Online marketing for small or medium business can be a very frustrating endeavor if you do not know how to approach it. On top of the many hats you wear, you have to add quite a few more – those of a webmaster, web designer, copywriter and online marketer, to name just some of them.

What is SMB digital marketing?


SMB in marketing stands for small to medium business. In Europe, the term used is SME – small to medium enterprise. Digital marketing is made of all the online points of contact that a business has with its potential customers on the Internet – from a website to paid advertising, email marketing and customer relationship management.

SMB Marketing Process

A successful SMB digital marketing campaign can be compared to a well oiled machine, where the many little parts and gears have to spin just right and help out the adjacent components.


If you are considering to allocate a digital marketing budget for your business, these are the questions that you have to ask first:


  • what are some of the marketing challenges that you need to overcome?
  • whether you can do the project yourself, in-house by one of your employees or if you need to hire a small business marketing agency?
  • if you decide to hire someone which are the costs and benefits? Should you work on your marketing in-house or should you hire an agency?
  • where do you start? What is the most cost and time effective platform for your first campaign?
  • how do you scale up your local marketing campaigns? Once wheels start moving, which is the best next step?


Small Business Digital Marketing Challenges


One of the hardest things to do when running a small business digital marketing campaign is to keep it cost effective.

Here is why:


Not Enough Leads


Just designing a business website, by itself, is not going to bring you unlimited leads. You need to invest in additional services, such as SEO, pay per click and email marketing.

Your SMB marketing spend can skyrocket really fast.

the key to marketing success
Make sure the key is not more expensive than the treasure it unlocks.

The solution to managing costs is to start only one project at a time and to choose the right marketing consultant.


Lack Of Technical Knowledge


About 45% of the small businesses do not even have a website. A few of the reasons why you need a website are:

  • it lends your business credibility
  • it improves your customer service
  • it helps your customers find you and it provides them with the information they are actively searching for
  • it helps you generate leads

One of the reasons stopping businesses from getting a website is lack of technical knowledge.


There are a lot of hats that you need to wear when you run your own business. Once you need to start advertising online, it gets even tougher.

Here is why.

When I first started doing online marketing, I spent hours and days dealing with hosting, website and email issues. I'll admit:

I ruined my fair share of websites by either editing the code or by trying to reduce the website loading time (for a website with a lot of features, it's harder than you think).

And then I put them back online.

website source code
There is more to a well designed website than just being visually pleasing. A lot more.

My pride in succeeding to make a website run smooth(er) lasted for mere minutes. Until I realized that I still had to write content and start bringing some traffic to the website.

Copywriting, SEO and PPC have become industries of their own nowadays. With an industrial quantity of knowledge needed to run them successfully.

But, my path was set.


There Are No Static Digital Marketing Standards


Sure, there are companies that try to standardize sales funnels and certain strategies. Some of them are really good.

For example, you can design a lead magnet to get more leads. A lead magnet something free or discounted that you give to your customer in exchange for their information. That can be an ebook, white paper, 30% off the first appointment or a free initial consultation. You then use their information - name and email address to advertise products and services to them.

planning a digital marketing campaign
Digital marketing planning gives you a direction to follow.

But, at the top of the funnel sits a traffic source such as Facebook, Google, Twitter that is filtered through your own website, local listing or social media account.

The standards for these platforms change very often, sometimes from one month to another. Websites have to be faster and faster and mobile responsive. There might be more requirements and regulations on Google and social media platforms than there are actual search results (just kidding).

What worked yesterday and made you a digital marketing expert might not work tomorrow.

In the digital marketing industry, you are either constantly learning, outsourcing or you don't exist.


In House vs Outsourcing Digital Marketing


I can give you a lot of reasons why you should hire a digital marketing agency. I can also give you quite a few reasons why you shouldn't use one. Let's take a look at just a few of them.


DIY Marketing Takes Too Long


A lot of small business owners try to spearhead their own marketing efforts. A penny saved is a penny earned, so there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

DIY Marketing After Hours
You will have to work after-hours and develop your technical knowledge first

However, most of them quickly run into a wall due to technical challenges and lack of time.

It can take months or years to learn how to work with the many platforms, mediums and software solutions available. If you run a side business and have the time to spare, I recommend that you start with affordable training such the marketing courses from Udemy.

The solution is to hire a small business marketing agency that has a proven track record in the area where you are located. That will free up a lot of time that you can use to improve your services, improve the relationship with your customers and increase their lifetime value.


In-house Digital Marketing Is Expensive


According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average 2017 salary for a web developer in Illinois was $78,000.

Chances are that a web developer will only cover website related tasks. If you want someone that can direct your marketing campaigns, you need a marketing manager. The average 2017 salary for a marketing manager in Illinois was $122,000.

Marketing Salary
Digital marketing is a highly specialized industry. There are few experienced specialists and salaries are high.

Hiring in-house experts makes a lot of sense. They can help you with a lot of tasks and bring a good ROI.

But it only makes sense to hire in-house digital marketing help when you run a big operation.


Marketing Outsourcing


You have two outsourcing options:


Outsource Marketing Overseas

It is the cheapest option. Some places where you can do that are Freelancer and Upwork.

outsourcing results not guaranteed
You have little control over performance and work ethics when you outsource overseas.

Many times, it is also the least effective. A few of the reasons why are:

  • it is hard to hold a company or individual located thousands of miles away accountable.
  • they might not have the experience they claim they do.
  • they might not have the same approach towards work ethics and consistence that you are used to.
  • due to language and lifestyle differences, you might have to redo their copyrighting work.

There are good marketing professionals & agencies overseas, of course.

But do not expect dirt-cheap prices when working with a top-notch company. Lots of times their prices are comparable to US prices.


