Low-Cost Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses: Part 1 (Content Marketing)

Low-Cost Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses: Part 1 (Content Marketing)

Low-Cost Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses: Part 1 (Content Marketing)

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In our experience, many small or growing businesses have neither the time nor the resources to execute highly sophisticated marketing programs in-house. Some don’t even have a marketing team, let alone a marketing budget! We’ve also encountered large companies with limited resources and an inconsistent strategy. We often tell our clients that your marketing budget itself is not necessarily the problem, but rather how you use (or misuse) that budget.

It is possible to do a lot with a little and make a big impact, without breaking the bank. In this two-part blog series, we’ll show you how. In Part 1, we’ll focus on content marketing, and in Part 2, we’ll share inexpensive digital tactics you can implement to drive results..

Part 1: Content Marketing

When you break down content marketing into its various parts – keyword research, content calendars, the content funnel, etc – it can sound intimidating, expensive, and something that only a marketing mastermind understands. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some effective content tactics that are free or relatively cheap to execute and will help drive your marketing into high gear.


Creating a blog is an excellent way to lay the groundwork for your content marketing efforts. Blog posts offer regular opportunities for you to position your company as a thought leader, as well as “warm up” your leads by creating content that moves them along the buyer journey. Not only that, but your blog has potential to continue enhancing your brand’s presence long after you hit submit on a post. By infusing your copy with the right keywords, it will boost your SEO, which means prospective customers will be more likely to find your website when searching for information online that relates to your product or service.

When writing a blog, it’s important to create valuable content that resonates with your audience, but this doesn’t require you to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author! You and your team know your business and your customers better than anyone else, so set up a quick brainstorm to determine which topics may engage your audience. Additionally, you can supplement this with keyword research to determine what your audience searches for online related to your product or service (you can use a keyword platform like SEM Rush, Keywords Everywhere, or UberSuggest, all of which have free versions). From here, you can determine content ideas around these keywords and start to build a calendar.

 Here are some examples of content you can develop:

  • Write about each of your products and services

  • Present common issues your customers face and how you solve them

  • Answer frequently asked questions you receive during the sales process or customer interactions

  • Highlight or announce new features

  • Explain your start-up story or company’s mission

  • Write about trends in your industry

Every time you think to yourself, “I wish my customers knew….”, add it to the list of something to write about!

Email Newsletter

Digital technology is moving at the speed of light, as new platforms and apps are introduced almost daily. But no one can argue that the invention of email changed the face of everything. While it may feel like an old tactic, it is still one of the best channels for getting in front of your audience. Email works, and if you do it well, it can be one of your biggest drivers of ROI.

The average recipient of an email spends 1.1 seconds scanning an email before deciding if they want to read it. This means that the design of your email should be engaging and attention-grabbing, which isn’t very feasible through Gmail or Outlook. Although these two platforms are free, their capabilities are limited, so we recommend looking at other options. Mailchimp is a great alternative; it’s free for up to two thousand contacts and has a library of customizable email templates, which will allow you to bring more energy and life to your communications and show off your brand’s personality. It’s also an all-in-one marketing platform (website, automations, digital ads, social media, etc), should you be interested in pursuing these tactics.

Another advantage of using an email platform is the ability to track and capture activity, which enables you to better understand how your emails are performing and make adjustments to your approach as needed.

Now the question becomes: Who do you email and what do you send? For starters, you definitely want to send emails to existing customers, because your relationship with them does not end the minute you close the sale. Evidence shows it is far less expensive to retain customers than it is to get new ones, so you need to continue to engage them! You should also send emails to prospective customers, partners, and company contacts, all of which you likely have saved in your database. Your email newsletter should curate all of your activity from the last month (blogs, eBooks, company updates, events, etc) as well as offer promotions, announce events/webinars, run a contest, etc. The goal is to provide value to your audience and keep them aware of your brand, which will help you maintain current customers and eventually generate new ones.

Social Media

Maintaining an active presence on social media may seem like a full time job (and for some, it is!). But even with a low budget, you can still execute the basics of social media and start building your presence.

As with any tactic in marketing, social media starts with knowing your audience. Which social media platforms do they use? There are three simple ways to figure this out:

  • Distribute a survey to your customers and/or prospects to determine where and how they engage on social media.

  • Conduct secondary research online to see what information is available related to your target audience/demographics and social media use.

