by making wasteful marketing decisions that are easily avoidable. Even those with a solid strategy in mind could end up making costly mistakes.

We are going to do you a favor and lay out the 10 small business marketing mistakes you should avoid in 2023.

Girl overlooking a mountain contemplating business problems

By dodging these mistakes, you can work smarter and focus your hard work in areas that will actually grow your business this year. With a sound strategy you can boost brand awareness and generate fresh leads, but with this knowledge in mind you can also CLOSE those leads into sales.

Get ahead of the curve this year! Set yourself up for success by avoiding these 10 costly marketing mistakes.


1. Never Setting SMART Goals

How can you accomplish your business goals if you don't know what they are first? Are your marketing goals in line with your business goals, too? If you feel like a deer in the headlights just by reading those sentences, then it’s likely you’re either a victim of this mistake or are at risk of making it soon.

It is entirely possible to start making marketing mistakes before you even start marketing.

In order to determine which marketing strategies to use, you need to consider your goals. From a top down view, what do you want to accomplish in 2023?

Business owner writing down her SMART goals

For example, maybe you have a few of these in mind:

  • Attract more website traffic

  • Generate more leads

  • Become a thought leader in your industry

  • Boost brand awareness

  • Grow brand trust and loyalty

  • Increase your customer base

These items are very broad, and each has several pathways to achieve each one.

You can achieve these goals with a targeted, goal specific marketing strategy. As a limited example, maybe you’re asking yourself “How do I grow my website’s traffic?” The most common answers would be to consider using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. Individually, both can certainly aid you in accomplishing your broad goal; with the point being there are often multiple answers to any given goal.

You may have noticed that we have been slipping in some words thus far all related to “broad” or ”generic”. The purpose of this is to contrast the main point of this mistake: failure to setting SMART goals.

Dad and baby fist bumping over a dad joke
Dad Joke Fist Bump

Impending Dad joke warning:

It’s smart to make SMART goals!

To make your goals SMART, make sure they meet the following criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-driven, Timely.

For example, for the broad goal of generating more leads we would execute the SMART goal process. We may end up with: "Generate 30% more qualified leads by the fourth quarter of 2023."

SMART Goal Breakdown:

  1. Specific: 30%

  2. Measurable: Percent increase in leads

  3. Attainable: In this example 30% is realistic

  4. Results-driven: Qualified leads over unqualified

  5. Timely: We have set a timeline of Q4 2023

a group of friends playing spikeball
Strategy and Fun!

Without SMART goals, however, you could fail to choose the right small business marketing strategies for your business. In our example above, the common pitfall would be to simply seek leads as a whole. Setting your sights instead on “qualified” leads ensures that when you decide to pursue a marketing avenue, you do so with the proper audience in mind.

Think something along the lines of running a lead generation campaign with the keyword set as “Vascular Surgeon Near Me” instead of simply “Doctors <your city>.” If you’re a vascular surgeon running a “doctors Charlotte, NC” campaign you’ll likely receive a ton more leads, but they are not results-driven because most of them will not be searching for your specialty.

2. Wasting Cash by Targeting Everyone

This leads us right into the next common small business mistake: wasting marketing budget going after everyone instead of your target market. Your customers are distinct. If you want to create a strong small business marketing strategy, take the time to understand your customers. Avoid simply target every consumer under the sun.

two rows of archery targets
Refine Your Targets

Do you truly know who your customers are? We don’t just mean the simplified version such as: “a homeowner with an HVAC problem.” You need to be much more specific; even going so far as to create unique targets for each of your product offerings.

As a good example, let us assume we have a customer looking for annual maintenance for their Air Conditioning Unit. If you were to openly target all consumers, what does that look like? Wrapped up in the mix would be renters, people living with their parents, or maybe even hitting people only in town on vacation. Either way, you'd be wasting advertising dollars on demographics who have no need of your product.

To refine this example to be a bit more manageable, let’s only look at cost tolerance. If you were to target all valid, potential consumers, yet your product is more premium in quality than that of your competition, you may end up spending far too much marketing budget chasing after consumers who are cheap, and cost cutting. It wouldn’t make much sense to spend on an ad targeting someone who likely can’t even afford your services.

