Digital Marketing for Small Business


A reader recently sent me an email asking for practical advice on how to make digital marketing work for non-marketers.

Digital marketing guide for small business
Image source: DepositPhotos

His uncertainty about how to use digital marketing in a small business is common. Owners of yoga studios, small IT companies, hair salons, cleaning services, accounting firms and other small businesses think of themselves as experts in what their business does. They don’t think of themselves as marketers or digital marketers.

While most use the Internet every day to find things, learn about things, or make purchases, they are confused about how to make digital marketing work for their own business.

If you’re reading this, chances are you, are, too.

content marketing, link building, podcasting, text messaging, are all options you’ll hear promoted in webinars, workshops, business gatherings, and articles like the one you’re reading. 

But like anything else you have to learn, it all becomes less confusing when approach it step-by-step..

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing simply means using the Internet to find customers and bring in business. (In the corporate world that’s known as customer acquisition.)  

The underlying key to success is no different than winning customers offline is. It’s stay focused on the customer. What do they want, what information do they need, and where do they look for that information and what will motivate them to make a purchase or contact you for an appointment? The answers to those questions will help you decide where and how to reach customers online.

Create a customer profile

create a customer profile

A customer profile details the characteristics of your best customers. (If you’re just starting out, it would be your ideal customer). For instance, if you are a dance studio or martial arts academy, who do you teach? Are they young children? Teens? Adults? Students or adults looking for advanced training? Which type of new student stays with you the longest (i.e., has the highest lifetime value)? Is it the student who starts as beginners and returns year after year? Or is it the student who comes in looking for and willing to pay for advance training? Who makes the buying decision? Is it a parent enrolling their child? Or an adult enrolling themselves?

Now, put yourself in that ideal customer’s shoes. Think about (and write down) how they might look for and choose a business like yours and what would influence their decision. Where would they look or who would they ask? What words would they use to describe what kind of school they were looking for? How far would they travel to take lessons? What kind of questions do potential customers ask when they call? What kind of graphics would they expect to see in an ad or flier or video? Cute 5-year-olds in Tutus or older ballet students en pointe? Twelve-year-old karate students doing side-, front- and back-kicks? Or adults learning self-defense?  

If you aren’t sure of the answers to important questions, ask your customers and prospects for information. Also, search for your competitors on search engines social media. Look for photos they use to promote their business and comments from customers for ideas on who buys and what motivates buyers.

The customer profile you create is your roadmap to success. It will help you clarify who you want to reach and where they’re likely to learn about your type of business. It will help you understand what will interest and get the attention of potential customers. It will help you decide what kind of content you need to put on your website (yes, you do need one), which social media platforms you should be active on and what to post on them. The profile can also provide clues as to where other than your website and social media you should be promoting your business.

Build or revamp your website

Having a website is essential to digital marketing. Your website is your business’ home online. If yours is like most small businesses, it is the place your customers will go to find more information about your company and what you sell before they contact you or make a purchase. It is also the place you will want to drive customers to from your social media and any other online activities. Unlike social media, you control all aspects of your website. You decide what to include in it, what visitors see on the home page and elsewhere.  Even if you are active on social media or meet prospective customers in through in-person network, many customers will still want to look at your website to learn more about you before contacting you or making a purchase.

Website digital marketing tips

Here is the kind of information that should be on your website to make it a useful tool to get found online and to interest and acquire new customers and clients.

  • Your business name and logo (on every page of your site)
  • Your phone number (on every page)
  • A contact us link that takes people to a form they can complete to contact you by email.
  • Your address (on every page, if you are a local business)
  • An about us page that contains information about the company owner(s) and any company’s history and/or mission
  • Information about your products and services. These should be described using terms your customers would use to talk about them.
  • Images of products, completed services, experiences you provide
  • Buy buttons, call us buttons, and other  calls to action
  • An email list sign-option on every page
  • Portfolio of your work or case studies of clients

Read this article on how to make your website effective.

Promote your website

Promoting your website is an important and ongoing part of internet marketing. While the content on your site can help you get found in search, search engines also look at other factors including authority and number of visitors in deciding what results to show to visitors. The more links to your site, and the more web users who visit the site from email links or typing in your URL, the more authoritative your site seems to search engines, and the more likely it will be to be shown in search query results.

Thus, once you website is created, list it on every one of your social media profiles and in the online member directory of every business group you belong to. Include the website in the free business pages you can and should set up on Google Business Profile (formerly called Google My Business) and Bing for Business.

The website URL (ie., should be everywhere your business name is used. Put it in your email signature line, on your business card, in handouts, in your Powerpoints, on packaging, or even product labels.

Use Basic SEO on Your Website

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s an important aspect of digital marketing, but it’s something you can do, if you’re aware of it, as you create or update your website.  And in its most basic form it just means putting content on your website that will match what your potential customers are searching for on the major search engines. In other words, putting information on your website that the people who fit the customer profile you created would want to see.

