Marketing can be difficult for small businesses. With limited budget and resources, an ever-changing digital landscape, and over-stimulated audiences, there’s got to be a secret to cut through all the noise.
Or, maybe it’s not a secret at all.
Rewind to 2015, when Tara Paton started consulting for companies in addition to her full-time business development job. At the time, she was helping friends of friends with their marketing strategies pro bono—or, for free.
“I did it because I don’t like to see small businesses struggle,” says Tara. “Because I had such a passion for it, I didn’t realize I could charge.”
That ‘aha!’ moment came when Tara helped a client put together a go-to-market strategy for a new side business. The client worked with Tara, then sat on the plan for four or five months before launching.
“I kept messaging her asking when she was going to launch, basically stalking her social media,” Tara says. But it was worth the wait.
Within 30 days of the launch, Tara’s client was able to match her corporate income by selling her beauty products online. That’s when Tara sat down and said to herself, “Yeah, I should probably be charging for this.”
Driven by passion for small business
Tara Paton is the Founder and Lead Consultant of TP & Co., her boutique consulting firm that provides organizations with tailor-made solutions covering everything from marketing strategy to consumer insights.
After working in a marketing department as part of a rotating internship after college, Tara knew she wanted to land in the marketing world. Since then, her MBA and wide range of experience in consumer packaged goods, financial services, and IT sales has positioned her well to take on clients from all different industries.
Today, Tara works with a good mix of small and large businesses. The flexibility in her approach allows her to act as a fractional CMO for marketing teams, where she steps in to lead and optimize strategy, or work directly with small business owners in a consulting capacity.
“I love to see the inner workings of clients’ businesses, from ops to sales to marketing. Once I get to know them, I know exactly how I can help them.” And, when she doesn’t think she’s the right fit, Tara is always willing to make introductions or point owners in the right direction so they can get the resources they need. “I’m here to help people.”
Everybody loves a comeback story
When Tara first started her business, the world was still fairly ‘normal’—that is to say, pre-pandemic. However, when the pandemic hit in 2020, TP & Co. faced challenges just like any other small business.
Unable to connect with new clients through in-person networking events, Tara was forced to find creative ways to bring in business. So, she got more strategic with her online presence. “I zeroed in on who I was targeting and made sure I showed up online and on social media in a way that helped me engage with those businesses.”
That approach—positioning your brand specifically for your target audience—has helped not only TP & Co., but also Tara’s clients. (More on this in Tara’s marketing tips below.)
As marketers, we test and learn everything we can. We fail, we get back up and try again.”
– Tara Paton
One “comeback story” Tara recalls in particular involves a client who was experiencing an increase in expenses and an unfortunate decrease in revenue. The owner was in the midst of shopping the business to larger companies, and their books were a mess.
“They were diligent and resilient, and implemented strategies I recommended,” explains Tara. “And it worked.”
Just over a year after hiring Tara, her client was able to tidy up their numbers and make the business more appealing to potential buyers, successfully selling the company.
“Seeing my clients happy, implementing something we built together that takes them wherever they want to go…that’s what I value most. It’s what really drives me.”
She adds, “I want to help every business.”
5 expert marketing tips for small businesses
Marketing doesn’t come easy to every business owner. According to Tara, too many entrepreneurs are chasing vanity goals based on what they see others doing, without understanding how to leverage marketing for their own business.
“Some small business owners struggle because they’re misguided on what marketing truly is. They get overwhelmed and focus on the wrong things.” That’s why Tara’s here to help with a handful of her best marketing tips.
1. Tailor your marketing to a single person
“Whenever you’re creating any marketing, tailor it to a single person. Create a profile or persona and know everything about that person so you can market your business or product directly to them. How’s it going to benefit that specific individual? Give them a name, make it real. That way, it feels authentic, not generic. Customers understand that. Personalizing your marketing creates that authentic intimacy and promotes engagement.”
2. Understand your metrics
“A lot of business owners think marketing is about glitz and glamor, but it’s so much more than just advertising. It’s heavily based on data and analytics. It’s so important to understand your marketing metrics—engagement, bounce rates, even pricing—regardless of whether your business is B2C or B2B. Know what you’re measuring and what steps you can take to improve those numbers, along with your customer experience.”
3. Focus on marketing early
“For new businesses, saving marketing for after you launch puts you at a disadvantage. You need a go-to-market strategy. Spend some time and resources on marketing very early on to set yourself up for sustainable growth and success. When you have a direction, you can leverage a solid marketing strategy long-term.”
4. Make room for marketing
“There’s always room in your budget for marketing. Scrappy entrepreneurs have a knack for figuring it out. Just know what you need to get to your next goal. You might need to hire a marketing expert to help you make the most of the budget you have. Regardless, there are always ways to invest in marketing without breaking the bank, especially if you set aside money early on for future marketing efforts.”
5. Do what makes sense for your business
“While there are trends, it doesn’t mean you need to follow them. Do what fits best with your business and marketing strategy. Something that’s emerged recently is quick-hit videos because they’re an effective way to capture and keep attention. But if your audience isn’t on TikTok, then you should be focusing on channels that are more authentic to your brand.”
As a small business owner herself, Tara understands the nuances of working with fellow entrepreneurs. She’s proudly “tool-agnostic,” meaning she always adapts to whatever marketing and analytics tools her clients are already using.
“That’s the benefit of working with a boutique firm instead of a big agency,” she says. “Agencies might force you into working with specific tools, but it’s a disservice to a client if I recommend a tool that might not work for them.”
One tool Tara recommends
When it came time to open a business checking account for her firm, Tara did what most small business owners do. She looked at traditional banks first, since that’s where she had her personal accounts, but she quickly got frustrated with all the fees and deposit requirements.
“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do business as a small business owner.’”
After a bit of research, Tara came across Bluevine Business Checking and was impressed by two main benefits:
- How easy it was to apply and set up her account
- The opportunity to earn interest by meeting a monthly activity goalBVSUP-00005
“I was able to start accepting payments from clients immediately.” She adds, “Every month, I get a notification that I met the interest requirements, so I know that as money is coming into my account, I’m also earning interest on it.”
Okay, here’s the ‘secret’…
So, what’s this big, not-so-secret marketing strategy?
“You need to create meaningful connections with your audience. Consumers know how to sniff out when a brand is being insincere.” As Tara says, “Authenticity is key––in marketing, and in everything you do.”
Tara Paton is a marketing and strategy consultant, keynote speaker, podcast host, vegan foodie, and wellness fanatic. Through TP & Co., she helps dispel marketing myths, simplify strategies, and remove barriers so small businesses can use marketing more effectively.