  • Check out your competitors’ social media pages. Which platforms do they use the most? Where do they see the most engagement?

You’ll find that Facebook and LinkedIn lend themselves better to sharing links (i.e. links to your blog posts), Twitter is often used for customer service, and Instagram is best for engaging visuals or short soundbites of content. But every audience is unique, so you won’t know for sure until you run some tests. As you learn more about your audience by seeing how they react to your content, you’ll be able to thoughtfully refine your strategy and ultimately turn them into customers for your business.

The most important thing to remember about social media is consistency and authenticity. Whether it’s every day or a couple times a week, find a cadence that you can maintain with valuable content. Posting content at random that isn’t relevant to your audience is a major turn-off!

If you’d like an even more comprehensive look at how to develop your social media strategy, check out our social media playbook for growing businesses. 

That’s a wrap for Part 1 of our “How to Market Your Business on a Shoestring Budget” blog series. Eventually, you will want to dive deeper into data and analytics to optimize your content marketing strategy – which takes additional time and resources. However, what we’ve outlined here is a great starting point. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll share some inexpensive digital marketing tactics to help you drive results.

In the meantime, if you are a small or growing business looking to start a marketing program or take your existing program to the next level, we have a suite of services tailored specifically for you! We know that one size does not fit all, so as your outsourced marketing partner, we provide a menu of scalable marketing services to help meet your unique needs and budget.

About the Author

Marketing Director Amanda Cook helps clients develop sophisticated marketing campaigns that drive brand leadership, increase sales and elevate the customer experience. With over 15 years of experience, Amanda has delivered successful campaigns with bootstrapped budgets to leading marketing organizations at $1B companies. Whether local or global, she enjoys the challenge of uncovering a client’s business objectives and helping them build a strategy to succeed.

About &Marketing

In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

&Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.

&Marketing’s Official “Work From Home” Survival Guide

&Marketing’s Official “Work From Home” Survival Guide

&Marketing’s Official “Work From Home” Survival Guide

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I was 25 years old on 9/11/2001, living in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco with my then boyfriend (now husband) and our roommates.  I remember going to bed on September 10th and our roommates— another couple, both from NYC— were on the couch watching the news. When I got up the next morning, they were on the couch again, and I was confused. Had they stayed up all night watching TV?  No, they hadn’t, but they had heard about the first attack and were glued to the coverage. I remember how surreal that day was.  

In many ways, what’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic reminds me of that eerie time. However, 9/11 was so much different, because the one thing we had during that time was each other. We were shaken, saddened and scared, but we still had the ability to be with our friends and loved ones, to mourn and talk through all of our feelings. Not to mention the shortage of essentials like toilet paper and soap. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic finds us all isolated in our homes, with a “survival of the fittest” mentality,

The &Marketing team works remotely almost all the time, so working from home is normal for most of us. I work from home and love the flexibility it allows me. I can take my son to and from school, occasionally volunteer to lend a hand in his classroom, squeeze in a workout mid-day, and take my dog (my actual SHADOW) on walks where he bullies bigger dogs and single men. 

Perfecting the art of working from home has been a journey. So I’ll save you some time and share my best tips for productivity, connection, and sanity.

Use Slack

It’s a great tool to communicate both one on one with folks or in groups and can really help maintain a sense of community and solidarity right now. Create channels to direct specific conversations based on topic, so all of your collaborative work can stay organized. Our team even has a dedicated channel for “water cooler talk” like silly kids pictures, movie trailers, and memes.  GIFs abound on the &Marketing Slack channel.

Don’t Hesitate to Pick up the Phone

I know I just recommended Slack, but beware of using it as a crutch for all conversation when you aren’t just a cubicle away from your coworkers. Things get lost and misinterpreted sometimes via Slack, email, or text. If you’re confused, feeling frustrated, or potentially misunderstanding someone’s tone, just make a call and talk it through.  You’ll most likely come to a solution quicker than you would if you kept going back and forth on Slack. 

Hold Virtual Happy Hours 

When you’re working remotely, you can sometimes miss out on the team building or bonding activities that can happen in the office. Pot luck lunches and after-hours drinks are few and far between with social isolation. Our team always works remotely and is spread out across several states, so we hold a virtual happy hour once a month. 

Bring a beer or cup of tea and hop on a Zoom call to chat and debrief after a long day. Turn those cameras on so everyone can see each other and get some social time in.

