Selling yourself is a part of every business, and marketing is the way it’s done at scale. But how much should a small business spend on marketing?
Like any question worth asking, the answer depends on your situation. Read on for some insight into what businesses are spending on marketing today, and what you need to think about before setting your own marketing spend.
Define your needs
What you want to achieve goes a long way to determining your budget. Your needs are different from other companies and will change over time. You may want to:
– Grow fast
– Grow sustainably
– Build brand awareness
– Maintain an established presence
These are all very different goals, with different associated costs. If you’re just starting out, every company needs a cohesive brand and a functional, professional website. Beyond that, your needs are completely custom.
With that caveat, there are some standards you can use to set your expectations.
How much should a small business spend on marketing?
Marketing budgets are normally measured as a percent of company revenues. To get a dollar amount from the percentages below, multiple them by a firm’s gross revenue.
The August 2018 CMO Survey from the American Marketing Association found an average marketing spend of 7.3% of company revenues from 324 respondents across the US.
The chart below shows this is lower than recent years, but still within a typical range of 7-9% of revenue (source page 26).
Marketing for startups vs established firms
The report calculated average marketing spend by company size, as seen below (source page 27). Generally, smaller firms spend more on marketing than larger companies.
The first step of marketing is brand awareness, so smaller businesses without established brands are wise to spend more on marketing. Established brands can get away with a more efficient budget.
Ryan Flannagan of Nuance Media writes startups should expect to spend 12-20% of gross revenue on marketing, while noting a larger firm may only spend 6-12% of gross revenue on their marketing budget.
When the rules don’t apply
Knowing the rules helps you know when to ignore them, and a standard marketing budget won’t suit every company.
The CMO Survey breaks down marketing budgets as a percent of firm revenues by sector, below (source page 27).
Clearly there are situations where a big traditional marketing spend isn’t as useful. B2B services like mining, manufacturing, and professional services for instance typically rely on sales teams to attract new clients (with sales rarely included in marketing budgets).
You can over-spend on marketing. First, there’s the opportunity cost of a high marketing budget that may be better spent on product or business development.
But there’s also the risk of growing too fast. If your marketing is too effective, you may face more growth than you can handle. That can cause serious cash flow problems that undermine other parts of your business, potentially sending you out of business.
Avoiding this isn’t difficult. First, don’t borrow more than what you need for the growth you can handle. If you’re using Marketlend to access flexible, peer-to-peer finance, don’t over leverage yourself. Make your repayments and you can always extend your line of credit later.
If you do have cash flow issues as you grow, a service like UnLock can provide extended payment terms to supercharge your cash flow, like a corporate version of buy-now-pay-later.
Pay it smart
The key element when setting a marketing budget is to be deliberate. Approach your marketing spend with a critical mind and a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and you’ll be miles ahead of the competition already.
Your small business is thriving. You’re growing. You need to hire, but unsure where to begin and what resources are available. The right hire can boost your business productivity and profitability. The wrong hire can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake. Here are a few best practices for hiring employees for your small business.
1. Define the position
Before you set out to hire, ask yourself:
- What challenge is my company grappling with that a new hire could solve?
- Is this a long-term job or a temporary, contract position?
- Am I open to a remote hire?
- Can I afford a new person without damaging my bottom line?
Research each question and talk with your team. A remote hire is cheaper, but your team might struggle with the distance. A contract worker can also be a cheaper option, but if your company is growing, you may just need a full-time on-site staff member. Evaluate the full cost, including salary, benefits, taxes, workspace and equipment before you make your decision. Requirements can vary widely across regions and countries. Australia, for example, has a range of requirements that can get complicated very quickly, the Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman has a page devoted to this that includes a Pay Calculator.
2. Set your hiring budget
Hiring can be an expensive endeavor. Before you advertise the position, make a spreadsheet with the following categories:
- Job boards and advertising – Note the cost of each post per site. If you have a premium membership that lets you post for free, write the zero.
- Assessment – Skill tests run by an external company will have a flat rate per candidate. Multiply the number of applicants you want tested by the exam price.
- External recruiting – Consider outside organizations who can search and hire for you and record the cost. Remember recruiters typically take a percentage of the employee’s compensation, but this amount will usually be refunded through a “claw back” fee if the hire doesn’t work out in an agreed period of time.
- Human Resource hours – Multiply the hourly rate of each person on your hiring team by hours spent on resume reviews, interviews and follow-up.
Keep in mind that the cost to recruit is unpredictable. Record your actual costs after the process is complete and keep an eye on your hiring budget from month to month.
3. Write the Job Post
A good job post should be a clear description of the job. It should entice candidates with the essence of what the company has to offer with these basic elements:
- A clear title for the position
- A thorough overview
- The desired qualifications or experience level
- Information about how to apply
- For local hires, try Seek
- Quality remote hires can be found at WeWorkRemotely, RemoteOK, and FlexJobs
Check your job ad on any board or website to make sure your description is displayed properly and any associated links work when clicked.
