3 Tales of a Small Business Marketing Mistake

White door floating in sky "1 Mistake can lead to...the dusk sector"

A Small Business Marketing Mistake Can Be Scary…

Seeing as how we’re in spooky season, this month POP is doing something a little different with our blog. What follows are three cautionary tales of a scary small business marketing mistake. 

Marketing is tough work, particularly when you try to do it on your own. There are marketing mistakes you can make without realizing you’re making them. You may even dabble in something unethical without realizing it, taking your business to a dark place.

While zone might be an appropriate description of the twilight-like place on the edge of failure where these business-owners found themselves, we’re going to use a different description, words that better reflect business… and aren’t trademarked. 

And now, 3 episodes of business owners who each took a wrong turn.

Be careful to follow marketing best practices or you might find yourself on a oneway trip to…The Dusk Sector. 

A Small Business Marketing Mistake at the Dawn of the Internet

July 1998. Armageddon is killing it at the box office. For the first time in history Secret Service agents are being subpoenaed in an investigation and Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine” is number one on the charts. 

It’s also very hot. Which should be making fledgling beach gear company Beaching Out a success. But Founder Bill Saunders is not having the summer bump in business he was expecting. Now he’s in a coffee shop having to explain it to his best friend, and major investor, Larry Jenson. 

“I’m getting worried. Was this a bad investment?” Larry asked.

Bill was silent at first. He had talked Larry into putting his savings into the company. And he had been sure the world wide web would be bringing them lots of business this summer. But here they were. Despite all the work he’d put into building the website and the ads he’d bought on overture.com. Maybe he could buy some ads from MSN too…

“Would you say something? I’m freaking out Bill!”

Larry’s anxious tone cut through the drone of the radio in the coffee shop. “Backstreet’s Back Alright!” Bill rolled his eyes at the familiar chorus. What do they mean back? He’d never heard of them before! Now his daughter wouldn’t shut up about them. Yesterday he couldn’t get on his computer until late because she was on a fan site…

It was at that moment that the seed of Bill’s small business marketing mistake was planted. 

Bill banged on the table triumphantly startling Larry backward and getting an irritated look from the barista. 

“I know how to get people to our site.”

“Our site?” Larry was not really up on the internet lingo yet. Bill had always been the more technical one and the savvy marketer.

“Yes, our website. And when they’re at our site, they’ll buy our products.”

“Ok. How?”

“The Backstreet Boys.”


“Yes, and Brandy, and Monica and everything else people are talking about…”

“Bill, I am not following you…” Larry was incredulous and confused.

“Think about it! What is everybody talking about? They’re talking about music. Right?  They’re talking about movies. Right?! They’re talking about Presidential scandal. And what they’re talking about, they’re searching for. So we just need to put the most popular search terms onto our website!”

“Won’t that be confusing when we’re selling beachwear products?”

Bill shook his head.

“No because I’ll color the text the same color as the background. Visually it won’t say anything. But when they look for the terms, they’ll find us!”

In short order, Larry had agreed and John got to work. He added Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, The Backstreet Boys and everything he could think of to each product page of his website.

And it worked. In short order they were getting more web visitors than they’d ever experienced. The problem was the sales were only going up a bit. 

Then one day he wasn’t getting any readers at all. The end of Beaching Out was nigh and he had a lot of people that he needed to explain it to. But he couldn’t even understand it himself.

Bill’s Epilogue

Black Hat SEO: Huge Small Business Marketing Mistake
Black Hat SEO leads to the Dusk Sector


Times change, it’s true. And with time’s changing, so does the internet. But one thing remains the same. When you bet against the algorithm, the algorithm always wins. 

Bill knew just enough to be dangerous. He was right that having popular search terms would make people more likely to go to his page, particularly in the early days of the internet. What didn’t occur to him was that when people didn’t find what they were looking for, they would get angry and leave. And they might even report him.

