If you are new or relatively inexperienced at marketing your business online then it can create polarising feelings, either seeming a scary daunting prospect or an exciting and revolutionary proposition taking your business out into the digital landscape. Your company may be small now, but your dreams are big. You imagine a world where your products and services are accessed by the millions of daily search engine users. Trouble is you have limited budget and even more limited knowledge of what options are available to you and how those options work.
We are consistently approached by companies ranging from the large multi-national organisations and High Street brands down to the SME’s, Start Ups and sole traders. We find that the latter few companies are the ones that typically have the least digital marketing knowledge and the least capital in which to make their online venture work. For those smaller companies in a corporate world every penny is important, every visitor to their site that much more important.
As a result a digital agency like ourselves will often find themselves spending as much time educating clients as we do managing projects for them. Now this is fine. It’s what we do and we love it. The satisfaction we get from taking an idea or a failing business and delivering success is why we get up each morning and come into work. Unfortunately though sometimes we have to turn clients away. Not because we don’t want new business! Instead it is either that the clients are working on so limited a budget that we can’t in good conscience charge them management fees or that there offering is destined to fail as it is at the point they approach us. These conversations are sometimes the hardest ones to have. So it is for those people, as well as people who are unsure whether to speak to an agency like Converted that we have written this ‘10 digital marketing tips for SME’s’ article for.
Before we launch into the ten, let’s look at the typical SME’s we speak to. They invariably fall into several categories.
- They are relatively new and have not been able to justify spend on marketing online until now.
- They have always relied on other means of obtaining new business, but this has been declining.
- They have tried online marketing before and it did not work.
- They have been using a digital marketing agency or managing the marketing themselves and while it was performing it is on the decline.
- You worked with an agency but do not understand what they did or feel like the service failed to match your needs.
- You had a bad experience with digital marketing and/or agencies.
If you own/work for/know any of these kinds of business then hopefully this article will be useful to you/them.
So without further ado we will give you our top 10 digital marketing tips for SME’s
1/. Be realistic about your budget, your product and the market
Look at your business objectively. Do you sell a product or a service? What sets you apart? Are you the cheapest or the best quality? Are you neither? Are you hoping to get business locally or nationally?
Just remember there are hundreds of businesses out there and plenty will have been involved in digital marketing for some time already and have invested much more heavily than you have. The business you have may never be able to compete with the biggest in your industry. It might never be able to be the market leading product. However you shouldn’t wave a white flag because of these things. Instead what you should do is plan. Make sure you know what your customers are looking for, be open about your weaknesses and be clear about what you want to achieve online in the short, medium and long term as well as the impact should things not work. This clear foundation can often make the difference between success and perceived failure online.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
Client A comes to the digital agency and says that he wants to achieve a jump from 3 enquiries per day to 30 enquiries a day through his digital marketing. Client A wants to achieve this in one Quarter. 3 months. A 900% increase in performance. Client A does not want to spend anymore than is currently being spent on digital marketing nor do they want to invest too heavily in their site. When the maths are done to calculate the required conversion rates of site visitors to enquiries the jump would require an unrealistic, potentially impossible conversion rate from the website. So as an agency we need to sit down and educate the business owner to what is a realistic target, measurable steps and a more logical process, what are the minimum levels of performance needed to make working with the agency feasible. Something that can create hurdles to achieving improvements for Client A’s business when the agency has to be the bringer of bad news.
Client B has a product they have sourced. As they are not the manufacturer or they aren’t buying in sufficient bulk their margins are incredibly slim. They believe digital marketing is going to guarantee them success. They have a limited budget but will ‘spend more, the more it makes’ (a sentence we hear repeatedly). It makes sense if its working invest more, speculate to accumulate. On paper or spreadsheets Client B has worked it out and they have sales figures, cost per new piece of business and budget all planned out. Then the first month’s digital marketing activity takes place and the performance does not match the forecast they had hoped for. Cue panic. This is where an agency must be able to have an open and honest conversation initially about potential outcomes. Too many agencies and clients set out in the hope that forecasts are reached and avoid the conversation about what the impact is should they not perform to target straight away.
Client C has a successful site and business that has been running years. It has proven traffic sources, has evolved the site and has brand recognition. They have created a second site to match the services of the first. They would like to launch the services on the second site and see if they can increase their overall revenue annually by marketing two businesses instead of one. Less than three months into the project the second site isn’t performing as well as the original. It has however demonstrated month on month improvement in every area and is delivering a positive return on investment. Client C is negative about the business and continuation of the project because of the inferior results compared to the original business. Again the agency is required to go through a process of education as a potentially lucrative stream of new business is misrepresented and misunderstood.
It’s great to dream big. But every journey starts with a step and understanding the smaller steps gives you a much better chance of reaching the end goal.