Have as Many Meetings as Possible on Video

Speaking of Zoom, video calls are valuable for more than just happy hours. Body language is important, and so is focus. People pay attention to the call they’re on more when they’re on camera, because it limits the amount of multitasking behind the scenes.  Meet people where they are, though. Avoid making them sit still in front of the computer— some of us need to stand or walk around a bit, and maybe even refill our coffee if it’s a long meeting. And of course, no judgment on appearance, unless it’s a client call.

Encourage Introverts to Chime In

Our team meets on video each Monday morning to kick off a new work week together.  We always start with an icebreaker to get the conversation going, and we take turns coming up with it each week. Lots of introverts (or even just shy team members) feel more comfortable giving input when they feel prepared, so sending out agenda and ice breaker questions in advance sometimes helps those folks feel more inclined to participate.

Being Productive With Kids

Many of us are also now finding ourselves both working remotely  and juggling kids who are at home with us. I asked the rest of the seasoned pros on our team to provide their best tips and tricks for surviving working remotely and keeping the kids occupied. Here’s what they said:

  • Our Marketing Director, Amanda Cook, has two kiddos joining her at home right now. She says her best tip for having kids home during this time is to provide them with a schedule. Her kids have eLearning from 9-12, lunch/freetime from 12-1 and quiet time in the afternoon from 1-3. 

  • Our Client Experience DIrector, Tina DePrisco says to get up earlier than others in your house and either do a work out or get work done with no interruptions. Getting some quiet productivity time is a great way to start the day feeling accomplished and ahead of the game.

In some ways, not a lot has changed for me during this pandemic. But in other ways so much has changed. My 11-year old son Ollie is home, so I frequently get text messages or handwritten notes during meetings asking me, “How much homework do I have left to do?” or “Can I play video games with so-and-so?”  My husband is home, too, and two days in, I’m loving having him here. He works in his studio, and I’m in our guestroom/office hybrid, while Ollie wanders between the living room, his room and running laps around the block.

With a moratorium on leaving the house in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are tons of pieces coming out about remote working. Recently, I read the article Sorry, But Working from Home is Overrated, in the New York Times. The author, Kevin Roose, writes that he thinks people are able to establish better work life balance and be more creative in an office setting.

I totally disagree.

Whether you’re like Tina on our team and have been working from home for almost 25 years, or more like my husband, who is doing this for the first time in over a decade, there is plenty of joy and fulfillment you can gain from this adjustment. Hopefully these tips will help you and your team find it together!

About the Author

Marketing Director Tracey Colla focuses on ensuring each client’s needs are being met in a timely, productive, and creative way. She is a well-rounded marketer, with a talent for identifying opportunity, product strategy and positioning, go-to-market strategies and launches.

About &Marketing

In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

&Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.

When To Consider Outsourcing Your Marketing Department

When To Consider Outsourcing Your Marketing Department

When To Consider Outsourcing Your Marketing Department

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Some businesses like to keep their marketing departments in-house. For example, many big companies can afford to hire a full marketing team internally and prefer to maintain complete control over the strategy and execution. Others know they need support, but think they can’t afford a digital marketing agency. And then, of course, there are the small companies who (if you can believe it) don’t see the value of marketing at all, and therefore devote minimal resources to it.

At &Marketing, we are in the business of offering outsourced marketing solutions. We’ve learned that specific scenarios call for outsourcing this function, depending on the unique goals, needs, and current state of your company. Our experience with B2B and B2C clients of all shapes, sizes, and industries has taught us the perfect mix of circumstances that may indicate it’s time for your growing business to look externally for marketing support. For the most part, it boils down to resources, bandwidth, and skill-sets. Here’s how to know when to consider outsourcing your marketing department.

1: You have neither the time nor the resources to do marketing in-house

You recognize the value of marketing, but you’re understaffed and don’t have the time to commit because day-to-day operations take up all your time. You don’t have the budget to hire marketers in-house, so you might be thinking about bringing on a few different specialist contractors, to avoid the overhead costs and still get those boxes checked.

An outsourced marketing department would make sense here, as you gain access to a group of experts at about the same cost of an employee, and usually at a fraction of the cost of a single senior-level Chief Marketing Officer. If you’re looking to hire contractors, you might want to pivot and consider hiring a single company, so that all of the specialists can seamlessly work together, instead of separated in a silo.

