Digital Marketing for Small Business: How to Get Started

Digital Marketing for Small Business: How to Get Started

Personal trainer recording a fitness video as part of her small business digital marketing strategy

In an age of blogs, tweets, e-newsletters and Instagram stories, digital marketing can seem overwhelming and confusing! Many small business owners want to spread the word about their products and services online, but don’t know where to start.

“I want to get into online marketing, but what does that actually mean? What are my options? What does all this stuff do? How does it all fit together?” These are questions I get asked all the time.

This article is my Intro to Digital Marketing 101. Let’s talk about the basic components to get started, and how everything fits together.

A Company Website: Your Online Foundation

With so many free social media platforms available, do you really still need a company website?

For most businesses, my answer is a resounding yes! Your company website is your launchpad. It’s the central hub that connects all of your other online efforts. Social media is a great way to bring people to your website, where they can learn more about your business and ultimately become customers.

Sure, people can learn a lot about you from just your Facebook page. But there’s no other online platform that lets you say exactly what you want to say, exactly how you want to say it. Social media platforms are all different and they want you to share information their way: in 280 characters on Twitter, or in a photo or video on Instagram. Your website is the only place where you have full control over your message.

Why do you need a website and not just social media?

  • Having a website makes you easier to find. People can just google your business name and they’ll get all the information they need—plus the links to all your social media accounts in one convenience spot.
  • You can do more with a website. Email sign-ups, blogs, downloadable resources, event calendars, online stores, food menus and customer reviews. Name one social media platform that can do all that and more!
  • With a website, you own your own content and have control over it. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great tools—but they’re also private companies themselves. It’s possible for them to delete your account, ban you, start charging fees or just go under.
  • Social media platforms can change their rules. This is exactly what happened with Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change, which prioritized personal connections over business content. Almost overnight, business pages saw a huge, sustained drop in engagement.
  • Having a website says that you’re serious and professional. Anyone can set up a page on social media—heck, my cats have their own Instagram account (obviously, they do not run it themselves!).
  • Unlike social media, which limits your exposure to just people who use that platform, everyone online uses Google and the Internet.

Social Media: One Big Online Networking Event

If a website is your business’s online “home,” social media is all the places your business “goes out” to meet and connect with new people.

No matter how great your website is, chances are people aren’t going to visit it every day. But lots of people check their Twitter feed on their lunch breaks or watch Instagram stories in the evening after work. By posting to social media, you can interact with your customers in a small way every day.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch and let people know what’s new with your business. It let customers know about your new products, events you’re running and community initiatives you’re involved with. It’s also a great tool to share knowledge with your customers—they learn something helpful, plus learn that you’re a trusted expert on the subject.

How do you get followers on social media?

It can be daunting to get started on social media. At the beginning, you feel like you’re shouting out into the void.

The truth is, like most things, social media takes time to see results. The most important thing is that you’re posting valuable content. It could be funny, useful, entertaining, informative, emotional or beautiful—for most businesses, a mix is best. If you need inspiration, look at what other people in your industry are posting.

It’s okay to post sales-y content sometimes, but make sure you mix it up with lots of helpful or fun content. Posting the same thing over and over is boring—and people won’t want to see it.

How do you build your social media following?

  • Ask friends and family to follow you first, so that when others visit your page they’ll see you have some audience already.
  • Let existing customers know about your page so they can follow you. Put your accounts on your business card and put links on your website.
  • Follow the people you want to follow you (especially other businesses) and be active by liking and commenting on their posts. In many cases, people will follow you back. Be careful not to follow too many new people at once, though—most social media platforms find this behaviour “suspicious” and might temporarily ban you from it.
  • Follow related businesses that can refer you. For example, a mortgage broker should follow local real estate agents.
  • Use hashtags (especially localized ones) to make yourself “discoverable” and reach a wider audience. For example, a real estate agent might use hashtags like #justlisted or #torontorealestate to help house-hunters find their account.
  • Post regularly so people will see your feed is active. Having trouble staying consistent? You can use free apps like Buffer, Later and Hootsuite to schedule your posts for the week ahead of time.
  • Encourage people to follow you by running contests or giveaways. For example, a sporting goods store might run a contest for a store gift card. They could ask people to tag their favourite teammate(s) for a chance to win.