The amount of times we have looked at marketing activity and have found there has been no or inadequate tracking is frankly scary. What’s even scarier is that quite often these projects have been handled by another digital agency who have been too lax in their work to properly install it.
If you have a small budget, if you have to have ROI immediately, if you need to make every single penny count…..then you have to know what works and what doesn’t. Would you pay your staff but then not know anything about what their role in your business was, what they do, how they do it or what value they add?
- Your business relies on online purchases. Track them properly, value and volume.
- You get new business through phone calls TRACK THEM!!!
We had to inform a new client recently that they had invested well over £90,000 in paid advertising in just under two years prior to coming to us and at the end of that time there was absolutely no data regarding what drove their profits and huge gaps in what was wasting budget.
So in short if you think it’s important, measure it. If you’re not sure if it’s important….measure it. Chances are at some point you or an agency will wish you did.
3/. Knowing Your Options
If your idea for digital marketing is ‘I want to be number one for this keyword on Google’ – then please read this section twice!
In short if you are an ecommerce company selling white goods for example and you say you want to be number one for ‘washing machines’ you’re being unrealistic in both your short and medium term goals (if you’re unsure then please read tip 1!). With so many channels now open to a client and their consumer base, you have to look at what the goals are and then work with an agency to choose an appropriate strategy. Do you invest in just one medium initially? Do you use multiple digital channels? Do you attempt to run one yourself to save finances in the short term?
First let’s looks at a snapshot of the channels that are open to you.
Pay per click marketing or PPC. In its simplest terms you are part of an auction with your competitors to try and appear for the terms your customers will type into the search engine when looking for your products. With this you pay every time someone clicks on your ad and only then. The price varies as the variables of the auction impact you; however you can set a maximum you are prepared to pay per click and a daily maximum you are prepared to spend overall.
SEO – This is about ranking highly in a search engines organic listings (not paid ads which is ppc). Achieving this is about creating a website that is an authority within your industry and that people will want to refer to, talk about and link to. Ultimately this is about good content, good site make-up and quality links back into your site.
Social Media Marketing – This is all about connecting with you existing customers and finding new ones using the power of social media. This can include biddable social such as sponsored tweets, Facebook advertising etc… (Which is actually a form of PPC) or a full social strategy.
Content Marketing – Some may mistake this as a potentially a fancy word for SEO. It still shares a lot of influences with SEO as it’s about producing content that gets you seen and people want to share. However content marketing also has close ties with social media and newsletter production etc.. so is much more about the whole tone and value of the content you put out online.
Video Marketing – Specifically targeting consumers who are watching online videos (think about the YouTube ads you have seen) or alternatively creating video content that people want to share.
Email Marketing – This is using or sourcing a database of potential customers email addresses and creating email content and design that people engage with and visit your site through.
Re-marketing – This is using the cookie data from your own site to follow previous visitors to your site around the web and re-present your business to them using either the product they looked at, image ads, specific messages, discount codes and more.
4/. Choosing which digital marketing channels to use.
Like we said, the above was just a snap shot of some of the digital solutions out there for you. While we won’t go into too much depth (giving you all the answers), here are some good rules of thumb:
- If you need a return on investment in month 1 then SEO might not be the best solution for you as this takes time to build up your profile and increase organic traffic as you find potential links, write content , optimise your site and wait for Google to index them. SEO is normally what people consider as their first option along with PPC.
- If you don’t have an email marketing list be very very careful over whom you purchase a data from. There are reputable providers out there. You just need to be clear on your potential customer demographics. Email marketing can be cheap to run, but done wrong can yield little to no results.
- PPC does not guarantee success. You pay for every click. So if your site or products aren’t right it still won’t work, but you’ll still be paying Google. This is the easiest to get going and also the easiest to get wrong. The reality is there are advanced exams to take in order to be qualified to Google’s standards and Agency standards can be a lot higher still! PPC provides transparent real time performance and can start getting traffic from day 1. The starting point for a lot of digital campaigns as you can appear quickly for anything and change strategy just as quickly.
- People do not go on to social media sites looking for accountants. Just because everyone uses social media today does not mean that it is the right marketing channel for you. Think about it. People go on to Facebook to socialise. However these same social media users might be interested in the right product targeted to their interests at the right time with the right message. Ultimately they go on to Google to find or to research something they want or need. Which is more likely to buy? Think about your business and think about how you would engage with that business on social media. If you’re a beauty company then great. You can engage in all manner of ways. If you sell roofing services is it the most profitable platform for you?
5/. Choosing An Agency
There are LOTS of digital agencies. There will be five more in your country alone by the end of the month. People are constantly learning their trade in agencies then striking off alone to make their own way. Some succeed and others fail just as often. Some companies you see are full service digital agencies. Some specialise in one area or have started in one channel such as web design and moved out (our bread and butter was PPC and conversion optimisation historically if you’re wondering).
