Getting sales – the single biggest issue for a small business – Part 1

Waiting for sales

Hands up those who have more sales than they can handle? It does happen, but for most small businesses it is a constant battle to get customers.

You’ve got a good product or service; in fact you are probably very proud of the quality and cost effectiveness of your offering. But sales don’t seem to be coming in very fast. I hear this time and time again.

Occasionally when I look at what the business is selling, there are problems with the product, or poor customer service that over time results in less recommendations and repeat business. But most often it’s because no one knows about the company, or they are just being out sold by the competition.

So then I ask “let’s look at your sales & marketing plan”. There is usually either a silence, or protestations that the owner hasn’t the time to do such a thing. In fact most small businesses don’t have a plan, but instead place an occasional ad and go to the odd exhibition when they think of it.

Yet it needn’t take long to think through what you are going to do during the year to get better known and to achieve more sales.

A short session brainstorming ideas with colleagues / partners can quickly put the bones of a plan together.

Ideally it would initially address your basic identity (brand), what you want to be known for and what is unique about you (called the USP – unique selling proposition in the theory books). You may instinctively know that, but try putting it on paper and think it through.

Then, how are customers going to know about you? PR (public relations) isn’t just for the big boys, but it can be expensive. A typical minimum retainer for a PR firm to get you some visibility is around £1k a month and can be much more.

You have to choose wisely also, making sure that the PR company understands your market. I’ve generally been disappointed when I’ve seen the quality of PR that had done for companies.

As an alternative you can do your own free PR. It can be time consuming and that is a reason for using a carefully selected agency, but if you can’t afford an agency, don’t ignore PR, you can get some publicity very cheaply yourself. For our Company Partners members we’ve got a good resource describing how to do so “How to get free PR”

So what else should you be doing to get sales? I’ll look at that in Part 2.

Oh yes, my bit of sales…. Would a hands-on workshop, plus free business plan software and marketing tips help? Have a look at our next business plan workshop.


15 thoughts on “Getting sales – the single biggest issue for a small business – Part 1

  1. Leslie Allan

    This year, we put all of of piecemeal marketing tasks, ideas and plans into one document; our Business Performance Pty Ltd 2010 Marketing Plan. We now have one thorough but concise plan to take to outsourcing companies. This is probably the best thing we did this year. Thanks for highlighting the crucial importance of having a marketing plan.

  2. teri baker

    Hi There, That blog is right. I am now looking for someone or company to bring my unique product forward. There are so many people that don’t know about the product. My cash flow is very low so now feel i am making very slow head way. I know it is very hard to launch a new product into the market. But the down turn in the economy has not helped my company at all. Regards Teri Baker

  3. Andrew

    One of the most effective ways of gaining new business is via your website. However, it is not enough just to have a great looking website and a desirable product/service if no-one knows you’re out there. You MUST be on the front page of Google for the relevant search phrase for your business/product. This is simply not optional any more if you want a successful business. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

  4. Stuart Westhead

    Hi , very true it is very time consuming and frustrating to make sure your voice heard, especially on a limited budget.

  5. lawrence Post author

    Hello Teri, I see you are selling your product through your web site. The blog was trying to cover the need for a marketing plan rather than all the techniques that could be used, but as someone else pointed out to me, there is a important marketing element for anyone with a web site (most of us now days), that of optimising it so it can be found.

    Called SEO (search engine optimisation), it is a must for any site. There are a lot of companies out there that will offer to do this, BUT read my article on it first .


  6. Steven Herbert

    I agree that it is fundamentally important to start with a targeted go to market strategy identifying those industry segments where you believe your proposition will attract the most interest by delivering ‘Low hanging friut’. However, it is equally important to be able to execute the plan effectively with strong vertically aligned (Matrix) sales personnel, as unless your business is 100% focussed as an e-commerce business it is highly unlikely that you will generate enough opportunity through a website alone if your proposition requires a consultative approach to develop the empathy required to rope suspects in and convert them to active prospects and actually close down opportunities.


    Yes you can spend money on PR but I would only advise this as an adjunct activity to your core sales plan as it will not generate any significant opportunity alone and even if you have spent considerable time and money on your web storefront it will only generate around 1% of your prospect opportunity if your product requires direct engagement with the customer.


    I strongly advise investing in good sales people to execute your plan, having led significant business units for Fortune 500 companies, medium sized entities and start-up’s the pattern is always the same – 90% of opportunity comes from direct sales, 5% comes from above the line marketing and the rest comes from word of mouth, PR and marketing communications.