We know what you’re thinking (and you’re right): agencies are expensive. Many of them are rigid in their approach and try to force a one-size-fits-all, big-company model onto smaller, growing companies. However, some outsourced marketing departments have a flexible, tailored offering specifically for growing businesses, scaled to meet your needs and your budget.

2: You need to grow fast, but you don’t know where to start (and don’t have the time to figure it out yourself)

You’re under tremendous pressure to generate leads fast and grow your business under tight time constraints. You have a great product, but don’t know how to reach your audience, and lack the time to piece together a marketing team to strategize and execute a lead generation program. An effective lead gen program takes time – it’s a marathon, not a sprint – but there are some things in the short-term you can do to generate quick wins, as long as you have the know-how to do it. Outsourcing this work will save you time. 

3: Your current marketing efforts are inconsistent or ineffective

Many employees at growing companies wear multiple hats. Your in-house marketer may also be a sales or customer service rep, so they’re pulled in many directions. They only have time to send an email to prospects every so often, publish a blog post every other month, and post on social media less than once a week. With all of those hats constantly being switched, it’s likely they don’t have the time to put strategic thought behind these tactics. Without strategy and consistency, marketing efforts are futile, because generating qualified leads takes time and focus. If your in-house marketers can’t commit, it’s time to look beyond the walls of your business for support.

    4: You have a marketing leader or “Chief Marketing Officer,” but daily execution work is hindering his or her focus on higher-level strategy

    Perhaps you have a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) but no broader marketing team, so your CMO is left to handle both strategy and execution with no support. The day-to-day work becomes cumbersome, between content development, social media management, emails, and digital advertising. Your CMO loses focus on the bigger picture and has limited time to assess the results of their work and refine their strategy. An outsourced marketing department can become an extension of their team and focus on the execution work, allowing your CMO to stay focused on business goals.

    5: You don’t have all the marketing skill-sets you need in-house

    You have a strong group of marketers in-house, but their expertise doesn’t span the full marketing spectrum. You have a content writer, a social media coordinator, and a paid search specialist, but you lack strategists, project managers, graphic designers, web developers, SEO specialists, and the analytics nerds. Or maybe you have a jack-of-all trades digital marketing generalist, but they lack deep expertise in any one area. 

    While we’re not saying you need all aspects of marketing covered at all times (priorities vary depending on your business), there may come a time when you want to run a certain marketing campaign that requires skills your team doesn’t have. With an outsourced marketing department, you gain access to whichever specialists you need, all in one place.

    6: You need support for a one-time marketing initiative

    If you have a one-time project that requires multiple areas of expertise you don’t already have (i.e. redesigning and optimizing your website), it would be costly to hire additional full-time employees. Once the project ends, you may not have any work for them to do, yet will still be responsible for their salaries and benefits. It’s better for your ROI—and more efficient— to outsource the project. You can contract a single marketing company that has all the specialists you need, for as little or as long as you need them. You also won’t need to worry about training them. They’ll hit the ground running right away.

    7: You’re struggling to hire marketing talent internally

    A study from 2019 showed that: 

    • 90% of companies are having trouble finding marketing talent

    • More than 80% of open marketing roles take 5+ weeks to fill, and almost one-third sit vacant for more than 2 months

    • Nearly 80% of companies have an understaffed marketing department 

    If these stats reflect what you’re going through, then consider outsourcing to a team of marketers who are ready to jump in and get to work, even if it’s only a temporary solution as you work to build a long-term in-house team. 

    8: You’re in a dynamic market 

    When things are changing rapidly around your business and you can’t seem to communicate quickly or effectively enough, an expert pair of hands may help. When could that happen? In a variety of scenarios: 

    • Your industry decision-making is changing. Decision-makers are either going through generational shifts, or the power structure is changing. Maybe they don’t go to the same trade shows they used to? Or maybe they’re not as willing to take sales calls?

    • Your industry is growing rapidly. If new customers and new competitors are popping up, it’s often hard to keep up with the changes.  

    • You’re pursuing a new industry or new geography. Often, selling your products or services to a new industry or geography requires an updated strategy, new tactics, and new lingo. If your current team only knows the old way, expert hands can help re-assess the fundamentals. 