An unfortunate by product of the competitiveness of this industry is that there are churn and burn agencies who take high volume customers for low levels of attention, high pressure sales agencies, agencies who manipulate the numbers or will discredit others unfairly, agencies who charge the earth, often due to having London postcodes or high street brands on their books, but offer an SME less of a service (small fish big pond syndrome) for inflated cost. Take your time choosing your agency and question EVERYTHING. A website can project any image you want. So a good site does not equal a good company. There are sadly free templates some agencies use for their websites, a bad site however can indicate a lack of attention (practice what you preach and all that jazz).
Pricing is important yes, but not at the expense of quality. Someone’s offering to do it for a bargain then ask yourself why? If they’re trying to upsell you multiple services then again ask yourself if they’re doing the right thing for you. Ensure there’s logic that stands up to their recommendations.
Here are some quick tips for choosing an agency:
- Don’t be baffled by numbers – Agencies can give you predicted figures but these are all guesstimates. How they will achieve those numbers in detail is generally much more important.
- Eggs in one basket – Decide whether you want the hassle of all the separate marketing activity with separate companies who specialise in that one area each, or if you want it all with one company. This shapes your search for a new agency/agencies.
- Authority – If the company is a web design agency first and foremost then they may have recruited a solid individual or team that does digital marketing, but it’s not their bread and butter. Some agencies unfortunately have muddled their way through learning ppc or seo (for example) using unsuspecting client’s budget. Establish what qualifies them as a professional and proves experience.
- Day to Day – Establish how the relationship will work. Will you talk to one person then be passed to another while the actual work is done by another. Understand who does what and then see how this fits with how you want to work.
- Contract Length – If someone wants to sign you in for 6 months at a time then take your time making a decision. Is it a lack of confidence on their part or a justifiable business decision? If it does go wrong in month two consider the impact.
6/. Take the time to learn the basics
Depending on your choice of channels to market online and whether or not you choose to use an agency, make sure you familiarise yourself with a small amount of the basic knowledge. This changes depending on whether you’re going to try and do a spot of digital diy of course, but even if it’s all going to be outsourced a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. You tube has lots of tutorial videos and there are any number of blogs (like our own) that offer useful hints and tips as well as explanations.
Break learning down to half an hour a day as it is a short enough period of time not to disrupt you too much and before you know it you will have enough to manage a relationship. Although I write this with a word to the wise. If you’re outsourcing then please read tip number 8….professionals are there for a reason! If you’re a plumber would you expect a web designer to tell you how to fit a central heating system properly????
There’s a golden rule Converted.co.uk have lived by in business. ‘If you are not moving forward you are moving backwards.’ While you might be happy to leave things and not change your website, your company, your products, your digital marketing, your communication – to name a few; there are competitors out there who would and will be doing so.
Everything needs to be tested. Only by challenging data and ways of working, can you improve. If you owned a physical clothes shop premises you wouldn’t leave the layout exactly the same year in year out. Why do the same with your website?
Here at Converted we have tested things you probably have not ever considered important before (such as just the landing page images, ad text, content syntax, lightbox layout etc…) and this has turned into fantastic results, improved customer engagement and better insight.
Wherever possible get feedback from your data and your customers and look for ways to improve your business. It is easier to talk than it is to listen and more often than not you can get a blindness to certain aspects of your business being in it day in day out.
Actually listen to professionals, your customers, and your data and don’t be afraid to change the status quo. A sad reality is some successful business people find it difficult to take on board feedback if it contradicts their own opinion. Being strong minded is a fantastic asset. Being inflexible and ignorant of professional insight is not.
Feedback is a two way street. Make sure you are communicating with your stakeholders effectively and that you are actually listening to authoritative voices and what they recommend.
9/. Competitor Research Vs Your Identity
Never stop looking at your market and never get bogged down in it. Competitors will change their messages, designs, pricing, marketing spend and more depending on their own data. You can gain insight from their changes to help you accelerate your own performance.
A word to the wise though we have seen clients become obsessed by others and their online performance. Each site and marketing campaign performs differently. You can literally replicate two digital marketing strategies and Focus on doing what you do better as much as what others are doing and this balancing act will result in better long term results.
10/. Try and try again
If you have experienced poor performance from one channel of digital marketing then do not get discouraged. Not everyone hits the ground running every time. Not every marketing channel is right for every business.
If you had one bad holiday would you never go away again? Trying to succeed online is the same. Not everything works every time. But as long as you learn and adapt and test, then you will have a good chance of success, as digital marketing is a process and not an event. Ultimately technology and how we interact with it is constantly evolving and changing. To allow your business to compete in these changing times means you cannot shy away from digital marketing. You must understand it or engage with people who do and who you feel you can work with.
A good digital agency should act like an extension to the business without constraining fixed costs.
So if you need advice, support or want to have a professional agency work with your SME business then feel free to get in touch.
Otherwise I hope you have found this article useful.