There’s often a common thread with small business owners. They think they are marketers. There’s good reason for this belief. They know their business inside and out. And are the ones taking the day-to-day financial risk for their business and families. But often this clouds the vision.

Having an experienced marketing person on your team (in whatever capacity – part time, full time, temporary, consulting) makes your dollars work harder and smarter. An outside viewpoint is more objective than your own. You know your business inside and out. But it’s your passion (or ego) that gets in the way.

I recently fell into a conversation with a local retailer. We talked about this and that for a while. Naturally I asked how business was going. As a marketer, I’m a problem solver and curious about business challenges.

The owner shared that their retail sales are significantly less of what they used to be. Their primary customers are affluent local residents who suffered during the bust of 2008.  And with that same timing two big box retailers came to town with attractive pricing. With sales taking a drastic downturn, marketing efforts and expenditures weren’t feasible and put on hold.

I stopped by recently and happened to run into the owner again. We talked about the weather. And a few other light topics. Given our previous marketing conversation the owner shared with me that they were starting some marketing efforts. Making some website tweaks. And they were planning to run broadcast.

I was pleased to hear they were marketing again, but they were chasing tactics. There was no brand proposition to differentiate themselves or a strategy to craft a campaign around. I had lots of questions. What makes this retailer so special? Why would I choose this retailer over a big box retailer? What kind of activities would get customers personally engaged? What’s the ‘ah ha’ about this business?

It’s a tough situation when a small business wants to market, but has limited resources. Developing a competitive brand needs information and facts. Not just intuition and history. If it’s not available, I start with grass roots research. Industry associations are a wealth of knowledge. And what they don’t have they can usually find for you. You can determine all sorts of information from the research they’ve conducted. Free of charge and a little of your own effort.

Conduct a competitive analysis. Explore, research and analyze the competition. Put it on paper. And take it beyond the obvious (although sometimes the obvious isn’t obvious until you do the analysis). Go beyond price points and product offering to customer service. Do some legwork. Visit the other retailers at peak and off hours. Purchase from them. What’s happens when you are there? What are they doing? Take a survey of your customers. They’ll gladly take a survey for a coupon discount.

Determine your business goals. Develop and craft your marketing plan and strategies around that. Develop a strategy for your brand for it to be competitive.

This retailer hadn’t developed their brand to compete in the new retail landscape. I’d consider outbound and inbound marketing efforts focused on the customer connection and minimize marketing dollars spent. Another hunch is that most of this retailer’s business is probably within the same zip code. So, destination based large geographic promotional efforts probably don’t make sense. This would eliminate broadcast unless it could be zip code targeted to be efficient and effective. Probably better than paid advertising would be social and non-traditional campaigns to engage customers with information, events and value-added benefits.

Small business owners would be wise to step away as their own marketing curators.  Find a good marketing partner who will earn your trust. One that’s big on working within a budget and the marketing dollars spent will ultimately pay for itself.