After years of working for micromanaging bosses, working ten-hour days, and feeling completely drained at the end of a workweek, my husband and I decided to call it quits. We left our jobs in the media world and started our own business, McEwen’s Media.

Our business is an extension of the work we did for the corporate world, with one big exception—we’re in charge. I imagine many entrepreneurs have a similar story. You get tired of working for others and make the bold decision to use your skills to further your own business rather than be a cog in a machine.

Our company, which offers content and video materials for small businesses, is in its third year of operation. While I’m happy to report that it pays the bills, it didn’t start off with rainbows and lollypops. At the beginning, we made some marketing mistakes.

It turns out, we’re not alone. I started talking with other entrepreneurs and quickly learned everyone suffers from a case of the “marketing hiccups” at the beginning.

In an attempt to help other entrepreneurs, I’ve put together this list of avoidable marketing mistakes.

Mistake #1: Having high expectations for cheap freelance sites

One of the best marketing tools a business has is its logo. When we first started our business, having a logo created was one of the first items on our marketing to-do list. However, we didn’t want to spend a ton of money, so we turned to a cheap freelance site, Fiverr. The idea behind this site is that you can get creative projects done by freelancers for $5.

In an attempt to save money, I ignored common sense and expected to get a high-quality logo out of this deal. I’m not sure why I had high expectations, but I did. I even took advantage of extra services that increased the overall price, thinking that would increase the quality. Not the case. When I got the logo, all I could do is laugh. It looked like a pre-schooler’s finger painting.

Now, some businesses like freelance sites like Fiverr, and have had a good experience. But in my experience, it’s a waste of time.

Of course, there are other bidding sites like Elance where you post your project online and have freelancers submit a quote. The quotes will be all over the place, and the quality of work and the experience of the freelancers vary. If you use this site, be picky about the freelancer you go with.

The lesson?

Have realistic expectations. If you want top-notch work, you have to find a professional and be willing to pay for it. After my Fiverr experience, I sought out an actual graphic designer and got a great logo. I paid $300, but the logo has a professional look and it was a hassle-free experience.

Mistake #2: Using online advertising platforms too early

Social media advertising is an appealing option for small businesses, especially eCommerce businesses. The appeal only intensifies when you learn you can set your own budget and can run the whole campaign yourself. Plenty of business owners set up accounts, set their budget, and wait for website traffic to roll in. It’s enticing, but I encourage you to tap the breaks.

When you’re just starting out, you won’t have a significant amount of money for advertising so you’ll want to spend it wisely. Online ad platforms can have a steep learning curve and tricky budgeting applications. Google AdWords, for example, allows you to set a budget, but there are other factors that can jack up your costs that you might not know about. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can lose money fast.

The lesson?

Start with free, grassroots marketing ideas first. Set up social media channels, put up signage to advertise upcoming sales, and network to grow your brand. Once you have your feet wet, start branching out. If you want to look into online advertising, go for it, but do your homework or hire a professional to help. That professional should encourage you to set specific goals and help you come up with a realistic budget. Be aware that advertising costs are usually higher than you anticipate.

Mistake #3: Starting a dozen social media accounts

Social media is a free marketing tool, so why not maximize your exposure and sign up for as many sites as possible, right? Wrong. I fell into this trap. I figured posting to social sites only takes a few seconds, so what’s the big deal? Well, when you start a business, every second does count. Your daily to-do list includes things it never has before. From invoicing to post office runs, it’s all on you. That means you don’t have a ton of time to manage a billion social sites.

The lesson?

Pick two or three sites. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular, but Pinterest and Instagram are gaining steam and are great for visuals. Once you’ve selected your sites, post regularly. An abandoned page is useless in the marketing world. Turn to social management apps like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to help you schedule posts ahead of time.

Mistake #4: Buying a bunch of promotional gear

Now that you have a business, you need promotional gear, right? From pens to polo shirts, promotional gear is appealing to new business owners. It’s a point of pride. I mean, who doesn’t want to have gear with their business logo on it?

Yes, promotional gear does serve as a marketing tool, but you don’t want to go overboard. A friend of mine who started a photography business learned this the hard way. She bought hats, shirts, and little camera-shaped key chains for her business.

She dropped close to $1000 on all that stuff. Guess what? Five years later she still has dozens of hats, hundreds of key chains, and a handful of oversized t-shirts.

The lesson?

Be practical. You should buy some promotional items, but keep the quantities and your budget on the small side. My suggestion is to order the following:

  • Business cards
  • Marketing materials, like brochures
  • A cheap giveaway item, like pens

Business cards are essential. Use Vistaprint to get a box of 500 and call it good. They’ll never go to waste. New businesses can benefit from additional marketing materials, like a brochure that explains what your business does. Vistaprint can help you here too. Go for a small order.

If you want to have giveaway items, pens are a good way to go. They’re cheap and effective.

If apparel is a must, try LogoUp. You’ll pay a one-time set up fee, but the company doesn’t have minimum orders so you don’t have to buy 525 t-shirts to get a reasonable deal.

Mistake #5: Not networking

When I first jumped into the business world, networking had a negative connotation to me. The thought of putting on a fake smile and bragging to complete strangers about my great business wasn’t appealing to me. Besides, I didn’t need help from networking groups—I’ve got this, I thought.

Well, about three months after starting our business two things happened. First, our healthcare costs were out of this world, and I heard local chamber of commerce members got a discount on healthcare. Second, I was craving human interaction. Running a business from your home gets lonely. Joining the local chamber of commerce could alleviate both of these problems. So, I did it. I signed up for a yearlong membership.

Despite my reservations, it was a great decision. I got a break on healthcare and, as it turns out, met some everyday business owners who share similar experiences. Networking is nothing more than sharing a beer with another business owner. You aren’t there to make a sale, you’re there to get to know each other and swap war stories. At some point, someone you’ve met in this group will need your services.

After a year in the chamber, I landed three new clients. One client is a member of the chamber, the other two knew someone in the chamber and were referred to me. They’re all long-term clients too. That’s a great return on my $150 membership fee.

The lesson?

In a word, network. It’s not just a good marketing option, it’s good for your business sanity. It’s good to bounce ideas off of other people, talk about the local economy, and learn different strategies from other owners.

There are plenty of options out there. Your local chamber of commerce is just one option. Try MeetUp.com. This site has a whole host of groups that you can join, many of which are business oriented. Just look for groups in your area and see what fits. Join online discussion boards and industry-specific membership sites. The point is to interact with other business owners wherever you can.

The other takeaway here is to do things that are out of your comfort zone. In business, the only way to get ahead is to push yourself. That means doing things that you might not enjoy. It’s the best way to grow as an entrepreneur.

Are you a new business owner? Whether you’re a newbie or a business vet, we’d love to hear about the marketing lessons you’ve learned along the way. What worked for you? What went wrong? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

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