Business owners we talk to are often unsure how to get started in marketing.
This can be because they have either been taken advantage of by other marketing agencies, are just now getting ready to “take that next step,” or have little money to allocate to marketing.
Of course, we could pitch you on what we think your first step towards a solution should be. However, to someone who doesn’t know us, we’re just “another” marketing company (it hurts, but we get it!).
So, we’ve reached out to two local business owners to ask them some common questions we’ve heard. We asked things like how they knew when to start putting money in marketing, what they’ve used, how they know what works, and more.
We asked them both to answer honestly and to not hold back anything, even if it seems to be detrimental to hiring an agency.
Any edits will have [ ] around them and were only made for context, accuracy, or to correct grammar when necessary to understand their point.
Who we talked marketing with
The two business owners we surveyed are:
- Rob Partin, realtor and owner of Partin Real Estate
- Started his business in 2016 after spending time as an agent.
- His marketing tool kit: Google My Business, Google Ads, Search Engine Optimization, Facebook Ads and organic posts.
- Derek Lyons, owner of Garage Door Guy
- Started his business in 2015
- His marketing tool kit: Billboards, HomeAdvisor, Google Ads and Local Services, various directory listings, networking groups, Facebook Ads and organic posts.
Starting out with marketing
Venturing into anything new is scary. When it costs money and you have no experience to let you know what the outcome can truly be, that’s downright terrifying for some.
Partin felt he could take the risk because he didn’t have to answer to anyone but himself if it didn’t work out since his other agents are contracted.
He started off marketing himself with a billboard and his own cookie-cutter website (his words).
“It was really a tough time,” Partin said. “Nothing seemed to work when I was doing it myself. Then, I would hire someone but really all I was paying for was for them to run a website and they didn’t care if I didn’t get two hits.”
Conversely, Lyons started out in the digital marketing realm.
“Just from doing some research I knew that marketing and advertising would be the only way to get my name out there,” Lyons said. “In the beginning, I didn’t have any money. So, if anyone offered free advertising I took it.”
What’s the same in both situations is they both got started immediately.
“My phrase has always been, a customer can’t call you if they don’t know about you,” Lyons said. “So, from day one it was always about getting my name out there in any form or fashion.”
Finding marketing help
Whether you’re transitioning to paying someone to take over your marketing efforts or you’re going to outsource it right away, it can be difficult to pay the invoices without knowing exactly what you’ll be getting in return.
“It was scary paying those big amounts for a long time,” Partin said. “Any small business owner has to see a return on investment. And I had never seen it before.”
So, he tried to envision who would do the best job for him and he decided what would work best for him is another small business.
Even so, when he first ran into us he had his doubts. He’d heard everything before.
“[Eight] months ago, I was worried,” Partin said. “I told Gabe [co-owner of 2oddballs Creative], I’ll be transparent. If I’m not seeing what I want we’re going to change it up. But he said, ‘Let’s do this. Trust me here.’ And it’s worked.”
For Lyons, he was seeing success doing things on his own. However, it was starting to take his time and attention away from serving his customers.
“The only reason I have a marketing agency taking over my stuff is that I’m too busy to do it,” he said. “At some point, you’ll outgrow it and you’ll need the help.
“It’s worth it to me to have someone who does it for a living take over it for me.”
Of course, it could make sense to have someone in-house as well. As long as you know what you’re doing and are seeing your efforts provide a solid return.
For Partin, that wasn’t realistic. He spends 70 percent of his day out of the office.
“If I wanted to, I could justify paying someone 20 hours a week to come in here and do [my marketing],” he said. “But the flipside is now I lose time training them, I lose some of the [focus I could put elsewhere], and I have to pay them regularly.”
Where to spend time and money
There’s so many places to spend your money in marketing. Trying to decide where to begin can be confusing.
Lyons polled his fellow business owners and members of his networking groups.
“A lot of it was based on conversations with people and hearing what was working for them,” he said. “Google has been king for a long time so I knew that would be a major player. Facebook was one of those things that just took off. So, I was making posts and, as people would like those posts, I would click on their name and invite them to like the page. I was getting a ton of business from Facebook so it was one of those things where I saw what was working and I just pounded it.”
As for Partin, he knew he was going to have to rely on the experts.
