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How to double your customer base when your marketing budget is less than bottomless

You might have heard already that it’s all systems grow here at ADLIB. If you’re a small business owner, growth is also a hot topic for you at all times for certain.

‘Getting more customers’ (and more of the right type of customers) is constantly on your mind, also generally growing your business quickly. We’d like to share some pieces of wisdom from Cheryl Crichton that could help you with this.

Cheryl on the challenge of how to do it without wasting money on marketing that doesn’t work, or when you don’t have a budget the size of a small planet:

Cheryl Crichton:

Where to start

The things I most commonly hear from small business owners is ‘How much will it cost and where do I start?’.

By acknowledging that there’s even a starting point in the first place is half the battle and you’re probably doing lots and lots of things to get your business growing already: creating fantastic products and services, designing great brands and employing awesome people.

Of course, this is probably costing you time and money already. The real question is, how do you market all that on a less than gigantic budget?

Well, being accredited at Watertight Marketing, I believe you can put in place lots of ‘baseline’ and affordable (and sometimes free) activity that will help attract customers and influence their decision to buy from you. In other words, increase your customer numbers.

Four starter steps to affordable and doable marketing

Step 1 – Evaluate: Review how your current marketing is already supporting the customer’s decision making. You can do this by looking at the questions below and giving yourself a score depending on how well you’re doing for each of them. These questions are also on my website.

Watertight Funnel


Step 2 – Prioritise: Once you’ve identified where you need to plug in some marketing, prioritise your enabling projects. An enabling project could be any project that knocks out any of your leaks like a design, digital or data project. On that note, I would also strongly recommend starting at the bottom of your customer’s journey (i.e. what you need to do to support customer loyalty first). This is a technique strongly advocated by Watertight Marketing.

Step 3 – Shop around: Not everyone can afford Saatchi and Saatchi to help get the message out there. I would recommend investing a bit of time talking to a variety of specialist (freelance or otherwise) and in the right order.

By that I mean don’t talk to a web developer about your shiny new website before you’ve worked out your marketing strategy. Your website needs to support your strategy not inform it. I see this quite a lot – people doing things the wrong way around and being left with a website that, while looking fantastic, does not support the sales cycle. Make sure that’s not you, otherwise you may end up doing it again.

There’s also some great ‘skills swapping’ schemes out there, so maybe you could swap what you do for some marketing? Food for thought.

Step 4 – Get your brief right: This is one of the simplest ways to ensure you don’t waste money – if you don’t say what you want, you won’t like what you get. Also, just because you ‘want’ something in your marketing plan, be prepared for a marketing professional to challenge you on that. You might in fact need something entirely different.

There’s a free download checklist at Watertight Marketing here on how to write a marketing brief. Please help yourself.

The questions to ask yourself

So, on to those questions*. See if you can answer yes or no to the questions below. Score yourself from 0-10 on how well you think you’re doing these things (or not). You’ll quickly see where there might be ‘leaks’ in your marketing which in turn may give you a list of those that are in need of addressing in a priority order:

  1. Do you have consistent customer communications that proactively address any service needs that a customer may have, and that keeps your business in their minds?
  2. Do you have a structured approach to communication with your new customers as they settle into a relationship with you which demonstrates that your service is consistent with the expectations they had?
  3. Does your visual and written style have a personal touch that’s friendly and allows people to make an emotional connection with your business?
  4. Does your business offer a coherent set of products that lead helpfully from one to the next, with the inclusion of a stepping stone that allows people to understand what it’s like to be a customer before they are one?
  5. Is there a clear way of educating, or helping your buyer educate, anyone who could veto the purchase decision?
  6. Are you systematic about signposting some sort of proof against every promise or claim that you make?
  7. Do you have a steady stream of relevant information that invites people to find out more?

But it’s not all sweetness and light

This type of approach to business growth can’t be done quickly – sometimes you just have to slow down to speed up. I’ve seen marketing transformations that start with this process (the questions) take up to two years. But with brilliant results, so well worth the wait.

However, if you really do want fast, you need money, and lots of it, but beware of the pitfalls:

  • Buy quick buy twice – if you rush the brief, you may not get what you expect.
  • Buy cheap buy twice – if you skimp on expertise, use the wrong type of expertise (or worse attempt it yourself), you may also end up paying twice. Make sure you shop around and be mindful of ‘specialist’. If you want a marketing strategy and speak to a PR specialists, all you will get is a PR strategy. Don’t get me wrong – there’s room for PR in all marketing plans, just remember it’s one line of your marketing plan, not the whole deal.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew – My ultimate advice is don’t run before you can walk and spend wisely – use the best people you can afford. In other words, use a pro because an amateur could cost you double (see my favourite quote from oil rig fire fighter Red Adair – ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur’.).

In conclusion…

Try not to feel overwhelmed by the marketing mountain on the horizon. By tackling your priorities in the right order, and with a bug dollop of common sense, calm can be instated. I promise.


About Cheryl Crichton: With extensive experience in branding, design and advertising, Cheryl helps growing businesses stop wasting money on marketing. She’s always looking forward to her next challenge and sees her role as simply looking after clients and giving them good marketing advice. She is a Chartered Marketer and accredited to work with the framework, tools and techniques of the award-winning small business marketing book Watertight Marketing by Bristol author Bryony Thomas. * I have 6 more questions that feed into this exploratory stage of marketing planning. If you’d like to know more about the others, please feel free to ask.