Too many business owners only think about marketing when their business is in trouble, and doesn’t have enough sales coming in. I have seen a few of these people in my years of working with small businesses, and it always makes my heart sink when I realise the position they’re in.

For some business owners, it’s a case of ‘too little, too late’ so they may have a good business, but because they haven’t been promoting themselves, they are short of customers and are running out of money.

For others, they decide they want to promote themselves, but they don’t really have anything worth promoting — either because their products and service aren’t great, or don’t fulfill a real need, or because their customer service is so terrible that the negative comments they get are ‘louder’ than their positive marketing.

Either way, it’s time to hang up your marketing plan and fix your business FIRST.

Let’s have a look at some of the more common issues and what can be done about them. I’m not saying you have any of these issues, but it’s good to be aware of them so we don’t fall into the traps they form:

1. Bad products/services

This is one of the most obvious issues to spot, but unfortunately not to the business owner. If you have ever watched The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi: The Fixer, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, or Dragons’ Den, you will have cringed with embarrassment for people who are making terrible mistakes they are oblivious to.

As you cannot spot this problem for yourself, you need to get others to tell you about it (and then you need to actually listen to them). So, if you get negative feedback, don’t just dismiss it. Look into the issue carefully, and see if you can solve the problem they have raised. Remember that for every person that gives you feedback, there are 2 or 3 (or more) who won’t comment and will just take their custom elsewhere.

2. Poor customer service

There are two issues here. The first is that even if your product or service isn’t top of the range, having great customer service will keep people coming back, because they will like the way you treat them.

The second is how you deal with problems. Your customers understand things will go wrong. That’s just the way things go, and something you don’t have total control over. However, it’s how you deal with those problems that really make a difference.

The best way to make sure your customer service is really good is to focus on it. You can find out what your customers experience by going through your ordering process yourself or asking a friend to do so anonymously. Make a note of all the things that could be improved and implement them one at a time.

3. Too little, too late

Good marketing will get you new clients and repeat orders. However, it’s not likely they will arrive overnight. This is why it’s important to keep promoting your business and products on an ongoing basis.

Yes, you can run a deal or an offer that will bring in some instant sales, but for most of us it’s simply not sustainable to run offer after offer, week after week.

The problem is, if you’ve fallen into the ‘too little, too late’ trap, then there’s not much you can do to get out of it, unless you find a LOT of money down the back of your sofa all of a sudden. So, the trick is to keep engaging with your current clients, and attracting new ones, on an ongoing basis. If you’re not doing that already, start now.

4. Superior attitude: ‘I’m above promoting myself’

Look, you know you’re good at what you do, and I know you’re good at what you do. Probably your Mum, her cat, your Uncle Geoff, and Danny down the road all know you’re good too. That’s great, but you need your audience to know you’re good at what you do if you want them to buy from you.

We simply don’t live in a world where ‘if you build it, they will come.’ You have to find your ideal customers, and let them know you’re here to help them.

You also need to keep in touch with your previous customers and let them know what you’re up to in order to encourage them to buy from you again and refer others to you.

Don’t worry, ‘marketing’ is not a dirty word!

5. Negative word-of-mouth

If you’re getting negative comments from your customers, either to you, or to other people, you have to nip it in the bud as best as you can.

We’re talking now about customer complaints, unfavourable social media mentions, and things you hear ‘on the grapevine’. Do not be fooled—these things all matter and will affect your business.

What you should do is address the issue straight away, and do what you can to make it up to the complainer—even if you think they’re a pain in the bum!

Have you ever had to overcome any of these issues, or seen others do so to good effect? I’d love to know, so tell me in the comments and I promise I’ll read every one.