“I’m not a marketing guy,” he admits. “I may be a creative weirdo, but I don’t do execution. And I’m not an I.T. guy, I’m not an online guy, and I’m really not a Facebook guy. I hustle houses.
“It’s taken time and a large investment but to see where it’s at today versus a year ago…man…it’s grown leaps and bounds. I would never consider anything different.”
How to know what works in marketing
Lyons understood fairly early that what works for one may, but also may not, work for another.
First, the businesses’ audiences may be vastly different and therefore may not be on the same platforms.
So, he knew keeping an open mind and being patient would be important.
“I try to go into things knowing that I don’t know everything,” Lyons said. “So, if someone tells me something, I’m going to think on it and chew on it. If it’s something applicable, I’ll apply it. I’ve seen a lot of people in business have the mindset of, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work.’ How do you know it’s not going to work? Have you talked to anyone else about it?”
Partin launched a new website with 2oddballs and also had to play the waiting game.
“I think we started our website and got it out in March and saw a little bit of results,” he said. “Those first few months were worrisome because there’s nothing that comes back immediately. It’s just terrifying because I don’t know if I will sell another house tomorrow, next week, or next month. When you’re a small business and working for yourself that’s tough.”
He didn’t have to wait and wonder too much longer.
“I don’t think I realized it until probably Thanksgiving or December when we normally slow down,” Partin said. “But we didn’t slow down. We just stayed steady. We had lots of referral and repeat business. But I kept questioning people I didn’t recognize and they would say they found me online. People were searching for real estate and finding us now.”
When asked how he knows when his marketing dollars are bringing him a return, Lyons needed few words.
“When my phone is ringing.”
Honestly, though, he’s more deliberate about keeping track of what’s working.
“We have a tracking number we create in our [client relationship management system],” Lyons said. “So, let’s say we create a new phone number for our Google Ads account. So, when people call that number it shows up on our screen that it’s coming from a Google Ads account. We have one for Yelp, Facebook, yard signs, we have one for everything. I get monthly reports to my email telling me how many calls came from what and it also tracks the revenue through that so I can see exactly what’s making us money.”
Why it’s important to invest in marketing
When your business has a little extra money it can be hard to spend it on marketing instead of extra product, another employee, or whatever else it is your business might need.
However, marketing deserves to be in consideration.
“Honestly, you’re reinvesting in your business either way you go,” Lyons said. “If you invested in a product, you’re reinvesting in your company. If you’re investing it into marketing, you’re reinvesting in your company. Marketing is just another wing on the plane. It’s not separate. It’s altogether. Even when we were dead busy and couldn’t take on any work, we were still advertising because I knew there would be a day we aren’t busy and would need the customer.”
Present day, he’s got a strategy for several mediums.
“What’s that rule? I think it’s three touch points that a customer has to have before they call you,” Partin said. “That’s how I look at it. How many touch points do I have? If a customer has seen me on a billboard, if they’ve seen me on a TV, and if they’ve seen me on Google they’re a lot more likely to call me than if they just see one of my ads on Google. Then they’re like, ‘Oh, wow. Everywhere I go this guy is there.’“
Free and cheap marketing
A lot of times we hear, or simply observe, that businesses rely on foot traffic and word-of-mouth to keep their business alive.
Even if you don’t have a lot to put into marketing, there’s plenty of things you can still do.
“One of the things I researched before I started my company said reviews were super important,” Lyons said. “So, literally, from the day I started the company I was asking people before I left their house, Hey, I appreciate you as a customer. Is there any chance of you leaving a review for my company?”
As of the writing of this article, Garage Door Guy has 372 reviews.
He’s got rivals who have been in business for over 30 years that are just now catching on to what’s working for him.
Other tips on free or cheap marketing from Lyons and Partin:
- Networking groups
- Organic social posts (determine which social platforms your target audience use most)
- Social media ads or boosting posts (You don’t have to spend much money at first to reach hundreds or thousands more people, even if you do it infrequently)
- Google My Business (Lyons said he gets 80 calls per month through this)
- Online business directories and review sites
“There’s tons of free marketing avenues out there that you don’t have to pay a cent for that can make money for you and get your phone ringing,” Lyons said. “You just have to put in the leg work and create the listings.”