An image showing an example of google analytics demographics

Google Analytics and other similar tools aid you in determining who your customers are. They can help you identify your customers based on demographics like age, gender, marital status, location, and household income.

As an added bonus and as sound advertising design, you could also add on an emotional strategy as well. Things like “What problems do they face every day? What are their interests? What about buying behaviors?” Then target how your product or service can help solve those problems.

Many companies make the mistake of crafting marketing messages without an audience in mind or assume their brand appeals to everyone.

female college student studying in a cafe

Once you know your customer “personas” you can then attach them to your product offerings. There may be some overlap, but likely some of your products will appeal to one persona, but not another. So don’t waste valuable budget marketing to both. The strategy you use to target female college students will likely differ from a strategy for a father of five.

Understand what your customers need. Then, use personalization to reach those specific customers. Personalization can help you connect with your target audience. Your customers will see you care about their problems. Then, they'll rely on you for solutions.

3. Not Researching Marketing Trends

Not unlike technology, and often because of it, marketing trends change all the time. If your business is not up-to-date with the latest trends, you're officially falling behind. Which means consumers might choose a competitor that IS up-to-date and relevant instead.

You must look into the trends for each marketing tool that you're using.

SEO spelled out with playful letters
The Ultimate Acronym

For example, Google's search engine algorithm changes constantly throughout the year. Right in this moment, do you know what Google looks for when it crawls and indexes your website? Even if you’re not that one operating your website’s SEO, you must research algorithm shifts or other changes to at the very least hold your SEO company accountable. Too often do we encounter small businesses who are paying their SEO company $1,000/Month for a strategy that’s far outdated.

Luckily, if you’re with a reputable SEO company they often will send you regular knowledge updates to ensure that you are aware of the changes. They should also be updating you on how they are changing their strategy to meet the new guidelines. If they aren’t, it may be time to find a new provider.

A demonstration of augmented reality marketing
Imagine the Business Potential

Lately, virtual and augmented reality are becoming more popular as a means to creatively advertise. If you’re following trends you can be one of the first to use both to help people interact with your products and services. As you create content, make sure to keep up with new formats.

Another example: Video content is becoming more popular as well. In fact, about 72% of people prefer videos over text when learning about your business. Meanwhile, adding videos on landing pages can boost conversions by 86%.

If you're not keeping up with trends like augmented reality marketing, you’re missing opportunities to boost your business!

4. Forgetting Call-to-Actions in Your Marketing

Avoid the common marketing mistake of forgetting a call-to-action (CTA). A strong, effective CTA is impactful and compelling. Make sure it's specific and directs readers to complete a desired action, such as filling out a contact form.

Out of the Box Advisors website showing a call to action

Take a moment and look at your business’ website. On your homepage, how many times do you specifically ask the user to take an action that benefits the business? At the very least you should have a CTA as part of your website’s header or navigation bar. You want to make it easy for them to reach you.

And for those of you who are sitting smug because your website has a CTA every third word… having them doesn’t mean that you’re executing them effectively. Each one should be designed to be subtle, yet powerful. You must first give them a compelling argument to want to take action. Some text or video describing your services followed by an easy, well-design CTA.

clever and witty HVAC call to action

Calls to action are not exclusive to your website either. Whenever you’re designing a print ad, postcard, or even your trade show booth you must incorporate a CTA.

Sign with a Call To Action of being awesome

Also, don’t forget to custom tailor the CTA to the marketing medium. It would be quite silly to have a trade show booth with “call today” pasted all over the place while you’re also paying a representative to work that booth. Why would you want them to call you and walk by the booth instead of walking up and talking to “you” directly?

It is not enough to simply have an amazing small business; you must both communicate how awesome you are, but also invite the customer to take action to experience your awesomeness.

5. Not Setting Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Key Performance Indicators or KPIs combine the M and R of your SMART Goals: They are always Measurable in some way and tied to the Results your goal is aiming to achieve. KPIs are the accountability functions within your business. Otherwise without them, how will you track your progress?

“How do you know what to do, if you don't know what you did?” -One of Our Hero's: Tony Horton

Picture of a patients vitals on a monitor

An effective KPI will always be tied back to a specific metric, oftentimes revenue. Think of your KPIs like the business version of a health monitor you’d see on a patient in the hospital. They represent the EKG, EEG, Pulse-Ox, BP, etc. which all embody the vitality of the patient. KPI’s are measured data points that indicate the vitality of your business. Setting and monitoring KPIs is just as important to your business’ health as it would be for that patient.