    Ultimately, an outsourced marketing department is beneficial for many reasons. By partnering with them, you can: 

    • Trust that they’re keeping a pulse on the ever-changing trends of the industry

    • Gain a fresh perspective on your business

    • Save costs vs traditional agencies or full-time employees

    • Move quickly but strategically 

    • Leverage their analytics platforms and technology, which enables smarter and more strategic decision-making

    At &Marketing, supplementing in-house marketing teams, or even serving as your complete marketing team, is our bread and butter. The “&” in &Marketing signifies a partnership. We cover everything from strategy, storytelling, business intelligence and analytics, to planning and execution, and we consider ourselves an extension of your company. It’s us & you!

    As you work to determine whether or not your company should consider outsourcing its marketing department, it’s important to keep in mind what it takes to strategize and execute a marketing program that yields results for your business. We encourage you to check out our eBook – Marketing Planning like a Pro: The Importance of a Coordinated Approach to Marketing – to learn more about this.

    About the Author

    As the founder and Managing Director of &Marketing, Rajat “Raj” Kapur strives to provide growing businesses of all sizes unparalleled marketing strategy and execution services. Raj brings nearly two decades of professional experience in marketing, sales, and strategy development experience spanning B2B and B2C Fortune 50, mid-sized, and startups. 

    About &Marketing

    In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

    &Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.

    Are We Meant To Be (Your Outsourced Marketing Department Match)?

    Are We Meant To Be (Your Outsourced Marketing Department Match)?

    Are We Meant To Be (Your Outsourced Marketing Department Match)?

    Written By


    Do you ever wish there was an OK Cupid or eharmony to help you find the right partnerships for your business? Just like you might or might not be a personal match for everyone on a dating app, some businesses are destined to be a perfect professional fit, and others aren’t. At &Marketing, we are proud to be different than your typical marketing agency. In fact, we prefer not to even call ourselves an agency. As an outsourced marketing department, we consider ourselves an extension of our client teams. It’s us & you.

    The successful partnerships we’ve built with our clients would be impossible without first establishing some common ground. This happens before we even sign on a new client. We take the time to understand your business, your goals, your team, and your culture. In doing this, we’ve learned that we’re not a perfect fit for everyone. Based on our experiences with a variety of clients of all shapes, sizes, and industries, there are certain commonalities that we and prospective clients must share in order for us to have a successful relationship.


    First thing’s first: can you articulate your business goals? Do you know what you’re hoping to accomplish? If not, we can help you figure that out. However, if you can’t arrive at a clear definition of goals, it likely won’t work out between us.

    Why? There are two reasons. First, your goals lay the foundation for everything we do with you. Without them, we can’t develop a strategic marketing plan. And without a strategic marketing plan, we can’t put together an execution plan.  We’re headed nowhere fast. Second, we measure our success by whether we’re driving results for our clients, and results are dictated by goals. Yes, we can sit and check boxes and complete tasks, but what is the actual return? We like to win, but we can’t win without knowing how to calculate the score.


    Partnerships aren’t always pretty. Sometimes hard, uncomfortable conversations need to happen (your palms sweat, your heart beats fast…you know what I’m talking about). But this doesn’t intimidate us. We say let’s go ahead and have those hard conversations. We believe in open, candid communication with the senior decision-makers at our client companies. Transparency is one of our core values, and we admit when we’re wrong. Let’s face it, we’re human beings, so being right 100 percent of the time is not feasible. We’re also not afraid to challenge you or encourage you to see something through a different lens.

    Respect for Time and Money

    We’re not obsessed with billable hours, and we don’t nickel and dime. We’ll never ask you to be in a meeting just for the sake of being in a meeting. We don’t invite our entire team to be on client calls; only those who are necessary.  As much as we might like you and enjoy talking to you, we’d much rather have our heads down working toward meeting your business goals. One of the questions our Managing Director, Rajat Kapur, likes to ask is, “What would you do if it were your money?” When you think about it like that, the conversation changes. As your outsourced marketing department, we will treat your money (and time) like it’s our own.

    Company Culture

    We have purposefully created a unique and unbureaucratic company (well, as unbureaucratic as possible…obviously there need to be some rules.) Our culture is important to us. We have very little turnover at &Marketing because when people come on board, they tend to stay. We are selective with our people and invest in them accordingly. Ideas from every single team member are valued, from those of us with decades of experience, to our newest, fresh-out-of-college Marketing Coordinators. Everyone brings value. Our expectation is that our clients will treat each of our team members — regardless of age or experience — with dignity and respect. How we operate together will make or break this culture.


