5 Marketing Missteps That Make Cash Flow and Business Growth Stumble
I am often confused by the decisions normally very smart entrepreneurs make when it comes to marketing and sales, and growing their companies. It's as though logic flies out the window and emotions rule the day when we start talking about sales and marketing.
Of course, I'm not suggesting entrepreneurs need to be perfect -- in fact, I personally made one of these mistakes last year. My issue is with the entrepreneur who doesn't realize when they are screwing up and continues to let their mistakes hurt their business's long-term ability to grow.
I recently read a study that looked at businesses' cash flow. It found that only 12 percent of businesses never have a cash flow issue. That means 12 percent of businesses can consistently pay their bills, pay themselves, and have profits left over. Of the others, 47 percent of businesses say that cash flow is sometimes a problem, and 41 percent of businesses surveyed said cash flow was a consistent problem.
To be fair, this study didn't publish any additional info about the business owners -- for example, did all of these businesses have less than $1 million in annual revenue? If so, I would assume those businesses would have greater cash flow issues than a group of businesses at $1million-plus in revenue. For this discussion, let's assume this is accurate (based on my experience of working with small businesses, it is pretty close). How do you fix a cash flow issue for any business?
The interesting thing is that in the vast majority of cases, your marketing is linked to cash flow issues. The mistakes many entrepreneurs are making with marketing, sales and business growth are the same five mistakes that are causing their cash flow issue.
1. Not making customer retention a priority in your marketing strategy
I'm going to start with the one that is most near and dear to my heart: customer retention. You don't have to use a newsletter to grow and maintain retention (although that is a good idea). But, you do have to do something, and that something needs its own budget. Retention is not a portion of the marketing budget. Without customers, your business is worth just about zero.
The reason so many businesses struggle to grow is they invest nothing in retention. These normally smart entrepreneurs have deluded themselves into thinking that their product and services are so amazing and life-changing that people will continue to buy over and over again without prompting.
So what lie do these same entrepreneurs tell themselves when they have 3.5 percent year-over-year revenue growth? Tens of thousands -- maybe even hundreds of thousands -- of dollars spent on marketing, and only 3.5 percent year-over-year revenue growth? If you're a large retail chain, that isn't bad, but for dentists, lawyers, financial advisors, or anyone in a service-based business, that is far from good.
Starting today, you must have a customer retention budget. Use the budget to increase retention, and from there, upsell the existing customers. The longer a customer is with you, the greater the chance for a referral. Their customer lifetime value goes up, too.
Done correctly, your retention campaign can increase sales and create more prospects. Regardless of how you use it, you must have a retention budget.
2. Getting bored with things that make you money
As entrepreneurs, we are prone to getting bored, and that even happens with our marketing. Regardless of how well it is working, we get bored with it and want to try something new. This is a toxic practice on many levels. I understand wanting to try something new, but you never cancel marketing that is working (even if it isn't exactly crushing it) to try an unproven new thing. When people do this, they are basically saying, "I hate money."
How many times have you tried a marketing program, only to have it not work out as promised or as quickly as promised? Do not cancel good marketing to chase unicorns. You can also call this tendency "shiny object syndrome." It's particularly severe when it comes to hip cutting-edge marketing tactics, like influencer marketing.
If you want to try something new, create a budget and try it. Don't kill a pipeline of incoming cash to drill for a hopefully more profitable pipeline, because when it doesn't work, you are screwed. If you can't afford the new marketing without killing the old marketing that is working, then you shouldn't be starting the new campaign until you figure out how to pay for it.
These are two huge mistakes that I see small-business owners make all the time that destroy your cash flow.
3. Not investing enough money into marketing
I was chatting with a dentist from the greater New York area a while ago, who claimed to be getting patients with this one type of marketing for about $175 each. That is good in the greater New York area because of all the competition. However, just because you hit a home run doesn't mean you can expect to hit a home run every time you're up to bat. In that area, it costs $250–$450 to get a new patient in the door.
You will never grow if you're not willing to invest a realistic amount per new customer. I've chatted with entrepreneurs who want to get 50 new customers per month, which should require a budget of at least $12,500, but currently, they only have a budget of $3,000 per month. I hate to break it to you, but you're never going to hit your goal. If anything, the $12,500 per month you have devoted to marketing may not be enough, because as you scrape the low hanging fruit, you often find you need to increase the amount you're willing to pay to get a new customer.
4. Feast or famine marketing
This is actually the mistake I made in 2016. We had so much going on in the first half of the year (the feast) that I didn't plan well enough for July, which is typically a slower month for us (the famine). In July, I need to do more marketing and even spend more money on marketing to make up for all the business I lose when people go on vacation and forget about their campaigns. But, I was planning a vacation myself in July, and in turn, I actually ended up cutting marketing because I didn't want to do the work that was needed.
Bad planning and a cut in the already planned marketing for July tanked the month. It was our worst month for new sales in nearly two years. You can't allow a busy period to take your eye off the ball. If you have traditionally slow sales months, you must do more, spend more, and market more, in those months.
5. Cash flow issues demand more marketing, not less
This is the last of the bad ideas for today, but when you are having cash flow issues, shutting down the pipeline that is bringing in the cash you do get is just dumb.
Of course the argument I always get is that the marketing wasn't working anyway. Well, if that was true, why didn't you cancel it earlier? Typically, the entrepreneur doesn't really know whether their marketing is working or not. All they know is they need money, so they cancel marketing to free up cash. That may help the problem this month, but it creates a new problem next month when no new customers show up.
When times are hard, you need to reinvest more in marketing, not less. You must figure out how to close more sales, not get fewer leads. There are lots of good ways to shore up your cash flow situation, but cutting off revenue-generating marketing is not one of them.
Real success and business growth doesn't come from finding the latest marketing gimmick of the moment, but rather it comes from sticking with a bunch of small and rather boring things that work well, over and over again. Success and growth comes from creating marketing assets and business systems and processes. I know it's not as exciting as or fun as we all thought it was going to be, but that's what works.