To elaborate, let’s say you want to add more customers, gain more leads, and increase customer satisfaction. Each of those goals directly translate into the primary “health” metric of revenues. If any of these three here go up, so too will revenues.

Let’s look at a basic example: The KPI that represents Customer Satisfaction will be something like “average survey results”, typically on a 1-10 scale. You utilize the KPI, average survey results, to determine if your customer’s satisfaction is increasing or decreasing over time. Not unlike an erratic EKG, if this number starts to dip, you’ll know immediately that something is awry within your business. This empowers you with an early warning system and allows you to be proactive to resolve issues before they become catastrophic.

Dog wearing glasses appearing to read a magazine
Who's a good boy?

Your goal is to raise customer satisfaction and you measure it with satisfaction surveys. But why is customer satisfaction a goal in the first place? It’s fairly obvious, if you raise customer satisfaction, you can reasonably assume that revenues will also increase over time. Same could be said if your lead count or customer count increases, right? That’s exactly what makes them Key Performance Indicators.

Set a specific set of KPIs for each of your SMART goals. Review the data every month to make sure you're on the right track. If you aren’t constantly monitoring your KPI’s, then their use to you is basically null.

6. Abusing Social Media

Social media is obviously an effective strategy for reaching and communicating with your customers. Unfortunately, it is absolutely possible for a small business to abuse this method.

Baby holding a plastic shovel
or Baby Shovels Too

First things first, let’s establish what social media should be doing for your business. If you don’t understand the usefulness of social media to your business, then it is highly likely you’ll be inadvertently abusing it.

Try to imagine something like using a spoon to dig a ditch. Technically a spoon is just a miniature shovel, but it’s not designed to dig ditches. As ridiculous as this sounds, this is exactly how most small businesses use social media.

The primary purpose of social media with respect to your marketing efforts should be to gain Brand Awareness, as well as having a medium for you to interact with your customers in a non-sales capacity. Posting fun milestones of your business, like a grand opening for instance, or having an outlet for customers to easily talk to you.

An ad on facebook
Not Many Buy Direct From Social Media

Gaining sales directly from social media should never be your primary purpose of utilizing the platforms. You can absolutely craft ads or pay-per-click strategies, but those should be kept distinctly separate from your main goals.

Look, we all use social media. Be honest with us, how many times have you bought a product from a page who posts “sales-y” posts day after day after day? We’d guess a big whopping zero, right? So, why in the world would you think it's going to work for you small business?

Posts should be fun and relating in some way, and if you can sneak in a CTA or sales pitch in some way then so be it. But that CTA needs to be subtle and doesn’t distract from the main purpose of the post.

As an example: You’re posting a picture of an employee receiving a cake for their birthday. Which one of these CTA seems more integrated to a non-abusive social media strategy:

Birthday cake with cacti on it.

1. “We want to wish Jane a Happy Birthday! CALL Bridget’s Plumbing NOW to set and appointment!”


2. “We want to wish Jane a Happy Birthday! Make sure you call and wish her a happy birthday, too!”

The first one’s CTA makes the post read as if you’re just abusing Jane’s birthday as an excuse to pitch a sales call. You don’t actually care about Jane, you just care about getting a sale.

Whereas the second one still encourages the reader to call you, but now it has the upbeat, feel-good of calling to wish Jane a happy birthday. Not only do you come off far more caring for Jane, but you’re also building good will with your followers. People will begin to view you as a caring business, giving you a leg up against your soulless competition. Plus, once you have them on the phone wishing Jane a happy birthday, you can still hopefully find a way to schedule a service.

A group of ladies crossing a marathon finish line
Social Media is a Marathon

Oh! Create a distinct social media marketing strategy for each platform, too. People behave differently on Facebook versus LinkedIn. Understanding each platform will help you reach customers on each one.

The best way to avoid abusing social media is to keep in mind that it’s more of a long game. Brand Recognition does ultimately translate into sales, but it also takes time to develop. Of the two posts above, which one would you likely remember the most?

