When small businesses get started, their focus is often on how to get the first customers through the door. They may rely on traditional forms of advertising, such as print ads, coupon mailers or even outdoor advertising. Businesses may believe that since they offer a good product or service, it’s just a matter of time until customers find their way to them.
While this strategy may bring in a trickle of business, there is a better and easier way. Small businesses should consider the global marketplace of prospects online and benefit from converging their traditional and digital marketing. No small business, no matter how new, should overlook digital channels as a way to generate leads and convert interest into customers.
Let’s look at the benefits of digital marketing and the ways online platforms can be used to help grow your business.
Benefits of Online Marketing
The potential customers you can find online is a much larger group than you’ll ever be able to attract only locally. Using digital marketing techniques, you can reach a global audience in a way that’s cost-effective, scalable and measurable.
Some of the key benefits of digital marketing include:
- The ability to interact with your prospects and learn exactly what they are looking for i.e. get to know your customers better!
- The ability to reach out to anyone and anywhere as there are no geographical boundaries with digital
- Target the right audience at the right time – personalization is simpler with digital marketing
- Communicate with your prospects at every stage of the buying process
- Save money and reach more customers for less
- Get to know your audience and drive engagement to create brand loyalty. Get some inspiration from the power of customer loyalty schemes.
- Track and monitor responses to your marketing efforts easily and instantly
Getting started on digital marketing for small businesses
With endless opportunities, digital marketing can seem intimidating if you’ve never used it for a business before. There are a variety of platforms and digital marketing terms that may make it seem like a bigger project than it is.
Small businesses can believe they don’t have the time or money to compete online. As a result, many prefer to take things slowly and stick with one or two forms of traditional advertising, assuming that their business will evolve as time passes.
The fact is the marketplace is competitive and while word of mouth and customer recommendations can help drive traffic, customers will struggle to find your business unless you show up in the places they spend time. After all, 4.6 billion people use the internet for many reasons. That’s 60% global internet penetration according to Digital 2021: Global Overview Report.
So delaying building a presence online is not an effective approach. The best way to ensure success is to promote your business on a global scale and use targeting to attract customers that are interested in your service or product.
Realize Your Customers Are Online
When someone is interested in your business, whether it’s in your niche or they are curious about your brand, the first thing they will do is research online and see what they can find out about you.
In today’s digital age, customers expect to find a website and social media presence. They may be looking for reviews so they can learn what other people are saying about your company and whether it is a good place to do business. For local businesses, 87% of consumers read online reviews – a growth of 6% from 2019 to 2020.
So if a potential customer can’t find you online, they may conclude that your business doesn’t appear to be legitimate. There is a very good chance that a lot of these prospects may decide not to take your business seriously and they will quickly head somewhere else.
Find Out What Your Competitors Are Doing Online
For your business to be successful, you need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing and learn from it. Don’t think of your competitors as someone to beat, but as people who have something to teach you.
When you look at what your competitors are doing online, you will get some idea of what is and isn’t working. Most likely, whatever type of business you are in, your competitors have established a web presence. What kind of content do they use, is there a blog, or do they promote visual content such as videos?
How do they communicate their brand and what makes them unique? How well do they engage with the audience? Can you do better?
A great way to find out what your competitors are doing is to conduct research. Find out what platforms they use, do they focus on keywords, are there influencers they use to drive traffic? Luckily there are some great online tools that can help you do this:
- Semrush – great for keyword ranking and keyword traffic
- Ahrefs – useful for discovering competitors’ most linked content
- Moz – another platform for keyword ranking
- BuzzSumo – track popular content types and influencers
- Google Alerts – a tool for tracking mentions of any competitor your choose to track
- Ontolo – a great tool for backlinks and content marketing
There are also some awesome tools for customer insights to feed into your persona development and content marketing.
Be Accessible to Your Customers
As we already discussed, your business needs to be present where your customers and that’s online. Whatever product or service a person looks for, they will most likely start their search with Google. If you have no online presence, then you won’t be found, and you can’t compete.
If you have an online presence but your competitors are easier to find as they rank higher in search, you still might not be found. Along with creating a website, learning what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is and why it’s important will help you outrank competitors by being the first name that a prospect finds on a Google search.
Keywords are crucial in making this happen so make sure you understand the best keywords (long-tail and short-tail) for your business. Use this simple infographic to guide you through the five steps of keyword research.
You should also include simple questions prospects may want quick answers to, such as where you are located, your opening hours, and details of your product or service. By looking at your website and competitors’ websites side by side, your prospects should be able to compare hours, prices, special offers and more to make the best decision for them.
We’ve developed this handy guide to SEO for small businesses if you need help getting started.
Let Customers Come to You
Think of digital marketing as a way to make yourself accessible to the people you’re trying to target. The reach of your business can reach well beyond your locality and scalability becomes a reality.
Through a web presence, your business is open for business even when you’re not! You can create an environment where your customers can contact you day or night.
This means that customers and prospects can send you emails with questions, make purchases and browse your inventory in a few simple clicks. In addition, potential customers who have no way of physically coming to you can still do business with you through an e-commerce function or simply by using social media.
Get to Know Your Target Audience
The beauty of digital marketing is that it allows you to engage with prospects. You can get to know them and their pain points to provide a solution. On social media or through a blog you can start a conversation or run a survey to gain insights. Pay attention to any comments or survey responses.
By interacting with people online, you can start to get to know what they’re looking for. What are their pain points of issues? What keeps them up at night? Use this information to offer solutions through your product or service. Using digital marketing helps you take the guessing out of who your customers are so you can personalize communications and refine targeting.
By doing this, you will build a relationship with your customers. You become much more than a business, you become a trusted partner. Remember, people are also more likely to buy from businesses that they have already bought from and had a good experience with.
Do more marketing for less money!
Few forms of advertising are as cost-effective as digital marketing. Small businesses and start-ups are always trying to achieve as much as possible through their marketing on a budget.
Advertising online can stretch your budget further and will allow you to refine your target audience. Social media is particularly good for this as it enables you to set a daily budget for a discrete audience that has an interest in your brand or ethos. Most importantly, it allows your business to exclude the people that would never buy from you – saving you time and money!
The key with advertising on social media is to select the platform that will work best for you and your brand. Don’t pick TikTok just because it’s trending or advertise on LinkedIn when you’re not trying to generate B2B interest. Research social channels, check out a guide on social media demographics to find one that matches what you’re looking for and run some simple tests to see what messaging and content works.
If you need help with budgets, check out this great digital marketing budget toolkit.
Transform the marketing capabilities of your small business
Are you looking to develop a website that can generate leads? Or maybe you want to set up a Facebook campaign to see the results. The first step to achieving these goals is to develop an understanding of digital marketing and how it can have a positive impact on your business. DMI’s Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing will teach you the most relevant and up-to-date digital marketing skills. From social media to SEO and paid search, you will have the tools to ensure your business succeeds online.
First published July 2018, Updated November 2021