4. Make the Most of Social Media
The typical company today has a minimum of seven social media accounts. Make the most of these spaces and attract your next employee with the contacts you already have at hand.
- Focus on what sets you apart – draw candidates in with industry news, updates on projects and photos of your team. Give them a peek into your company before the official application.
- Highlight value – think about what your employees love about their work. For example, UPS tells potential hires they can “Deliver wishes” as an employee. Play up the best qualities of your company and share them on all your social channels.
- Find niche networks – look for the online forum specific to your position. If you need an SEO expert, you want to post on Freedom with Writing. Developers prefer StackOverflow while Moz is home to marketers.
5. Review resumes
Resume and cover letter reviews can be a good chance to get to know each candidate. Each is a chance to see how much care a candidate put into her application and what she can add to your company.
- Look at the big picture – Read through cover letters with care. Is this a form letter or a piece written directly to your company? Review the language choice and professionalism used in the text to make sure this person knows your industry. No cover letter? Move on.
- Think in terms of Yes/No questions – Does the candidate have the qualifications you specify in the job description? Can the candidate be trained?
- Red flags – Long, over-written descriptions that take up a lot of space, spelling or grammatical errors or general descriptive language that doesn’t really tell you anything, like “a leader” or “enthusiastic” are all red flags that should give you pause.
- Find your favorite – Take the applications you like best and start the next phase of the process.
6. Interview candidates
Good job candidates see the interview process as an opportunity to talk about the job, the company, and why they would be a good fit. An interview should be a comfortable, professional conversation. But be prepared with specific questions that will help you know whether the candidate meets your needs. Additional tips:
- Assess and test – Check for a skill match with technical questions or a skills assessment test as a part of the interview. This way you know how each person works and how fast they can produce.
- Keep a goal in mind – If you want to know how a worker interacts with authority, try “What kind of oversight would an ideal boss provide?” Autonomous workers will want an absent boss while collaborators prefer an accessible leader.
- Ask for questions – At the end of the interview, give your visitor a chance to ask you something. You want an employee who asks about future projects or milestones, has questions about you as a boss or office culture.
- Watch for body language – Look for moments when your candidate’s face lights up with enthusiasm or sits forward. These are signs of deep passion.
- Define your culture – Think about what kind of office you run. Do you value teamwork? Place a premium on collegiality? Or are you looking for a lone wolf who can just get the job done? Make sure your candidate fits your company culture.
- Hire people you like – Do you like the candidate? The interview should be an opportunity for you to see whether there is any professional rapport. You’re building a team, after all, that needs to want to work together. And you’re the head of it.
7. After the interview
Narrow down your choices to two to three candidates. Start with your top candidate and do your research.
- Fact check – Is the work history accurate? Has your candidate exaggerated her experience or invented a past company?
- References – Call them. Ask them to describe their professional relationship and be specific about why the candidate would be a good fit for the job. Strengths and weaknesses. Ability to work with people. Attention to detail and deadlines. Ask them what else you should know about the candidate.
- Other calls – Do you have mutual colleagues who might have insights on this person? These calls can be more helpful than the listed references.
- Keep in touch – Potential recruits with good skill sets will get snatched away fast. Maintain a correspondence with your top two or three and let them know they are still in the running.
8. Extend the Offer and Negotiate
You have your favorite, you’re ready to hire, now what?
- Act Quickly – Decide as fast as you can so you don’t lose your hire to a competitor. Aim for one to three days after the interview.
- Put the job offer in writing – the whole job and all the details. Include any policies your company upholds including sexual harassment, dress, extra work days or hours.
- Make the Offer – Schedule time to present the offer. In person is always best, but not always possible. Then, present it with enthusiasm! Make sure the candidate understands all the elements of the offer, both in writing and in your presentation.
- Set a Deadline for a Response – Give the candidate time to consider the offer, discuss it with family, etc. But set a deadline for a response.
- Negotiate – If the candidate wants to negotiate salary or other elements of the offer, be prepared. This is where your budget comes in handy. Be flexible, but know what your budget will allow you to offer.
- Make the Hire – If the candidate accepts the position, you have a new hire! If not, move on to your next resume and keep going.
You did it – you’ve made a great hire! And you now have a bank of resumes that might come in handy for future hires. Be sure to save them and note the ones that stand out.
Thank each of the candidates you interviewed with a personal call, if possible. Send email responses to all the candidates who applied for the position, thanking them for taking the time to apply and letting them know the position is filled.
The hiring process is a difficult one, for all involved. How you handle the candidates you don’t hire is as important as how you handle the ones you do. Your professional courtesy in this process will serve you well in the long run. You’ll likely be making more hires down the road, and word will travel about what it’s like to apply for a job with your company. Make sure it’s a good experience.