7. Never Retargeting or Asking for Referrals

Ultimately this item comes down to capitalizing on traffic or customers that you’ve already interacted with. It is immensely cheaper to target past customers or website visitors than it is to generate new ones. Many times, small businesses direct their valuable cash to constantly attracting new customers rather than leveraging the ones they have.


Do you know what happens when someone leaves your website without completing a purchase? Did you know that there are ways to track and bring them back? Not many small business use retargeting; largely because they are unaware that it exists. Retargeting (or re-marketing) gives you a second chance with previous website visitors.

A advertisement from remarketing on facebook
Remarketing Found on FaceBook

You’ve likely experienced this in some way. Whenever you go to an online retailer and then say hit your favorite news site only to find an advertisement for the item you were just looking at on the other site… that’s retargeting!

Remember the Stance ad we used above? Because we clicked on it for this article, there is now a retargeting advertisement showing up on FaceBook.

One company experienced a 1,300% ROI in six months using a re-marketing campaign. A.K.A it works!

Similar to the those display ads mentioned above is another retargeting tool called Abandoned Cart Marketing. Basically, it’s a designed process to remind your visitors they have items in their cart by sending them an email(s). This is a simple and often free way to give a potential sale that little nudge it needed to convert.

Retargeting campaigns can remind consumers of their previous interest, then draw them back to your website to make a purchase. Failure to implement at least some sort of retargeting is a very common small business marketing mistake.

Asking for the Referral:

Similar to reaching back out to your website visitors, you should be constantly interacting with your current customer base. To be more specific, it is best to have a process in place that proactively asks your customers for referrals. After all, these are the persons who have experienced your product or service first hand. Who better to market your business?

business asking a customer to refer a friend
Do it! Ask for a referral!

That’s old school word-of-mouth marketing, with a little bit of a push by you.

Determine a good place within your sale process to reach out to your customers. It certainly depends on your specific business, but typically you would do so a short period after the sales process has concluded.

Think along the lines of sending them a simple post card thanking them for their business with a CTA (see above!) asking for the referral. You may want to consider adding in an incentive of some sort, i.e. “Refer a Friend and Receive $100!”

8. Overlooking the Power of Emails

Chances are you’ve attempted or currently operate some sort of email marketing. MailChimp and Constant Contact are big and cheap for a reason. The question is: Are you harnessing the true power that emails can deliver for your small business?

The vast majority of small businesses that do attempt email marketing use it only for sending the occasional newsletter or basic offer. While these are certainly items you should be doing, it is nowhere near the full potential of email marketing.

Let’s go through a top-level review of a few things you should be doing that you might not be, in order to avoid overlooking the power of email:

Customer On-boarding:

small business owners getting on a plane
On-boarding... get it?

If you’ve closed a sale or scheduled a service with a customer already, then you should be leveraging your email tools to integrate those customers into your business’ “family.”

Perhaps you’re a service-based company. A great on-boarding email might be an explanation of the service process. What should the customer expect when you arrive? What are the 1-2-3’s of the service? This will help ease the customer’s nervousness as well as giving you a jump start of rapport with them. As an added bonus, if your employee deviates from the standard process, you’ll be more likely to be made aware by the customer; empowering you to hold your technicians accountable for their service quality.

Customer Exiting:

cute wooden sign that says exit

Similar to the on-boarding process, this email would be used during the end of the customer life cycle. Again, you could simply thank them for their business as well as incorporating some form of seeking the next sale. Asking for a referral perhaps?

Referral Requests:

Somewhere between on-boarding and exiting, you should squeeze in your referral request emails. They are active customers and have recently experienced your product or service. Plus, with you creating a thoughtful, fun on-boarding process you’ve already wowed them to the point that they would love to refer you, right?

Customer Re-engagement:

customer writing appointment on their calander

As part of your KPIs, you’ll likely be watching the average time between sales for a customer. Using email marketing to reduce the time between sales from the same customer is an obvious way to create new revenues that otherwise would be left to chance.

A good example of this would be a doctor’s practice sending out emails to remind the patient that it is time to schedule their next check-up.

Make sure to add compelling CTA’s to your emails. Link the button to a specially designed landing page on your website to maximize the chance of a sale. And always use conversion tracking to determine how many visits started from your email campaigns.