But I’m a [insert job]. Why would anyone follow me?

I’m very happy with my pest control company (oh, East Toronto, I love you but you have termite issues). In fact, I’m so happy with them that I’ll even plug Mike from Bugs R Us. But do I want to follow them on Instagram? Hard no.

So why would certain industries bother with social media when they know most people won’t want to follow them? Because social media is the digital version of word-of-mouth.

Fake screenshot of my friend crying that she has bedbugs on Facebook and me referring her to my pest control company.

If a friend posts to Facebook asking for referrals for a plumber or an electrician, I’ll absolutely reply and tag that company’s Facebook page—even if it’s one I don’t actually follow myself. And if she visits their page and finds helpful information or a 10% off special for the month of April, you can bet she’s going to contact them.

But for companies like these, sometimes sharing information from your own website is the most effective route.

Blogs, Articles and Online Resources

How many people have googled “How to use a toilet auger” or “Blinking light furnace what does it mean”? These searches generally take you to a helpful resource someone’s written on their company website’s blog. A great first introduction to that business!

Screenshot googling "how to use a toilet auger toronto" with my article for Neighbourhood Plumbing ranked first
(Fun fact: The article I wrote for Neighbourhood Plumbing currently comes up first when you google How to use a toilet auger Toronto)

I’ve already written about the benefits of content creation to boost your website’s SEO in the past. I encourage you to check out my posts SEO Best Practices for 2019: UX and Content Creation and SEO Writing Tips for Creating Your Own Content for more info.

Email Marketing

Let’s say you’re a store and you want to let your customers know about a sale you’re having. You put up a sale banner on your website and post a flyer to all your social media channels. But what if customers miss the post? What about customers who don’t use social media?

Email might seem old-school, but the fact is almost everyone has an email account and most people check it daily. And unlike social media platforms, which some people activate/deactivate for periods, many people keep the same email address for decades.

Much like your website, email marketing gives you the freedom and flexibility to get your message across your way. It can be whatever you need it to be, from a text-heavy monthly e-newsletter to a mostly-images sales flyer.

Generally, I recommend email marketing as a gentle way to regularly touch base with customers. For many businesses, a monthly or biweekly newsletter can act as a “digest” of your recent activities (like your latest blog posts) and let people know about any upcoming events or initiatives.

Forming a cohesive digital marketing strategy

If you work alone or as part of a small group, doing all these things can seem completely overwhelming! But not to worry: in most cases, all the pieces fit together and support each other.

I have a basic framework that I use for myself and many of my clients to keep things simple and effective. Depending on the industry, I might omit/add things or prioritize some things more than other, but this is the general outline.

A basic digital marketing plan for small businesses

  1. Set up an informative, attractive business website. It should clearly state what you do (products/services), what area(s) you serve and provide a method to contact you.
  2. Post regular, scheduled content to your website to boost your search engine optimization (SEO). This content will also be the theme of your other online marketing efforts for this month.
  3. Take your most recent website content, hack it up into tiny tips, stories and facts, and make social media posts out of them. Make or find related graphics to post with them for Instagram. On Twitter and Facebook, include links back to the full article on your website. You can schedule a few posts ahead of time through a scheduling app and plan to post unrelated, more spontaneous content on other days to mix it up.
  4. Gather your articles and best social media posts back up together to create a monthly marketing email. You can include excerpts from your most recent articles (and/or one full article), images from your Instagram feed, a photo or description of a new product or service and invitations to any upcoming events or sales.

What about review sites? Google ads? Social media ads?

Digital marketing opens up a whole new world of possibility for your small business—much more than I have time to cover in one blog post! I could get into:

I hope to cover all of these topics over the coming months. If you have questions about any of them in the meantime or want plan out a digital marketing strategy for your business, please contact me through the form below (or any of my social media accounts!).