Last January, my business partner and I launched The Spark Social, Inc. a social media marketing agency that serves small to medium sized local businesses in and around New England. Prior to merging, we had both owned our own successful agencies, each for many years.

We were no strangers to starting businesses. Not to mention, we were in the business of helping others craft and execute marketing strategies of their own.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that creating a marketing plan for our new company would be a simple process. But that would be false. No matter who you are, or what industry you’re in, there are challenges to creating and launching a business of any size.

When looking back at the last year, we can safely say we learned a lot by being on the other side of the marketing strategy process. We want to share some of what we’ve learned with you.

1. Branding – Do NOT skip it

We went all in on our branding. We looked beyond working with a service that would pump out a generic logo for us and hired the complete package. We had a vision and we had a voice, and we wanted our brand to reflect that.

We worked with a branding consultant who not only nailed our graphic and visual elements but helped us create a brand persona that was uniquely us. We then brought in a photographer to capture who we are as company and a team. This is not to say that every company needs these same exact elements, but it speaks to the ability of good branding to differentiate your company in the marketplace.

We’re often told that our brand, colors, logo, and presence is extremely memorable and fun – which is exactly how we want to be perceived. The brand experience we provide is cohesive from online to offline. Not only has it differentiated us in our market, but it also has helped our company look and feel more professional. We also found branding had added financial payoffs. We invested in our brand, which allowed us to look more compelling and appealing to our prospects.   

2. Don’t underestimate the power of DIY content (especially “BTS”)

While we invested in our branding and photography, we didn’t have much of a budget to work with for other types of marketing. But in today’s fast-paced digital world, having consistent content is key. The solution? DIY, of course!

There are plenty of options available to small business owners for producing consistent and creative content for social media. We utilized Facebook Live to produce video content and adopted our own approach to Instagram by featuring Behind the Scenes Content (BTS) of our team and work life. This allows us to highlight what we do and relate to our fellow business owners in an easily consumed way.

For our Facebook Lives, we simply used the cameras on our phones. Mix in an inexpensive glow light and a tripod stand and you’ve got the ability to create short videos on regular. We came up with marketing topics that we were passionate about and that would also provide value to our audience. You can still check them out on our Facebook page!

Since we’re a service-based business, visual options for Instagram seemed limited, so we got creative. We regularly feature BTS images that include our team, events, and more. We are all Rhode Island foodies too, so we put an extra spin on it and made sure to include some of our favorite local restaurants, snacks brands, and more.

3. Prioritize – and prevent overwhelm

When we started our business, our marketing wish list was giant, our budget…. not so much. Our marketing dreams were abundant, but our time… somewhat lacking.

Lack of time and budget is the reality for most businesses.

There are so many marketing options out there, it may seem like you have to do it all, but that is not the case. This is where strategy comes into play. Select options that balance your quick wins and big spends. Invest where you will get the largest return or long-term effect (for us this was our branding). Check smaller things off the list by prioritizing. For example, claiming your ‘Google My Business’, sending out a monthly email campaign, or asking for clients reviews.

Create a document that you can share with your team to store marketing ideas. As your company grows you can start to progress toward accomplishing more. But starting with an overwhelming list of to-dos is going to leave you feeling unaccomplished.

4. Have Fun – or else it is not going to work

Marketing should be fun.

We don’t mean your brand needs to have a comical ‘ha ha’ approach, it just means that while you are putting together the marketing plan or creating content, it should be something you enjoy.

Think about it like this: Would you ever serve your dinner guests a dish you knew was bland and something you really didn’t even care for yourself? Don’t think so.   Well, it is pretty much the same with your marketing. If you only feel somewhat invested in your marketing, it is going to show. If you’re not 100% sold on it, no one else is buying it either.

Point in case, we would not have been able to show up on Facebook Live videos if we did not enjoy it. We wanted our attitudes and passion to resonate and attract our audiences. We had fun with each and every video.

5. Pivot – because you’ll have to…

We’re slightly over a year in business and our website JUST went live. And it is not even remotely perfect – like, at all.

The original plan was to have our website live by Fall of last year. But any good marketing plan adjusts because it must… we’ve gotten plenty of questions about our lack of website, but it hasn’t stopped us. We turned around and compensated for the lack of a website with amazing content on our social channels, contributing to others blogs and by creating a landing page to hold our place online that had our unique voice (even though it wasn’t a ‘real website’ we had prospects who said they liked it and turned into paying clients).

We’re not saying that every business can go that long without a website. We’re just saying, sometimes things do not go as planned, so you have to adjust.

Even without a website, we were featured in Business Insider, won a 2020 Rhode Island “Inno on Fire” Award, and have continually acquired new clients. All because we pivoted when our website wasn’t ready in time. We offset the repercussions by engaging in other marketing tactics. Always pivot in marketing to survive.

By sharing these tips with you, we hope to give insight to the market elements that have contributed to our success. We want to share from our perspective on how marketing plans can be implemented, and changed when necessary.  We want to SPARK ideas for your marketing, because even if you are not starting a new business, it is never too late to reinvent your marketing approach!

Alicia Piazza, Cofounder – The Spark Social, Inc.