Have you made it through the holiday season while wishing you had been better prepared for the festive rush?

Maybe your sales weren’t as good as you hoped, or perhaps you’re reconsidering whether you should continue to do your social media marketing yourself or outsource it to an agency?

If you’re a small business owner who is running your own marketing strategy, you already know how hard it can be.

In addition to managing your small business, handling employees, finding funding, and running the books like a boss — you’ve also decided to run your own marketing campaign.

If you were a fan of the Mad Men tv show, you may already be familiar with the idiom “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That’s marketing in a nutshell. But without the help of a large ad agency, how do you skyrocket sales and create a positive buzz around your brand — without losing your mind?

Keep reading to find out 7 actionable tips to take your marketing strategy to the next level in 2018.

1. Outsource what you can.

There’s a reason why big ad agencies are so expensive. A team of marketing professionals can turn a dud into a diamond. But there’s that word again: expensive. If you don’t have the money to hire a marketing or advertising agency, the good news is that marketing can be a lot of fun, if you have an aptitude for creativity. But don’t fall prey to one of the easiest start-up rookie mistakes: trying to do it all.

If you want to run your own Facebook ads, or social media marketing campaigns, you can do it yourself with potentially stunning results. There’s a reason that social media has given birth to the new celebrity; the influencer. Social media is the great equalizer, and almost anybody can learn how to do it. As opposed to something like law or your taxes.

But don’t underestimate how much time running a successful social media account or blog can eat up. Can you outsource any other areas of your business to make-up for the chunk of time you’re going to need to be an effective DIY marketer?

2. A Planner Is Your Best Friend

Have you got a planner? Digital or paper, it doesn’t matter as long as you have one. If you’re trying to start your own DIY marketing campaign, it’s essential to make sure that you keep track of every plate that you’re currently spinning.

The big downside to DIY marketing? Missing an important holiday or event that could have been hugely beneficial to your business. Set aside an afternoon in January to fill out your planner. Use different colored highlights to mark different projects, so that you never get caught unawares again. The following marketing calendar, courtesy of AdEspresso, outlines the major retail holidays in 2018 to make your marketing schedule easier to manage:

marketing calendar

3. Define Your Purpose

Before you plan your content calendar for 2018, define what your marketing purpose is. Are you looking to find new customers? Increase sign-ups to your newsletter? Perhaps you’re looking to increase your website traffic instead. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Whatever your purpose is, it’s important to be crystal clear about what you want before you begin to pursue it.

4. Don’t Spread Your Social Media Campaign Too Thin

Don’t get drunk on the hashtag punch. By that I mean, if you’re a florist, go ahead and bust out all the stops for Valentine’s Day. But if you’re a chartered accountant? You probably don’t have to own that holiday with a hashtag.

In the digital age, the market is completely drenched with competitors. The best way to stand out from the crowd? Do what you do, and do it well. But don’t try and cater to every holiday, including all the made up ones, in an attempt to amplify your social media klout. Customers are increasingly more and more perceptive to “thirsty” brands, and it’s not a good look.

Select a few major holidays that apply directly to your purpose, and think about ways to maximise the opportunity to meet your goals.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

When it comes to finding a successful marketing strategy, you’ll need to try a few different formulas before you find one that fits your brand. Try split testing Facebook ads, or experimenting with a new theme on Instagram.

There are essentially unlimited options when it comes to finding inspiration for your next marketing campaign. Adopt what works, discard the rest.

Over time, you’ll get a well-rounded idea of what works well for your customers and how to use it to maximise sales and conversions.

6. Actively Seek Fresh Inspiration

Any marketing, but social media marketing in particular, is subject to change at a second’s notice. Savvy trend hunters use social media to find “the next big thing” and trends live and die in an instant on Instagram. Don’t be a slave to marketing trends, but at the same time, actively court fresh inspiration from other marketers or brand strategists that you admire.

Try and find those who are already winning at what you want to do, and test some of their successes by yourself.

What will you do in 2018 to improve your DIY marketing skills? Share your story in the comments.