    Ultimately, it all comes down to ethics, and we’re not afraid to decline work with potential clients if it’s a cultural mismatch. As we wrote in a previous blog series (the ABCs of What We’ve Learned so Far at &Marketing):

    “What we’ve learned so far is that you can’t assume everyone takes ethics seriously. Many take it for granted, while others don’t even think about it at all. In our two-year journey, we’ve run into a surprising number of clients who try to cut corners, don’t stay true to their work, or don’t hold themselves accountable for their end of the bargain.”

    As your outsourced marketing department, our top priority is not growing our own bottom line; it’s meeting your business growth goals. We measure our own success by our client’s success, and we’re here to generate results for your business. The foundation of that joint success is transparency and mutual respect. We believe if we do that relentlessly and consistently, the financial results will follow.

    So, do you jive with our ethics? Are you looking for an honest, trustworthy marketing partner, and not just a “vendor?” If the answer is yes, let’s chat! Contact us for a free consultation, or download our workbook, “Marketing Planning Like a Pro: Offline and Online.”

    About the Author

    Tracey Colla is a Marketing Director at &Marketing. In her role, she is an outsourced marketing director for multiple clients, helping them execute modern marketing programs by understanding their business challenges, providing them sound advice, and coordinating activity with &Marketing’s experienced team of creatives, developers, analysts, and writers.  Tracey brings nearly 20 years of experience to &Marketing, including Peet’s Coffee and Jamba Juice. She lives with her husband, 11-year old son, and anxious rescue dog in the Philadelphia area.

    About &Marketing

    In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

    &Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.

    “Free Advice is Worth The Price” – How to Find Advice You Can Trust For Your Growing Business

    “Free Advice is Worth The Price” – How to Find Advice You Can Trust For Your Growing Business

    “Free Advice is Worth The Price” – How to Find Advice You Can Trust For Your Growing Business

    Written By

    As a business owner or a senior leader in a growing company, asking for help can be hard. There’s a certain expectation and pressure you feel to have all the answers. Perhaps you launched your own business and are out to prove that your vision is a viable one. You want to show that you’re capable of making it a success. 

    What we’ve learned, though, is that vulnerability – even for the most esteemed professionals – is a part of life. It’s okay to not know everything and, importantly, it’s okay to ask questions (we wrote about this in our ABCs of What We’ve Learned So Far at &Marketing blog series under the letter “V”). If we don’t seek advice from others, we are limited to our own thoughts and perspectives, which hinders innovation. Without a trusted source of counsel, there is no growth. 

    One common challenge that many of our clients, partners, and friends in senior leadership positions struggle with is where they can find sound advice. As an entrepreneur and small business owner who founded a startup just a couple of years ago – and as someone who gives advice for a living – this is a challenge to which I can certainly relate. The good news is that if you’re actively seeking advice, you’re doing the right thing. The success we’ve seen at our company would not have been possible without the input from several trusted people. The question is though, where should you go for advice? And which advice should you take seriously, and which should you ignore? I’ve pulled together a few suggestions to help you be more thoughtful about where you source insight.

    Free advice is worth the price

    Besides being slightly humorous, the above quote is not always true. However, it sometimes is completely true, and it’s hard to tell the difference. Informally, we all get advice from those around us – our family, our employees, our customers, and the people we meet in less formal professional and personal settings. How many of us received unsolicited advice on our business at a social setting that was completely off the mark? This is the type of advice you may want to ignore. 

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    Do they speak from experience? Do they know my industry or challenge?

    Do they have a full understanding of my business?

    Does their advice align with our company’s vision?

    Do their suggestions reflect current trends and ways of working? 

    Are they biased in any way?

    Do they have an agenda? Is there something in it for them?

    “The Rule of Five” 

    This concept has been around for a while, but I heard it most recently from podcaster Lewis Howes, and I love his words:

    “You are the mathematical average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. So, choose carefully.”  – Lewis Howes

    We are in control of the people from whom we receive input and who we allow into our mind-space. If people are giving you bad advice, why do you continue to listen to them, let alone allow them in your inner circle? Sometimes we all need to take a step back and assess the people with whom we share our time. Your “five” should share your values and vision. Don’t get me wrong, though – you shouldn’t always ignore critics. Facing a harsh reality, or learning to think about things from a new lens, is how we make progress – so allowing a counter-perspective can be extremely valuable. But ensure your confidants have your best interests in mind, and that they speak from a place of experience that is valuable to your situation.  

