The internet is the perfect forum for small businesses to compete with big brands. Audience reach, social sharing and unlimited sales and marketing opportunities have leveled the playing field between big and small companies. Still, a surprising percentage of small businesses have remained on the sidelines. Either they don't have an online marketing strategy, or the one they're using is inadequate, and therefore unsuccessful. So why are some smaller companies not taking full advantage of this potent and indispensable marketing tool?
According to Kelly Shelton, vice president of marketing at Boostability, an internet services company, here are the three most common and persistent barriers to effective internet utilization.
1. Many small business owners don't fully understand the inner workings of the internet.
If you've tried digital marketing and failed, it could be due to any number of reasons:
- Not understanding how prospects shop and purchase (or at least convert to a lead) online
- Business owners are intimidated by the unknown (foreign) language of the internet
- Not adequately answering your customers' questions
- Not having a system to convert leads into sales while interest is high
- Not promoting your offerings in a compelling manner
- Selecting the wrong vendor to help with an online strategy
- Not diversifying your marketing across channels to hit a wider audience from multiple angles
- Giving up too soon
“Giving up too soon is a huge problem,” warns Shelton. “You have to be patient. Oftentimes, work is begun on behalf of a company in the areas of SEO and social media, but they see no results for six to eight months. This is typical and to be expected. But small business owners generally hope to see immediate results. In reality, it almost always takes time.”
A solid internet marketing strategy is an all-in proposition, with all the moving parts interconnected. Your content must be optimized for search and ranking, well planned and created, and promoted passionately across multiple channels. Content marketing, social media and SEO strategies go hand-in-hand -- and represent the long game. It takes time to improve your ranking and to connect with and win over new customers.
Pay-per-click (PPC) and email marketing campaigns might have the fastest, most measurable effect, but without supporting content, you won't be able to sustain the effort. As any savvy virtual marketer will tell you, one-offs are a flash in the pan. Consistent marketing reduces sales cycle times, fills your pipeline and generates repeat business.
“It's important for any outside consultant to be straightforward and honest with small business owners, even if it means losing sales,” says Shelton. “Shady marketers will promise instant results and not deliver. This industry is notorious for making promises that can’t be kept.”
2. Differing opinions among industry professionals, and Google’s constant changing of the game.
Digital marketing professionals are constantly battling over the essentials of SEO, social media and which tactics will get you the most clicks, likes, impressions and shares. Gurus argue about everything from link building to content length to the factors that will create trust the fastest. If experts can't agree, how can small business owners know they're doing the most effective thing? Even when experts agree, Google is constantly refining their algorithm and has been known to change the rules of engagement without warning.
Shelton breaks it down. “Many experts tend to debate the bigger picture, and give vague advice such as 'write content that people will like.' They can often talk at a general level. Every industry. Most websites. All kinds of blogs. While there are generalities that tend to work in some situations, one size does not fit all in the digital world. Your most effective answer depends on your business, your product and your clientele. Your business may find the most success with Snapchat graphics aimed at millennial consumers or with in-depth, local mobile marketing to snag diners looking for a great burger, or lengthy, data-driven reports for CEOs considering big-ticket contractors.”
Know your business and your customers. If you get outside help, make sure they know the specific success factors and key indicators that will drive your company’s success.
3. Small business owners often think they can't afford an effective marketing plan.
What small business isn't on a small budget? And if you find an affordable provider, how can you understand what you're getting for the money? Many internet services companies are geared toward a larger clientele and can charge thousands per month. That’s out of reach for the average small company. Even lower-priced marketing companies come in at wildly different price points for seemingly similar services. It's often hard to separate the intangible value of “Our company will craft a content strategy for you” from the more tangible “Our company will implement a content strategy for you.”
As Shelton puts it, “It's like dreaming of going to the moon. You can make a plan, but if you don't build a rocket, you aren't going to get there. Make sure what you’re paying for includes the rocket.”
Look for a marketing company that offers you a detailed, comprehensive plan covering all the bases. Content strategy is useless without aggressive implementation. Ask a lot of questions to be sure you know what real value you're getting for your investment.
It's a brave new world of marketing. People don't pull out the yellow pages and check for the quarter page ads any more, and they haven't for a long time. Instead, they research companies online and can learn everything -- sometimes more than you want them to know. An effective marketing company will produce and promote great content, tell you what to expect in plain language, explain the metrics so you can see the results, and take the time to understand your company, your products and your customers.
On the internet, your small company can appear just as professional and attractive as the much bigger players in your industry. If you have been sitting this one out, you’ve waited too long. It’s time to jump in with both feet.