Thus, besides providing information for website visitors, your website, with the right content, can act as a beacon to attract prospects who are searching on Google or Bing for what you sell. When people search for terms like bakery, psychologist, bicycle repair, for instance, they will often add in the term“ near me.”  Search engines then look in their index for websites that have the terms the people searched for and are located near the searcher’s location.

Those specific terms people search for are known in SEO as keywords. You want to include them in your page titles, and in content on your site. In addition to product or service descriptions, you might have pages (a blog, perhaps) that answer questions your customers ask. For example, if you’re a pest control company you might have an article on your site to answer the question, “What’s making raised up ridges in my lawn?”  A roofer might have pages on their website comparing types of shingles, or the merits of various types of roof ventilation systems.

SEO is more than just putting keywords on webpages. But following the simple digital marketing strategies described in this article about basic search engine optimization  will help your customers find you on the Internet.

Build an email list for your business

Email marketing is the most cost-effective method of reaching out to and keeping your business fresh in the mind of your customers, clients and prospects. A permission-based email list is the way to get existing customers to return to your website for additional purchases, or (for content sites) to view more advertising-supported content. (Permission-based means subscribers have given you permission to send them email.)

It also offers a means to get back in contact with website visitors who find your site once but aren’t yet ready to take action and leave. If you invite those people to sign up for an email list, you can stay in contact with them, providing them with ongoing information and keeping your name, website and contact info top of mind. Without an email list, they could easily forget you.

Among the ways to build your email list are:

  • Including prominent signup links and buttons on your website. These should appear on every webpage on the site
  • Include a signup button or link in your social media profiles
  • Having customers check a box to be added to your email list when they make a purchase
  • Including a signup link in your email signature line

You can find more tips on how to build an email list  and what to send to your list on my website.  

Be on social media sites your prospects are on

There are a myriad of social media sites. In fact, it seems like there are new ones popping up every week. But no matter what’s being hyped, the only social media sites your small business needs to pay much attention to are those that are frequented by the ideal customer you profiled above.

For example, suppose you run an appliance repair company. Your customers are typically people who need an essential appliance fixed such as an oven, washing machine or refrigerator. When an appliance breaks down, they are going to want it fixed quickly. They are also likely to want assurances that the company they hire does a good job.

Now, step into that person’s shoes for a moment. If you were your customer and you’re worried about food spoiling in the refrigerator that stopped working, how would you find someone to repair it? If your friends couldn’t suggest a repair person, you’d probably go online to search for appliance repair, and possibly wind up on Yelp or Angi’s to look up reviews. You might also post an inquiry to the Next Door social network to see if any of your neighbors could recommend a repair person and possibly ask for recommendations on your Facebook profile or in local Facebook groups you belong to.   Chances are you wouldn’t ask about appliance repair on LinkedIn, Twitter, or wouldn’t bother going to Instagram to look for appliance repair sources.

Thus, if you are that appliance repair business you want to be on Yelp and Angi, have a Facebook page, and keep an eye on your local Next Door social postings. You could safely ignore Instagram, Reddit, Quora, and a host of others because they are not places your target customer is likely to go to look for someone to fix their refrigerator. Creating videos for YouTube probably wouldn’t be worth the time or money, since the majority of people who would search for refrigerator repair there would be looking for instructions to repair their own frig. (But, you might want to buy geo-targeted ads to appear in YouTube searches for refrigerator repair.)

The nature of your business will dictate which social media sites you need to be on, and how you need to participate in them. If you are a consultant, coach, content creator, accountant or service provider, you might find that participating in social media groups enhances your digital marketing efforts.  If your customers are businesses you probably want to be on LinkedIn or participate in industry-specific networking groups. If you sell jewelry, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are likely to be better options for getting consumers interested in your wares.

What about buying ads online?

Paid advertising is another aspect of digital marketing. And buying pay-per-click ads is something many businesses find they need to do. But if you don’t have all the elements discussed above in place, first, or are selling low-cost products that are typically only bought once, buying online ads isn’t advisable.

Should you hire an individual or agency to do your digital marketing?  

There are many companies out there that want to do digital marketing for you. Some are good at what they do; others aren’t. If you have the funds to spend on a digital marketing agency check their references and track record. Be sure they understand your business, who your customers are, and how to reach those customers on the web. Know how much each new customer is worth to you, and how many customers you’ll have to bring in to cover the cost of the digital marketing service and make a profit. Finally, be sure that you either have the basics above in place, or the company you hire sets them up for you.

Pulling it all together

The approach to digital marketing I’ve just described is just that, and approach. To make it work for you, create a checklist for yourself with the steps your business needs to take moving forward. Put them in priority order. Then for each item (goal) on your checklist, make a quick list of the tasks you’ll need to complete it. Then, set aside a time to tackle each one.  

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