Small Business Owner’s Guide to Digital Marketing

Maze of Digital Marketing

Starting a new business is hard, especially if you are working on a shoestring budget. It takes hard work and dedication just to get to the point where your products and/or services are ready to be publicly available. Now you have a new challenge; how do you let people know about your business and convert them into customers? Many businesses turn to digital marketing as the solution to this challenge because it’s cheaper and more accessible than more traditional forms of advertising like TV ads or billboards. 

However, using digital marketing comes with its own unique set of challenges. There is a significant learning curve to being able to use most digital ad platforms effectively. Even tech-savvy business owners may find it difficult to know where to even start or who to ask for help. Below are the answers to a few of the common questions that entrepreneurs have when they are looking to start or improve their digital marketing efforts. 

Should I try to learn digital marketing?

You should at least educate yourself about the fundamentals and terminology of digital marketing. At a minimum, you need this information to be able to evaluate the marketing work that agencies or employees do for you.  

If you are just starting your business and don’t have the resources to hire someone, then it may be worth it for you to try to teach yourself how to do your own digital marketing.  There are many resources online to learn from if you are willing to invest the time to study and learn. However, there are some risks to this approach.  First, no matter how much you study, to really get good at digital marketing takes hands-on experience with using the tools and figuring out what methods are most successful. Second,  the money you save by doing the work yourself may end up costing you more in the long run, as it takes away time and focus from other key parts of your business. Finally, at least to begin with, you are probably going to lose more money and have poorer performance with your digital ad campaigns than you would if you use a professional.  In many cases, you may be better off focusing on growing and improving your core business until you can afford to hire a professional. 

 Should I hire an agency, freelancer, or a new employee to handle my marketing for me?

It depends on the scale of your marketing and the available budget you have to work with. If you need a little expertise for a limited time or only occasionally, then a freelancer is probably going to be the most affordable option. If you have sizable marketing needs on an ongoing basis, hiring someone in-house may be a good option for you. If you have a large marketing budget and need to start marketing quickly, an agency will have the resources and systems to do that for you. 

Many mid- to large- sized businesses have a combination of two or all three types of marketing service providers. An in-house marketing manager or department may handle the day to day marketing stuff, but contract out work with freelancers and/or agencies to augment their abilities in terms of skill or capacity.

Won’t Google/Facebook/Amazon/etc help me run my ads on their platforms?

The major  digital ad platforms do provide a wealth of useful online information, tools, and training on how to use their platforms.  These resources can teach you the basic use and various features of each platform, but they don’t really teach you how to use their platform to run cost-effective ad campaigns. Think of it like driving a car; you can read the manual of a car and learn what the controls do, but it doesn’t teach you the techniques or give you the experience to be an expert driver. 

The major ad platforms do have customer service lines as well as account agents for larger ad accounts. However, the quality of the service you get from the customer service lines is generally poor, as most of it is outsourced to other countries and the reps often don’t have more than a basic understanding of the platform. Account agents offer better service, but ultimately there is a fundamental conflict of interest involved with depending on a representative from an ad platform to advise you on how to run your ad campaigns. Their priority isn’t helping your business run better ad campaigns, but to get you to spend more money on ads on their platform. It’s better to get advice from a third party marketing service provider whose interests  are better aligned with helping your business grow.

How much do I need to start running online advertising?

While technically there is no minimum for campaign budgets on most platforms, in real terms you probably need to have a budget of at least $100-300/month depending on what type of ads you are running. If you are running ads that have a low cost per click, like display or shopping ads, you can have a smaller budget, while more expensive search or video ads usually require a higher budget.

The reason you need to have ad budgets of at least this size is that otherwise you have so little performance data from your campaigns that it becomes difficult to manage effectively within any reasonable timeframe.

How do I know if my ads are working?

One of the best features of digital marketing is that you can measure the results of your ads in great detail. This is done using web analytics tools, which can tell you how many people are visiting your site, where they are coming from, and what they do once they’re on your site. Most website hosting platforms come with some form of basic web analytics built in, but these usually don’t provide enough data for most marketing purposes. Google Analytics is the most commonly used analytics platform, as it is free and integrates well with Google Ads and other Google products, but there are other web analytic tools available, particularly for more advanced users.

 It usually takes a little bit of work to set web analytics for a website, particularly if you are an e-commerce business selling a variety of products at different prices. However, having accurate tracking is essential to the success of any digital marketing effort. Before starting any ad campaigns, make you have your site analytics in place to measure the results. Even if you have already set up directly through the ad platform, having site analytics set up not only gives you a better picture of where all your web traffic is coming from, but it gives you data to compare against your ad analytics if you need to troubleshoot any click or conversion tracking issues. 

Once you have good tracking in place, a few simple calculations can help you figure out what kind of return you are getting on your ad budget. Your analytics should be able to tell you how many transactions and how much revenue  were made by visitors who reached your site by clicking on one of your ads. Take the amount of total revenue that came from ads and multiply it times your profit margin to get your net profit. Divide your net profit by your ad budget and you get your Return On Investment (ROI) ratio. 

There are a lot of other numbers and metrics related to digital ads, but don’t let those distract you from your bottom line and your ROI ratio. That being said, don’t expect results overnight, as it can take some time after a new campaign is started or major changes are made to an existing one before the full results can start to be seen.

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