    How to find better advice 

    In helping clients with strategic guidance over the years, answering the following questions is a great first step: 

    What is your organization’s vision?

    What are your goals for the year?

    What challenges do you currently face, or what might you face in the future?

    Upon whose advice should I rely? 

    Then, map out who might have the right insight for you:

    • Former colleagues, mentors, or managers. They tend to know you very well, including both strengths and weaknesses.

    • Subject matter experts. They may know your industry, a particular function, or important trends very well. They can help you ‘see around corners’ or identify blind spots in your thinking.  

    • Other business owners (or people in similar roles at other companies). They can likely relate to the day to day struggle of your role and the unique associated pressures.  I regularly speak to direct competitors about the challenges of managing and growing a team, working with difficult clients, and maintaining sanity. 

    • Suppliers and vendors. Quite often, those who rely on you for their livelihoods have a wealth of knowledge.

    • Customers. By creating a mechanism to engage your customers as peers, you can learn quite a bit about how to better serve them. One way to ensure these customer interactions are outside of the day to day transactional nature of your relationship is by creating a customer advisory council.  We have written extensively about how to go about launching a customer advisory council and the Dos and Don’ts of a Customer Advisory Council

    • Team members. Don’t limit yourself by only looking externally. The big brains that are already at your fingertips may cherish the opportunity to think bigger about your business.

    Mini Case Study

    Recently, we helped a company looking to break out of stagnancy create an ‘advisory board.’ Their leadership team had grown the business from nothing over the past decades, but had no exit plan as their retirement drew nearer. We helped them create an advisory board to help them optimize their business processes, grow their top and bottom lines, and prepare for transition. Based on these needs, this group ended up being populated by:

    a former customer, who had retired but had first-hand knowledge of the buying criteria in the industry (and a huge personal network);

    a retired VP of sales who worked with our client and provides advisory services to others in the industry;

    a former CFO who had relevant experience in optimizing similar companies’ product assortment by driving standardization;

    an expert with experience in the private equity space who could help identify potential existing options.

    Tips on finding the right mix

    If you don’t already have people in your network to reach out to for advice and mentorship, here are some tips based on my experience:

    • Request referrals or introductions. If you already know someone in your prospective advisor or mentor’s network, ask if they’ll make an introduction. Many successful people in senior-level positions receive regular requests for advice. The name recognition may catch their eye in their inbox and up your chances of them reading the email. It may also establish credibility and build trust. 

    • Listen first and ask questions. If you have been introduced to someone by a colleague or friend, make the effort to learn about the person and their business. Don’t dive head first into asking them for something. Ask questions about their thoughts and approach. 

    • Make it a win-win. Don’t look self-serving. Figure out how you might be able to help this person in return. Often, formal advisory requires compensation. 

    • Do your research. If you already have a specific person in mind that you’d like to connect with, don’t go into it blindly. Treat it like a job interview. Find as much background as you can on the individual’s experience and their business. Ask others. This will also help you determine if they’re the right fit for you. 

    • Don’t discount “gut feel.” At first glance, those you believed would be your best potential advisors may not be the right personal fit. Personality and fit matters if you are going to rely on this person’s ongoing support and advice. 

    • Make your message clear. While you don’t want to be too aggressive with your ask, be transparent about what your goals are the specific questions you have for them. This is especially important if you’re reaching out via email or LinkedIn. Make it easy for them to quickly understand what you’re seeking. If they have to “decode” your message, it may frustrate them, which makes a bad first impression. 

    In our tech-driven world, markets and customers are constantly changing. To help keep up, you need to think outside of your regular networks of suppliers, vendors, employees, friends, etc. You may not get the winning answer or solution you’re looking for right away, but an outside perspective will get your brain thinking in ways it wasn’t before, and could eventually help you come up with that next big idea. 

    If you’re seeking advice related to marketing, we’d be happy to help. We’d love to learn more about your business and how we can work together to help it grow. Contact us for a free consultation!

    About the Author

    As the founder and Managing Director of &Marketing, Rajat “Raj” Kapur strives to provide growing businesses of all sizes unparalleled marketing strategy and execution services. Raj brings nearly two decades of professional experience in marketing, sales, and strategy development experience spanning B2B and B2C Fortune 50, mid-sized, and startups.

    About &Marketing

    In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

    &Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.