Every single vendor out there is telling you to spend your marketing budget with their company, claiming that . Given that budget is limited, and options are almost infinite, where should a small business spend their marketing budget to get the most return on investment?

While the decision may be different from business to business, there are some over-arching principles that generally apply to everyone. Keep reading for the top areas to spend, and the top areas to splurge!


Where not to spend your money

  • Review Companies (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.): These companies will promise so much and deliver so little. Goods review are essentially a pay-to-play game, and their sales reps will make this clear. If at all possible, punt on this question if they want to love. Depending on the company, a firm “no” could mean your good reviews disappear, and a “yes” simply costs more than it’s worth. Avoid these conversations if at all possible.
  • Generic PPC: Many vendors (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc.) with ad platforms will offer you a “free” credit to try out their ad platform. While there is money to be made with broad-reaching PPC advertising, it takes some skill to make it profitable. There are people whose full-time job is to successfully set up PPC campaigns for businesses, and doing it right takes this kind of commitment. If you’re looking for a DIY form of marketing, just throwing money at whatever platform catches your attention is probably not going to deliver you a positive ROI (But keep reading the section below for one method of PPC advertising that will work for your business, and is fairly easy to setup!)
  • Marketing Agencies: While there is a time and place for bringing in an agency, for most SMBs the resulting sales from lift in effectiveness that an agency provides will not even come close to paying their fees. The reality is they drive value for companies with very high volumes of sales and traffic. They drive value when you’ve already set up a robust marketing program, and you’re looking for minor improvements. Would a 3% lift in business be worth a $45,000 fee? If so, go this direction. Otherwise: Do this stuff on your own. As an aside: I’ve got nothing against agencies— that’s where I’ve worked for the last few year; it just isn’t the right choice for smaller businesses.

Where you should spend your money

  • Marketing Automation: Paying a little bit for a solid marketing automation platform is a good idea. This one piece of technology will give you the tools to deliver a top-tier marketing program for your customers. While some of the higher-end solutions, prices can be easiy $2000+ a month, for most SMBs there are some great solutions in the $50-$200 a month price range.
  • Retargeting PPC advertising: Retargeting is serving up ads to users who visit your website at some point, but don’t end up purchasing. This kind of PPC advertising has some of the best return on investment of any advertising spend. Essentially, you’re talking to users who already showed an interest in your site, so they tend to click and convert to customers at a much higher rate than generic PPC advertising targets do. A spend as low as $20-$30 a month can still get you some great results, but depending on the amount of traffic you get and the number of ad networks, you can spend up to $500 a month.
  • Good graphic design: Graphic design is not easy to DIY; and graphics will make a big difference in your marketing efforts. There are great graphic designers our there across a variety of price points. At one end of the pay-scale is contractors on a site like Fiverr.com who offer design services for under $100. Its a bit hit-and-miss, and you’ll often find yourself trying out 3 or 4 on there before you find one you like; but you can save quite a bit if you’re willing to do that. There are professionals that can be hired for $500-$1500 depending on what you’re looking to design if you are willing to pay for the convenience. Keep in mind: Graphic design is an art. Be willing to shop around. Ask to see portfolios, try out over a few months a few different designers. Most of all: Be willing to let the graphic designer do their thing. Give them direction and your vision, but if you’ve found one that produces good work, avoid micro-managing them. What they come up with with probably be more appealing to your audience than what you do.
  • Research and Education: Getting someone to do something for you can be pricey; and you’re often paying for a lot of expertise that you don’t need. Your goal is to get the basics working well: Nailing the basics gets you 80% of the results for 20% of the investment. To this end: Do the easy 20% yourself. Spend money on courses & books that may help you do it yourself. To that end, an absolute must have book for marketing messaging is this book: Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

What about you? Leave a comment below on something that’s been a great marketing choice (or share a bad experience of wasted money for something that didn’t pan out)!

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