  7. Danny Silver

    Excellent blog.
    PR – very important and as you rightly point out – not expensive.
    For years we have had major business/sales thru PR only. Much better response than advertising
    Yes I know re. web and SEO – but I have found good PR gets more people to your site!
    One point – get a PR company that has a track record with the same product as yours : ie we use PR that specialise in property.

  8. Jonathan Geitner

    Hi, I can only but agree.

    Coming from a sales & marketing background, and entering into the start up World, and also running The Entrepreneur Network I see many individuals have an idea and build a website thinking it’ll work.  Also, it amazes me how people think by simply doing SEO it’ll miraculously get them customers.

    It also amazed me when firstly I’d ask start ups what feasibility & research they’d done, i.e. are there any interested parties willing to use your site, and then I’d ask them how they were planning to sell, and I’d have very feeble answers.

    Now I’m one for a full on sales and marketing plan, after heading up sales and marketing for large hotel chains such as Marriott, its what you have to do.  I also tend more towards actual proper sales than simply marketing, as, although I know there are many great marketers out there, it is also quite fluffy.   Adverts, promotions and so forth are important, but there’s nothing more important that physically contacting prospective customers, getting them onto your site, using it, & listening to their feedback.

    Before I started the venture of RocketSports I’d gone and done so much research, speaking to senior people in sports, including Sport England and large clubs and associations, and I’ve had them on board from the outset.  Thus I’m more confident my product and concept, once launched will be successful as I’ll already have customers.  I’m also more confident to go and spend all my money.

    So, I agree with the original sentiments!

  9. Neil Morecraft

    I quite like this article, lead generation is my business so I totally get the point.

    In all honesty I’ve really never suffered from lack of customers so can definitely ‘put my hand up’ for that one.

    Google PR1 is easier than most people think but sales is not about SEO, PPC, CPM or any of that. Its about good customer service. Do that right (combined with a strong online presence) and it’s problem solved. Assuming there’s a problem?

    Business Plan Pro is excellent and in my opinion the best business planning software there is. I would highly recommend it to anyone considering investing in a solid BP tool.

  10. Craig Slight

    Very true what you say  I’ve started my business with no capital .Therefore I’ve had to earn to create, as far as marketing goes I’ve gone door to door promoting my service, I think most the jobs I should get, I don’t . When I’ve done one job on a street I’ll always get many more. Could do with a canvasser cannot afford to pay one as yet. Without marketing you’re DEAD. 

  11. chand

    I fully agree with the article.When I set my business up it was with quality speed delivery and price in mind. Now that it is fully set up with state of the art equipment, to get the sales is the most difficult.


  12. Joe de Rozarieux

    An up-to-date web site is very important, all too often visitors are left disappointed with old content. Knowing your market and your competitors products will help to establish the benefits you have over them, be it price or quality, hopefully something to shout about, this in turn will help your salespeople and/or your direct mail.

  13. Eric Hawkins

    Having lost one business through the banks and recession last April, the second one I have lost in the 30 years I have run my own business, I am now working from my home as a free lance renewable energy consultant with the addition of a solar collector production facility I invested in, in China 4 years go. Through the closure of my UK retail side which sold these collectors, I now find myself seeking a way to import them, having lost another £1/2 million through no fault of my own.


    Marketing and selling in this current frenzy of a market for solar panel installations, is not my issue, its the paying in advance of delivery to get them into the UK to then sell them in system kits.


    Its taken 14 months of searching for investors, but that is soon to come to and end having found one with deep pockets and an engineer at that.

  14. Matt Jefferson

    The problem with sales is that to get sales you need sales people and to get sales people you need to have sales to be able to afford them. It is a Catch-22 situation and leaves many businesses struggling for many years unless they have investment. The next problem is the quality of the sales people you hire, for £20k you don’t get much. Another option is hiring a more senior sales person on a part-time or interim basis which means there is less day to day management as they can be trusted to get on with it, are experienced, have an extensive network, don’t need much training, and are generally better sales people. You also don’t have to worry about letting them go as they can be hired on a per day basis. Here comes the self-promotion – we have been offering these senior sales interims for 5 years at Jefferson Sales.

  15. Michelle Bray

    My only concern with Andrews response is that not everyone can be on the front page of google for their products/services – especially when small companies have limited budgets.  People are too reliant on email marketing and need to remember that funny object that sits on the desk – a phone ! 

    Marketing a website is all very well but marketing and selling your product is more important otherwise you could be liable to lose track of what is most important and that is sales and profitability.

    Break down your product/service strengths, analyse your potential customers and carry out some targeted sales strategies that most closely match their needs – hard work will pay off.

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