As you create an email campaign, don't forget to highlight the purpose of the email. Why should they click on your CTA and visit your website? What are you offering them that they can't find anywhere else? Using your unique value proposition within your marketing strategies can help you boost leads and conversions.

Personalize your emails, too. You can segment your subscription list based on your buyers’ personas.

a personalized thank you message with a lady on the beach
Always try to personalize your message!

9. Neglecting Your Current Customers

You've put a lot of time and effort into attracting new customers. Once you have them, don't forget to nurture and even grow them. Neglecting your current customer base and allowing them to seek your competition ensures that you’ll have to spend more cash attracting new customers.

nurturing hands holding a blue butterfly
Nurturing Never Hurts

By nurturing previous customers, you can turn them into repeat customers. Improving your retention rate, another solid choice for a KPI, can improve your company's ROI on any marketing efforts.

Find ways to reach out to your existing customers. You can segment them into a specific email group, but you should frame it as a special club of sorts. Then, you can regularly send them ‘club’ exclusive coupons as a thank you as an example.

There is a reason that car companies generally have a product line that usually includes an entry level vehicle. Something like the CLA-Class for Mercedes. It is a product designed specifically to attract young professionals into the brand. They then spend that time to nurture the relationships so that as the professionals move up in their careers, they will purchase larger, more expensive Mercedes vehicles in the future.

Civil engineer surveying land
Wrong kind of survey

You can also send surveys to these customers in order to improve your small business marketing strategy. This is a great way to make your customers feel like they are integral to your business’ growth and success. Empower them to give you constructive criticism or perhaps they’ll tip you off to your next hit product?

As a side note, ALWAYS act on that constructive criticism. Even if you feel that the customer is mistaken in some way, at the very least let them know that you heard them and thank them for their comments. Never downplay or ignore the voice of your customers.

10. Never Outsourcing to Reduce Your Workload

You don't have to launch, develop, and grow your small business completely alone. You’re an entrepreneur—we all know that you’re basically Superwoman, so there’s no reason to exhaust yourself trying to prove it. Instead, consider calling in someone who specializes in an area of your business who possesses the knowledge you need to succeed—especially in areas you know aren’t your forte.

a compass that points to the word outsourcing
Work Smarter, Not Harder

Working with a marketing agency for your website, IT company for your computers / phones, a payroll company for your employment items, or small business coach to guide your strategy could save you valuable time and effort.

One of, if not THE, largest small business mistakes is to attempt to do all your marketing yourself. Honestly, you could be a marketing genius in your own right, but when you’re also split wearing 10 other hats, your marketing prowess is bound to suffer.

Your mind would be completely blown if you knew how many small businesses that we’ve interacted with have an exceptional business, but their website rivals the quality of a MySpace page. Often times the allure of a free Squarespace or Wordpress site sucks in a cost-conscious small business owner.

A small business website mocked up

Having a website designed certainly isn’t cheap, especially when you’re just starting out and on a budget. But, we can absolutely, positively assure you that this is one of the areas you cannot afford to skimp. From layout to the literal word choices, everything affects your SEO and the ability for your potential customers to find you.

This item also applies to those well-established small businesses as well. Hiring an internal marketing manager or website team is rarely the best bang for the buck. As a small business owner, you’re well aware of how competition affects your decisions. A marketing agency or web design company also has the constant threat of competition driving them to provide the best product at the lowest price. An employee only has their job to lose, not their lifelong work growing a business from scratch.

Always consider outsourcing your workload. Chances are high that the end result product will be much higher quality. And even in the rare instance where the quality of the work is somewhat equitable, the ability for you as the business owner to spend that saved time focusing on more critical business items will almost always pay dividends.

At the very least, getting a fresh perspective can help you avoid making costly mistakes with your marketing.

guy standing on mountain breathing in fresh air
Fresh Air and Fresh Perspectives

Set Up for Success: 10 Small Business Marketing Mistakes to Always Avoid

Now that you’ve been made aware of them, make sure that you avoid these small business marketing mistakes! Instead, set yourself up for success in 2023 by developing a smart marketing strategy. With a strong strategy (and help from the pros), you can reach more customers than ever before!

Out of the Box Advisors was founded to exclusively aid small businesses avoid mistakes like those listed here. If you have any questions about these or other problems that you may be facing with your business, make sure you schedule a consultation.

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