Where John erred was trying to trick the search engine instead of organically growing his traffic. It’s what we in the marketing business call Black Hat SEO, after the bad cowboys in old movies. 

Today the search engines have only become smarter. Black hat SEO, does not work. The best way to rank  high on google and other search engines is to write material that your audience wants to read and present it honestly. 

A Small Business Marketing Mistake We Can All Relate To

A time and city not unlike our own… 

Arthur’s Diner had been open for a few months and he’d been doing ok. He hadn’t quite caught the public’s attention yet but customers who came to eat, came back. As the owner and manager Arthur always asked his customers about their experiences and worked to improve any issue that came up. He gave feedback to his servers and managed them well. 

As the head chef, Arthur knew his food was excellent and continued to adjust the menu as he learned about patrons’ tastes. 

But then the sickness began.

A virus had begun to spread through the population. And people were no longer going out to eat as much. Arthur’s diner began to institute safety precautions, but some patrons bristled at it, even taking their anger out on his young staff. Morale was low, employees were nervous and business was down.

As dining out became less popular, Arthur instituted a takeout and delivery program. The problem was no one knew about it. Jesse, one of his teenage employees told him he needed to start promoting himself online. 

Arthur had never been a fan of Facebook, Twitter, or any of that stuff but he knew he needed to try something. He spoke to one of his patrons about it and he happened to be a marketer. But when he heard about the cost, he didn’t think it was for him. With the amount of money that he’d have to pay monthly, he could pay an employee for a week. Arthur decided to do it himself.

It wasn’t easy at first. But Arthur learned how Facebook and all the rest worked. He even bought a better camera so his food photography would look better. 

Soon he was getting lot of likes! Then he was getting shares and then he started getting phone calls. 

In just a few months he had built a Facebook following…but then he started getting comments. Arthur’s small business marketing mistake was about to become clear. 

“Staff didn’t seem to care that I was there and my food was cold by the time I got it.” 

“I saw this place on Facebook and the food looked great! But looks can be deceiving” 

“The chicken was overcooked and the French fries were soggy”

“I used to work at a restaurant and I know what oil tastes like when it hasn’t been changed out soon enough!” 

“One word: meh.”

“This can’t be!, ” Arthur thought. He immediately began typing out a defense. Then he noticed a smell. Something was burning. 

Arthur sprang up and rushed to the  kitchen. Luckily there was no fire. Just a kabob left on a bit too long. He let out a sigh of relief. But then…

He realized the kitchen was not in the order it should have been in. He spoke to his cooks about cleaning up their stations. While he was at it, he tasted some of the veggies. They were under seasoned. He tried a fry. The oil in the fryer had been left in too long. And it dawned on him…the reviewers were right.

In his effort to promote his diner, Arthur had taken his eyes off of the road. He had brought customers in but stopped paying attention to what he was bringing them to – what he was good at and he cared the most about – his product. 

He only hoped it wasn’t too late…

Arthur’s Epilogue

DIY can lead to DIE…ing, er, not literally hopefully. But doing it all for yourself is not a sustainable business model. Bill’s small business marketing mistake is one most business owners have fallen on from time though not always in the sector of marketing.

When you need a product shipped from across the country to your business, do you drive over to pick it up? If you have a cavity, do you fill your own tooth? The answer in both cases, (I really hope) is no. So why on earth would you do your own marketing? 

The point is, we live in a specialized society. Interdependence can be scary but it’s not a bad a thing. It’s what our country runs off, at least economically. 

There are times when it makes sense to DIY. Maybe you really enjoy building so renovating your store is something you really want to do on your own. If you are an excellent writer who used to run a marketing department, and have a lot of time it probably makes sense to do your own marketing. 

But for most businesses, most of the time, it makes more sense to hire a professional so that you can focus on your own business. Otherwise, you might end up in the Dusk Sector. 

Jo’s Journey – Not Asking for Good Feedback 

Jo’s Journey begins in the early naughts when she was still a young girl. We’ll begin with her there and follow her all the way to the Dusk Sector…

Josephine had always loved hair.

