Tamsin Fox-Davies is the Senior Development Manager at Constant Contact UK. Her time is spent across the UK delivering free marketing education to SMEs. We caught up with her to pick her brains about small business marketing, and how firms should be working towards success.

Q: Small businesses often shy away from doing their own marketing, often – it seems – due to fear. Why do you think this is?

A: Lack of time and resources are common reasons for not getting stuck in with marketing, especially during tough economic times such as the ones SMEs are currently facing. Also, there is an assumption amongst small business owners that marketing is something best left to professionals, but that is not true! Small business owners have to wear many hats, and marketing is just one of them. You have more passion for your business than anyone else, and if you can bring that into your marketing, you will see a big impact. With the tools available now, small businesses can absolutely do their own marketing, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it can really make a difference to your business.

Q: What should small businesses be doing to make the most of marketing on Facebook?

A: The first step really is to understand where your customers are. With half the UK population on Facebook, the chances are that you can find a big chunk of your customers there. Think about combining your efforts with other marketing mediums, like email marketing, to cast the widest net possible.

The second step is to really understand your customers. Know what makes them tick and most importantly, what keeps them coming back for more. This isn't just about your products or services; it's also about their likes, dislikes, and sense of humour (Facebook is a 'social' medium after all).

Finally, once you know where your customers are and what makes them tick - get posting! Update your feed regularly, with new and engaging content. Make sure the content you're creating and sharing on Facebook is interesting and useful and that the passion you have for your business can be felt. Include pictures and videos and encourage fans to join the discussion, and use your own voice when posting. Your customers want to see your personality shining through.

So in short, get to know your customers, share the right stuff and don't give up when after one week you don't have 100 or 200 new fans!

Q: To what extent can Facebook be a complete, standalone platform for marketing for SMEs?

A: While it offers a great platform to engage with new and current customers, Facebook isn’t a complete, standalone platform. However, it is a good starting point. It is a great tool to increase awareness and encourage word-of-mouth referrals as existing fans like and comment on your page, and encourage other friends to do the same.

You could possibly build your business just on the basis of Facebook, but you're going to see much better growth, much quicker, if you tie your Facebook activity in with other marketing techniques, such as email newsletters.

Just look at the numbers - the average Facebook post will only be seen by around 16 percent of a company’s fans due to the “always on”, continuously updated nature of social media and Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which selects what posts users see in their newsfeeds. By integrating with other forms of marketing, such as email marketing, SMEs can build a well-rounded campaign. Email ensures that your message gets heard, and Facebook builds engagement and extends your reach to new audiences.

Q: Social media – the future of marketing for small businesses?

A: Whilst social media is a fantastic platform for small businesses, it can't be the be all and end all. It does offer a cost-effective way to communicate directly with customers and fans and enables that really valuable two-way interaction that leads to really strong relationships and visibility to a whole new audience – the friends of your fans. I do believe the use of social media will continue to increase as new platforms are launched and more innovative uses of the current ones are found. However, you need to remember that some people may simply prefer other means of communication.

Again, the most important thing is to know where your customers are, so that you can meet them right there. Social media encompasses so many aspects, from blogging and Twitter, to Facebook and Pinterest, and different mediums will have different audiences, who use them in different ways. Really understanding your customers and the content they enjoy will help you select the most appropriate social channels for your business.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing small businesses looking to do their own marketing?

A: The good news is that the biggest challenge is also one of the easiest to overcome. It’s simply getting started. Too many small business owners hold off marketing their businesses because they don't feel they have the expertise to do it themselves. Remember, you know your business better than anyone else and so are perfectly placed to share that knowledge with new and existing customers to catch and keep their interest.

As always, getting started should begin with figuring out where your customers are. Do they prefer interacting via Facebook or are they perhaps more suited to communicating over Twitter?

Then ask yourself, what are my customers looking for – is it deals and special offers? Many would like to know more about how best to use your products, so add tips and tricks and interesting stories of how other customers have put your product to work.

Don’t be afraid to show your personality; that is often what customers find so appealing about working with smaller businesses – the human element – so let it shine through.

So many small business owners that I speak to say that marketing and social media were daunting at first, but once they got going and began interacting with customers on a regular basis they realised that it really wasn't so bad after all!

Q: What do you feel is the biggest source of confusion in marketing for SMEs?

A: The biggest source of confusion for SMEs is usually how to get started with social media and then knowing how to get the most out of it.

While the choice of channels and pace at which they evolve can be mind-boggling, remember that it really is just another way to speak to your customers. So keep it simple, keep it natural and just get talking.

There are a variety of tools and resources out there to help you if you are a little unsure. For example, at Constant Contact, we offer the Social Media QuickStarter programme designed specifically to help you get started with social media marketing.

Q: To what extent should online marketing campaigns be tied into offline campaigns?

A: Integrating your various forms of marketing, both on and offline is definitely the way to go. Many of your customers will be active on social channels but they all still live in the ‘offline’ world, too. If you can bring these two together, it will be the most effective marketing you can do.

If you are wondering what the balance should be, that depends largely on the type of people you're trying to target. For example, if you're a fishmonger in a local village, it is possible that most of your customer base reads the local newspaper, so you could advertise deals in the newspaper and use your newspaper ad to point them to your Facebook Page for added value content such as new recipes. You would want to promote your Facebook Page in your shop, too.

The trick is to ensure that whether online or off, your message is the same and the personality of your company consistently shines through.

