How is your marketing plan working out this year?

If you’re anything like a lot of businesses, it’s either languishing on a bookshelf gathering dust, or there is no marketing plan. Just the word ‘Marketing’ can bring some business owners out in a cold sweat – so what is it about the ‘M’ word that causes such stress and worry?

Here are a few of the most common reasons I hear from business owners every week…

1. How do I market to thee? Let me count the ways

how to choose what social networks to useFacebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, blogging, Vine, LinkedIn, WhatsApp – the number of opportunities for businesses to connect with their audience is never-ending.

With more choice often comes inaction, indecision and confusion, as we race to keep up with the ever growing number of tools and platforms available.

But rest assured that you don’t have to be everywhere – your customers aren’t on every single social network, so be selective and concentrate on just one or two networks where your audience are most likely to be.

2. It’s a noisy world out there

tourism marketing how to competeSince you’ve been reading this article, 350,000 tweets have been published to Twitter, 100 hours of video have been uploaded to YouTube, and 220,000 photos have been shared on Instagram.

Given these staggering numbers, it’s no surprise that when you hit ‘Publish’ on Facebook, only 35 people see your post. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention online and trying to capture some of it, from the right people, can seem like an impossible task.

But by knowing exactly who you’re targeting, using the right language and sharing content they love, you can cut through the clutter.

3. “We’ve just had an ad cancellation in the weekly travel supplement and I wanted to offer it to you first”:

ad man with clock and sales callsThe last minute, urgent, high pressure, ‘sign here’ phone calls used to send me into a spiral of panic – can I really afford to miss out on this amazing deal? What if one of my competitors gets it instead? 50% off the normal price? What should I do? What should I do?!

Having the confidence to decline these sales calls is all about having a plan – with a clear marketing plan that consistently delivers great content through trusted channels to your target audience, you can confidently decline these deals because you’ve got plenty of other tactics working hard for you.

4. It’s 3am and you receive a Facebook message: “Do you have any availability for this weekend?”

night time working on laptopWait until morning to respond and you may have missed out on a booking. Blessing or curse, social media means customer service and marketing are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You’re probably not too keen on the idea of sitting in front of your laptop waiting for something to happen at 3am, and I can’t blame you, so make sure your readers know when you’ll be responding to messages so they don’t get disappointed. Just add a little info to your ‘About’ copy:

We respond to messages as soon as we can between the hours of 09:00 and 17:30 – if your query is urgent our phone lines are staff from 08:00 until 20:00 – please call [INSERT PHONE NUMBER]. Expectations managed, frustrated customers minimised.

5. What’s the point? We’ll never compete with the big boys

bus advertisingMulti million pound budgets enjoyed by huge hotel groups give them unfair advantage – their brands get everywhere and reach huge audiences as they spend freely on bus ads, leaflet drops, articles in national magazines, cinema ads, SEO campaigns and television advertising.

How can a small holiday cottage business compete with that?

Being small you’re actually in a great position to take advantage of social media – your guests probably know you by name, they know the names of your pets and their favourite landlord in your local village. You don’t have to have your Facebook posts cleared by a committee of ten people in a boardroom before you hit publish. You know your customers well and can tailor your online content accordingly.

Size isn’t everything, and small is indeed beautiful when it comes to marketing your business online.

6. “Have you heard about Periscope? We use it all the time and it’s brilliant.”

shiny object syndromePeri-what? The pressure to keep up with all the latest changes in marketing is real – industry publications are filled with articles about the latest techniques and how to use them, networking events are packed with people sharing their favourite marketing platforms, and the media gets very excited about new social networks so there’s never a shortage of new tools fighting for your attention.

Keeping up with the Joneses is as real in tourism marketing as it is in suburbia, and Shiny Object Syndrome has been responsible for millions of wasted pounds and hours amongst small businesses (me included *ahem*).

The secret is to resist – fight the urge to chase every new innovation! Stick to your core marketing, listen to feedback and tweak your tactics accordingly – that might involve using a new tool but it’s not essential.

7. “Unexpected internal API error”

annoying website errors in marketingGoogle Adwords offers the potential to reach people who are searching for what you’re selling exactly when they need it the most – what’s not to love?

The error messages, perhaps. An ‘Invalid input’ error in your Google Adwords account is the online equivalent of ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ and is about as welcome.

Google Adwords provide a powerful tool for business owners which can be complicated and confusing, but follow the free training course from Google and you’ll be mastering those errors in no time.

8. Lord Lever once said that he knew that only half his advertising worked, but the trouble was that he didn’t know which half.

how to measure what marketing is workingLast year I asked a new client where most of their holiday bookings came from – they listed marketing activities undertaken in the last six months (which included bus advertising, Facebook posts, print advertising, sporadic email marketing and direct mail) but they couldn’t identify which had actually generated the bookings.

So what was the point in any of it?

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it so knowing what is working needs to be at the top of your list.

The good news is that it’s actually pretty easy to find out – ask guests where they heard about you, look at Google analytics to see what words people are using to find your website, review the insights data on Facebook to see which posts are most popular.

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.” David Ogilvy, ‘The Father of Advertising’

9. I can’t afford a designer so my marketing never looks as good as I want

expensive logos in marketingThe London 2012 logo reportedly cost over £400,000 to design. Pepsi relaunched in 2008 with a logo costing over $1 million while BP spent $211 million on a new logo in 2008. Professional design can be crazy expensive – so expensive that many small businesses avoid it.

The good news is that good design doesn’t have to cost the earth. Talk to businesses in your local area and you might be lucky enough to uncover a gem of a designer who produces great work, in good time, for a fair price.

Or if you’d like to be more hands-on, explore the fantastic online tool Canva – a free* platform which makes design simple for everyone. To get started, simply create an account then browse the library of pre-made templates to produce your own professional-looking posters, Facebook covers, website graphics and even business cards.

* A pro version is also available at a monthly fee but you will probably find the free version is all you need

10. I just don’t have the time to do it all

how to make time for marketing with long to do listHandling enquiries from potential guests, doing the monthly accounts, re-ordering supplies, keeping the holiday cottages in good condition, dealing with cancellations – just a few of the jobs you probably manage every day – keeping up with social media, e-marketing and search engine optimisation may inevitably sit low down the to-do list.

But there are tools out there that make your life easier – Hootsuite lets you write your tweets in advance and schedule them to publish while you get on with your day. You can write your Facebook posts for the week in an hour and then schedule them right from your Facebook page.

Photos and videos have never been more effective online and take only a moment to create – take a snap of the view outside your window using your smart phone and share straight to Instagram.

Film the water lapping onto the sands at your local beach for five seconds and post straight to Facebook – it takes less than a minute and will boost your reach so more people see it (and probably share it with friends).

Or you can get someone else to manage it for you. Spend your time doing what you love and outsource your marketing to a specialist who does it every day, knows the fast-moving technology, keeps up with industry trends, and tells you what’s working and what’s not so you can see the results straight away.

Ready to throw in the towel? Give up on marketing and delete all your social media accounts? Despite the many challenges of marketing a small business, when you get it right it becomes one of the biggest strengths of your business.

Don’t give up – if you can get it right, you’ll stand out from those that don’t (and there are plenty), you’ll grow a loyal following of repeat customers, and you’ll enjoy continued success in the tourism market.