Hire A Local SMB Digital Marketing Agency

digital marketing agency planning
Working with a local online marketing agency

Most of the time, hiring a digital marketing agency near you is more cost-effective than the other options:

  • you only pay a fraction of what you would pay to an in house marketing team
  • usually, they have a broader reach and can cover more services than you could cover by yourself
  • they have well-mapped processes that have been tested and vetted by other local companies


There are some downsides to hiring an agency, as well:

  • some of the big agencies move slow. They might take weeks to get the copy from the copywriter, get it approved and hand it to the designer to publish it on your website.
  • some agencies are not very transparent. They use 'secret juice' or 'proprietary formulas'. While some strategies are very complex and hard to explain, they should still explain in broad lines how they spent the time marketing your company.


Usually, hiring a local digital marketing company that is similarly sized to your own takes care of these issues.


Small Business Digital Marketing Strategies


There have been thousands of books and articles written on these topics, so I will not get into the technical details or advanced strategies.

Keep on reading, though, you will still get a nugget of knowledge (or several).

***Important Note*** Regardless of what your specific marketing strategy is, consistency will take you far. Create content on a regular basis, check your campaigns often and work patiently on building a positive online reputation.


Email Marketing For SMB


Most local businesses should offer discounts or a lead magnet to collect customer emails from the very beginning. Given time, your email list will grow and bring you a good source of income with a very low overhead.


Good Reviews Will Get You Far


Another important SMB marketing strategy is to have a review generation system in place. I tell my clients to treat reviews the same way you treat money. A good review, for example equals $100. A bad review equals -$1000. No review equals $0 ?.

You should get familiar to the guidelines of popular review platforms such as Google & Yelp. What works for one could get you in hot water with another.


SMB Search Marketing


It is very important to choose the correct search marketing strategy when you first start investing in digital advertising.


Pay Per Click Marketing

PPC Marketing
Pay per click marketing is the fastest way for you to start getting some leads.

Pros - You can start advertising and collecting leads immediately.

Cons - You pay the search engines for each click. The cost for each click vary based on competition, your ad's overall performance and it is different from one search query to another.

How to approach it - You should calculate your customer lifetime value. The cost for acquiring a customer may seem a little bit high compared to the profit from the first transaction. However, if a customer buys your products or services again in the future or if he recommends you to others, the profit is all yours.

Challenges - For cost-effective pay per click marketing, you need to have very little wasted spend. That means keeping a very tight advertising account structure, bidding on the correct terms and match types, fighting off fraud (usually competition using VPNs to click and burn through your advertising budget) and tracking all the results with call and conversion tracking.

Sounds complicated?

It is. A lot of businesses hire certified search marketing experts to manage their pay per click ads.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO elements
Search engine optimization takes time but it pays in the long run.

Pros - With SEO, you do not have to pay for each click. Once you start ranking, you only need to maintain your rankings and create new content to get more leads.

Cons - SEO takes time, especially for new websites. You still need to pay someone to create content for you and to put together strategic optimization campaigns.

How to approach it -You should target lower competition terms at the beginning that still have a good commercial value. You can do that by creating valuable content - articles, videos, infographics, etc that targets those terms. Google sees links from other relevant websites to your own as a vote of confidence for your business. Therefore, getting links (or backlinks) is a very effective marketing strategy.

Challenges - If the links you get are seen as manipulative by Google, you might get penalized for having them. Search engine ranking factors change often and without notice. SEO is not an exact science and rankings are dynamic - your website is compared to those of your competitors by an algorithm. It means that if a competitor that you were previously outranking puts a more effort into whitehat SEO than you do, they might take your position on the search results page.

***Important Note*** A good starting point is to read the webmaster guidelines on Google and Bing. While the guides leave out some crucial parts of search engine optimization, they still offer a wealth of knowledge about technical SEO and more.


Social Media


It is a very good idea to keep at least a minimal presence on the most popular social media platforms.

Organic social media is tough to be made profitable.

Certain SMBs, such as restaurants still get a good return from platforms such as Yelp, Instagram and Pinterest.

Paid social media usually brings much better results but you still have to know the intricacies of each platform and what works and what doesn't.


Scaling Digital Marketing Campaigns


Scaling means increasing the number of leads you get through digital marketing. There are a lot of ways how you can do:

  • research new topics and create new content
  • re-purpose old content
  • improve existing content
  • optimize marketing campaigns
  • increase your conversion rate
  • increase your open rate and click rate for email marketing
  • see what works well for you and do more of it


How To Choose An Internet Marketing Company For Your Small Business


I bet you will agree with this:

Because digital marketing is so technical, it is extremely hard to tell who's going to bring you most wins.

obscure marketing strategies
Some agencies are intentionally vague and their communications with you are made entirely of obscure technical terms.

After all, you are dealing with marketers. It is what they do. How can you tell if they will actually deliver on their promises?

There are a few performance indicators that you can use.


Before you hire a SMB digital marketing agency:


  • do they have a marketing plan? It should be outlined in the proposal they first send you.
  • are they transparent? Do they make an effort to explain things?
  • do they have a proven track record?
  • are they trying to leverage your industry knowledge to get better results?


While working with a small business marketing company:


  • are they receptive to your inquiries?
  • how long does it take to get in touch with them?
  • do they make an effort to tally the time spent on your behalf?
  • do they use a lot of technical jargon without making an effort to explain things?
  • do they send you monthly reports?


This article was meant to give you a 30,000 ft. view of the digital marketing process and common strategies. Keep in mind that, while strategies and requirements will change at a frantic pace, there are 2 constants that will always stay the same - perseverance and consistency.