When she was a child, she used to brush and style the hair of her sisters and cousins. By the time she was 13, even her Dad let her cut his hair.

And as she got to high school she knew she wanted to go into the cosmetology program. There she learned a lot but she also learned that she already knew a quite a bit. Then she learned confidence. 

After she graduated she got a job at a salon where she had dozens of happy customers. And after years of working for someone else, she had saved up enough to open her own business. It was nothing big – a booth in a shop- but it was hers and it bore her name, Jo’s Hair Hut.

Many of her customers followed her over.

They were just as happy there. She was beginning to do a good job running her own business and she was continuing to do a good job cutting hair. 

Mrs. Crain, an older client of hers who had followed her all the way from cosmetology school told her one day. “Jo, I am so proud of you! Look at all you’ve done! I gave you a five star review on google!”

Jo thanked her profusely and told her how much she appreciated her business.

“You know,” sweet Mrs. Crain said, “I was the only review you had. You need to start asking more clients for them. I know everybody leaves happy!” She shook her finger sternly at her while she spoke but she was smiling. 

Josephine was not comfortable requesting reviews. Besides, her small customer base was growing on its own through referrals. She didn’t need to grow too fast.

But then one day it wasn’t. She didn’t lose her old clients but she didn’t have new ones coming. She couldn’t figure out why until one new client told her “You know I almost didn’t come here because of what it said on Google but I love my cut. Thank you!”

Josephine was perplexed. The last time she’d  checked she had a five star rating based on Mrs. Crain’s 5 star review.

As soon as the client left, Jo Googled her business. Sure enough, there was Mrs. Crain ‘s review. She had lots of nice things to say as always. But her average rating was 2.5 star. Because now there was a second review – and this one was 1 star. And it was only two words “Bad attitude.”

Jo couldn’t figure out why someone would say that. She didn’t recognize the name. How could 1 bad review have such a major impact?

Empty Hair Salon

Jo’s Epilogue


Good reviews may not seem important until you get a bad one. And unhappy clients are always more talkative than those who had a great experience. 

If you have over one hundred 5-star reviews, 1 negative review won’t have to large of an impact. But if you only have 2 reviews and 1 of them is negative, well that’s half your customer feedback. It’s even worse if you have more bad reviews than good. 

Make sure that you encourage your happy customers to write you reviews. Even if they don’t seem important now, you never know when you will need them. 

Without a large portion of reviews with happy customers singing your praises one bad one, be it from someone in a bad mood, a person you made a mistake with, or even a competitor can send you into the search engine Dusk Sector. 

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed these tales and that you weren’t too terrified. 

Each of these individual business owners made a small business marketing mistake that set their business back. Each of them also could have avoided it by seeking out expert advice or marketing services.

If you saw yourself in any of these characters, don’t despair. The Twilight Zone , er, Dusk Sector is not a point of no return. Hiring a marketer or creating a marketing department staffed with creative educated individuals can help you find your way back.

Jo will have a hard time getting her stars up on Google but it’s not impossible. Her customers might even be more likely to review her now that they know she really needs it. She lost out on some valuable momentum and growth because she didn’t take Mrs. Crain’s advice earlier though. 

I like to think that Arthur went on to hire his customer who was also a marketer and that that marketer gave him a good deal. By putting his focus back on his business, I bet Arthur can turn it around. Given that he’s in a pandemic, he’ll have some trouble monetarily in the meantime but he’s shown himself to be a good manager and chef. The marketer will probably draw attention to the new management style for him and run a special to bring in some more business. 

Finally, there’s Bill. Bill’s small business marketing mistake is the hardest to fix. Bill did something unethical and he probably knew better. His business may or may not have recovered. If Bill is doing better now it’s because he learned to play by the rules and stopped trying to cut corners. 

If you feel like you’re stuck in the Dusk Sector, think about scheduling an appointment!



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