digital marketing for small businesses getting started 2

Digital Marketing for Small Businesses – 5 Steps For Setting Your Strategy

In today’s digital age, the landscape of digital marketing has evolved significantly, especially for small businesses striving to carve out their niche.

Crafting a robust digital marketing strategy is no longer optional but essential for survival and growth.

This article lays out a comprehensive five-step guide to help small business owners navigate the complexities of digital marketing.

By focusing on setting measurable goals, understanding their audience, defining their brand, monitoring competition, and tracking metrics, small businesses can build a strong online presence and drive substantial growth.

Creating goals in Google Analytics

1. Set a measurable goal

Looking at the types of goals we’ve set out, pick one to concentrate on. Really understanding the goal you’re trying to hit is the first step to reaching it.

Give me an example!

Misha is a photographer and recently, she’s started producing video for clients too.

She wants to let all of her regular customers know that she offers this extra service so that her photography customers can purchase video production work. She writes the following strategy for this campaign:

“I want to make sure 100% of my current customers know I offer video services. I will run email and social promotions to share this message for 2 months.

After 3 months from the start of the promotion, I want to have at least 1 video commission from 15% of my current customers.”

“Really understanding the goal you’re trying to hit is the first step to reaching it.”

identify your target audience for your digital marketing strategy

2. Know your audience

Get to know your audience. If you don’t understand enough about who you’re trying to reach, you’ll struggle to deliver a message that’s relevant enough that resonates with them.

The good news is that you don’t need to hire a customer research agency to do this for you.

The easiest way to make sure you don’t come up with a watery ‘general’ campaign is to make your own buyer personas — fictionalised, general descriptions of your key customer groups.

  • Think about who your customers are and group them into 3 or 4 buckets.
  • Take each of those and create a character from each.
  • Give him or her a name, a photo, a personality, and a few favourite hobbies.

Our biggest tip: rank your buyer personas! Before you start, be totally clear which of them is the most important.

Give me an example!

Misha will always be called on for weddings – that’s her bread and butter.

While she’ll frequently deal with anyone from the groom to the bride’s sister on the actual day, it’s usually the bride-to-be she knows she needs to win over first to land the customer.

So Misha’s first buyer persona is a nervous bride.

Next up for her is photography for small, local businesses — usually people who want some nice images for their website, catalogs or brochures.

Her second persona is Jake, who’s run a coffee shop for 3 years and is about to redecorate his café and launch a new website.

Misha knows that her opportunity to grow her business will only come from reaching bigger clients with a regular requirement.

She doesn’t have any customers like this yet, but it’s where she wants her business to go next.

Her 3rd persona is the marketing manager for a big retail brand headquartered in her city. They launch new products every month, and every time they do, they need photography.

User personas – an example

Name and bio – job, family, age and location
Goals at work
How you can help them reach their goals
How you can help them overcome their challenges
What they like about your service
Their objections
Your elevator pitch to them

3. Know your brand

Your brand is how and why your customers choose you over your competitors. You can think of it as your company’s personality.

It’s something that’s worth defining clearly —what do you stand for? What are your strongest character traits?

And how does that translate into your presence — from the images you use on your website to the language you use in your emails?

The best way to answer these questions is by getting out and speaking directly with your customers.

You could assume what your brand stands for, but the best way to check is by understanding how your ideal customers talk about your brand. Talk to your customers!

Brand Health Check

Do you really know what your brand stands for?

Who is your customer? Get your personas lined up, visualised and ranked—use them to help you answer the following questions.

  • What problem do you solve? From your customer’s perspective, what challenges are you solving for them? Visualise your perceived value.
  • What are your distinctive benefits? List three to five benefits your customer gets from choosing your product/service that customers don’t get from going somewhere else. These are called your value propositions (or value props for short). What’s your brand promise? This is like a pledge.
  • What will you always do for your customers? This is the other key part of your proposition that separates you from the competition.
  • How does it fit together? Take your answers so far and try to craft a single paragraph that covers them. It’s ok if things merge and overlap—the aim is to end up with a unique message.
  • Can you make it shorter? Now, refine. Take your time, review again and again until you’ve distilled your value propositions to one clear line that captures everything you want to say.
digital marketing competition

4. Watch your competition

Your competitors aren’t just those who offer a like-for-like product or service. You can think of your competition in 3 ways:

Direct competitors – those brands that offer the same products or services as you.

Indirect competitors – brands that may offer different products but compete for the same space or budget as you.

Comparators – these might have a similar look and feel like your brand or be other brands that your target customers use frequently too.

You want to know what you’re up against, and you can learn vicariously from both triumphs and mistakes.

Get inspired by your competitors’ wins, and use your differences to highlight what’s unique about what you’re offering.

Not sure where to gather your intel?

Here’s how to get started;

  • Start with your customers! The best place to see where you rank up against your competitors, or to find which competitive alternatives are most relevant for you, is in the mind of your customers. Ask them about which other competitive alternatives that they’ve tried, and dig in by asking “why” so that you can learn from real stories.
  • Search for a few key terms related to your industry, and note where each brand ranks on the results page.
  • Try out your competitors – you don’t need to buy their products if it’s costly, but you can read their reviews, explore their website and sign up for their newsletter.
  • Note where and when you see your competitors’ ads and screenshot them.
  • Follow lots of other brands’ social channels.
  • Use paid-for online tools like Alexa for analysis on how well your competitors’ sites do in search rankings and web traffic.

5. Get ready to measure

Having brilliant ideas for how you’ll drive traffic, build brand awareness, and grow your customer base is just the beginning, it’s crucial you know how you’ll track progress, so you can adjust your plan based on what gets the best reaction.

There are lots of different things you can measure (metrics)—but a benchmark of what a ‘good’ score is (KPI), will depend entirely on you.

Give me an example!

If you posted a new blog post that included some video content on the page, look at how many:

  • Views you get
  • Views of the video
  • Engagement with the video (likes, comments, shares)
  • Clicks to your blog CTA
  • Leads from the post
  • Increase in leads from the post vs. posts without videos

Before you start any campaign, familiarise yourself with important metrics associated with your goals, like those examples we’ve listed above.

There are plenty of different things you might want to measure depending on your goals – so bear in mind things like geographic or demographic information that you’re interested in tracking as well.

Track the performance of these metrics over time and you’ll start to get a benchmark number for how your content is performing.

“Pick the metrics that will provide the best insight as to whether or not you’ll hit your goal.”

Digital marketing can be a game-changer for small businesses, offering unprecedented opportunities to reach and engage with customers.

By following these five strategic steps—setting measurable goals, knowing your audience, defining your brand, watching your competition, and preparing to measure your efforts—you can develop a targeted and effective marketing plan.

This approach not only helps in maximising your marketing efforts but also ensures that every move is data-driven and tailored to your business’s unique needs.

Embrace these strategies to stay ahead in the competitive digital landscape and propel your business towards success.

Read the rest of the

Digital Marketing Series

Digital Marketing for Small Businesses

  • Paid Search Ads Techniques
  • Display Advertising Techniques
  • Sponsored Social Post Techniques
  • Email Marketing Techniques
  • Native Marketing Techniques
  • Customer Advocacy Marketing Techniques


Caroline Hagan

Caroline brings over 20 years experience as a Designer and Developer; featured in .NET magazine, the only woman in the UK accredited for Google Mobile Sites. A STEM Ambassador and Google Women Techmaker Ambassador. Previous clients include Blackberry, FIAT, Clark Shoes and Sky.

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