Q: What are the three biggest marketing mistakes that SMEs/start-ups make?

A: Thinking that they either don't need marketing because they're too small, or that the product will sell itself. Marketing is important for businesses of all sizes, and helps strengthen and grow the customer base, whether you’re a one-man-band or in the FTSE 500.

Others think that simply setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account is enough and never take the time to update it. It is important to select the most appropriate channel and then invest some time into really engaging with fans or followers. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it has to be regular. Update them on your latest product offering and encourage feedback to help you better serve their needs.

Finally, many small business owners still don't recognise the value of having a social media presence and don't have one at all. The ability to engage with customers one-to-one is immensely valuable and can go a long way to creating the wow experiences that will see customers return time and time again. It used to be that you weren’t a ‘real’ business if you didn’t have a website; soon you won’t be real unless you have a social media presence.

Q: How do PR and marketing differ?

A: I always explain it like this: Marketing is what you say about your business, PR is what other people say about your business.

There is an overlap and you can use both together to build a solid brand.

PR helps you to foster and maintain relationships with people and organisations who matter to your business (sometimes called ‘stakeholders’). Marketing, on the other hand, is focused on building awareness, stimulating interest and driving sales.

It used to be that businesses (large and small) would approach marketing and PR totally separately, but social media is the main place where they join up, so now you need to think of them both together.

For really small businesses, the important thing to remember is that (to a large extent) you are your brand, and this should be reflected across your marketing and in the social media content you share. Consider each post and what the reaction may be from new or existing customers and ask yourself – does this encapsulate the spirit of my business?

Q: What tips would you give to SMEs starting an email marketing campaign?

A: Email marketing is one of the single most cost-effective marketing tool for small businesses, so don’t think that you should ditch it in favour of social media – marketing doesn’t work like that.

Email enables you to reach your customers direct in their inbox, at a time that suits them.

To start with, all you need to do is collect your customers’ email addresses and begin to build a list. You can do this in your shop, online or through your social channels, and incentives really help. For example, offer customers a five percent discount on their next purchase when they sign up for your email newsletter.

Always think like a customer when it comes to email marketing. How would you want to be treated? Don't send emails just for the sake of it, and make sure each email you send adds value – whether that is with some new and interesting information, an offer, or a preview of the next season’s range.

Where it gets really clever and even more effective is when you tie email and social media together. When you integrate email and social to deliver the right content via the right channel, you can create a deeper level of customer engagement.

By combining email and social media, you benefit from the direct and personal contact of email as well as the interactive, engaging nature of social media and its ability to expand your brand’s visibility in a positive way.

Think of it as an ongoing loop: a business might start a conversation by sending an email with a call to action by asking a question and directing recipients to a social channel to weigh in with their answer. As the conversation builds, friends of the company’s fans will see the discussion and might even join in or “like” the brand’s Page. Closing the loop, you can grow their email lists using social channels, encouraging Facebook fans to sign up for more news and exclusive offers via email.

Q: What trends do you think will occur over the next five years with regard to SME marketing?

A: This is a hard question, because things are changing so fast and we don’t actually know what’s going to happen in terms of the tools that will be available to us.

My feeling is that the social aspects of business and marketing will become ever more important, with people wanting a genuine connection to the businesses that they like.

However, the other side of this coin is that people are already becoming less tolerant of pushy broadcasting/SPAM-type marketing, and want to choose how and when they hear from businesses.

The benefit of this is that when customers tell you what they want to hear about, they’re also doing your market research for you, and you can tailor your products and services more closely to what they want (which makes them happier, and more likely to buy from you).

Q: What’s the best way to measure return on marketing investment?

A: Measuring the success of a campaign is just as important for small businesses as it is for large corporates, some may say even more so as SMEs have less spare cash to play with than big businesses!

Income is always the ultimate measure, but as that can take a while to happen, pick a couple of other things to track, for example: with email marketing standard measurement is open rate and click-throughs. This is the number of people that a) open the email and b) click through to the content provided, and will tell you if people are interested in what you’re sending them.

For social channels you want to look at engagement. So, rather than simply considering the number of fans, look at how many of those fans like your content or share it with their friends. On Facebook the insights panel tracks this for you.

To ensure that you’re getting the most for your money, you should review your measures regularly and adjust your marketing accordingly. Don’t be afraid to try new things as you don’t know what’s going to have the best effect until you do it!

Q: What type of budget should a start-up commit to marketing spend?

I get asked about budgets a LOT, and the answer is (annoyingly) ‘it depends’.

It depends on how much money you actually have, and how much time you have to implement it.

If you have the time, you can do your own marketing almost for free, using low-cost and no-cost tools like Constant Contact’s Social Campaigns or Email Marketing, NutshellMail (free social media monitoring), and Google Analytics.

If you have a bit more available, you can get someone to help you, whether that’s a freelancer or VA (Virtual Assistant) for a few hours a week, or a professional marketer to do specific projects for you.

Q: What marketing activities should SMEs avoid?

A: It’s not so much about what you do, as how you do it – and it all comes back to going to your customers where they are. So, if your customers are on Facebook, run a fan-only offer. If you get a lot of walk-ins to your shop or restaurant, pop a sign outside with details of a daily special. Get the idea?

The only thing that most SMEs should avoid is large-scale, high-cost advertising campaigns (like TV advertising), which are unlikely to really be of any great worth to most local small businesses.

However, there are exceptions to this rule, so just think it through carefully before you go into a marketing campaign to make sure that you maximise your return on investment.