Ben Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Kelly Berry says, “Nothing is more confusing to small business owners than taxes and digital marketing.”
It may not have the same ring as Ben’s message, but does it ring true to you?
Let’s start with taxes.
I am a co-owner of one business, sole owner of another, and my husband and I own a business together for our real estate investments. My husband shares ownership of his business with four other owners, and that business has a subsidiary. And of course, I used to be a partner in another, failed business (check out my story).
We happily turn this big old mess of LLCs and S Corps over to our tax accountant who prepares our 97-page federal tax return (yes, I counted), not counting the K1s. And then we meet with him to review this document. He explains what he did and how it all looks, and to me, he sounds like the adult characters in the Charlie Brown movies. We nod our heads and try to look like we have some clue what he’s saying. Really, we just focus on the bottom line – do we owe money? And what do our quarterly taxes look like for the coming year?
I was shocked to discover that only thirty percent of small business owners work with an accountant. We are so grateful to have someone to take care of this complex issue as we continue to grow our businesses or add new types of businesses to our little personal portfolio of entrepreneurship. This is not an area that I would attempt on my own.
Speaking of challenging…
Let’s move on to digital marketing.
At least taxes only come around once a year. Marketing your business, however, is something that is, or at least should be, ongoing throughout the year. Digital marketing in particular has become the standard for most small businesses who don’t rely exclusively on referrals and repeat business.
To many small business owners, making decisions on how and where to spend your very limited marketing budget dollars feels like an exercise in futility. How do you measure your ROI? At what point does a CTR actually turn into a sale? What is the mystery behind the Facebook sorting algorithms? Should you be on TikTok? How much is too much to pay for a keyword with Google Adwords?
The number of questions is only exceeded by the number of times the answer has changed over the years. And that assumes that you know what to ask, and you speak the digital marketing language of click-through-rates, boosts, traffic, keywords, tags, tracking, analytics, landing pages, lead magnets, conversion rates, open rates, and so forth.
My digital marketing datapoints
On my weekly “Coffee with Karman and Kelly” Friday morning Zoom calls we discuss a wide variety of topics with the small business owners who join in for the networking and the guest speakers. Based on the topics we’ve covered for over a year now; I can say that any topic related to digital marketing is guaranteed to draw the largest crowds.
In my work with small business owners all over the country with the National Center for Economic Gardening, our team of researchers helps second stage businesses find new ways to grow. Digital marketing is by far the topic that gets the most buzz among these business owners. Who has time to keep up with the latest services from Linked-In, or the keywords used by competitors, or the ideal topics for your content creation strategy?
When I taught the Entrepreneurial Training Program through my local Small Business Development Center, the topic of discussion seemed to always veer towards digital marketing. Of course, this is only natural for new or aspiring entrepreneurs as their number one problem is how to let people know that they exist.
On top of that, many of the newer businesses I’ve encountered as a mentor are either apps, online service businesses, or direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. As a matter of fact, DTC sales account for 40 percent of the sales growth in the ecommerce sector, and it’s only going to continue to grow.
With so many businesses turning online to promote and often also to provide their products or services, digital marketing know-how is more important than ever before.
A Plethora of Possibilities
So where do you get started? How can you learn what the best options are for your business, what to set for a reasonable budget, or how to measure your return on investment? I have good news and bad news for you.
The good news – there is a vast array of sources available to you to learn more about (pick your topic): growing email lists, improving organic searching, creating social media messages that stand out, adding content to your website, and so forth.
The bad news – there is a vast array of sources available to you to learn. In other words, there is no straight-line easy path. Even if you hire a digital marketing expert to help with your website and social media marketing, the expert will turn to you first for a detailed description of your target market and your marketing goals and budget.
Digital Marketing for Dummies
Remember how I admitted above that I don’t always fully understand all the terminology our tax accountant uses when reviewing our income taxes? The same thing can happen when you meet with a digital marketing expert. They start spouting acronyms and you don’t want to stop and ask because maybe you’re the only one who doesn’t know what CPC or CTR or CRO stands for. So you nod your head and try to look pensive, all the while wondering how much you are willing to spend for an investment you still aren’t convinced has a return.
Now I will be the first to tell you that I am no expert when it comes to digital marketing. But I am an expert at research, and I have at least established a decent path that you as a small business owner can take as a starting point in the process before paying anyone. If you can start to answer these questions, you will be well on your way to finding the best digital marketing options for you to attract your ideal customers to your business.
Top Customer Connection Questions
- Who is your ideal customer?
No one will be able to help you until you can accurately describe who you are going after in your sales & marketing campaign. Whether you are looking for more of your best customers or trying to break into a new market, you need to be able to describe that ideal customer in as much detail as possible.
For B2B companies, consider these defining characteristics of your customer in your description: industry, size, age of business, geographic location, public or private (or government, non-profit/NGO), single business/franchise/chain, and seasonality or any other unique attributes. It also helps to uncover as much as you can about the actual person making the purchase (job title, location in chain of command, actual user of the product/service or not, education level, age group).
For B2C companies, focus on demographics and psychographic categories as discussed in a past blog post.
- Where do they get their information today?
Put yourself into the head of this ideal customer. If they have a problem and your business has a solution to offer, where might they find out about you or your competitors?
Where do they go first to learn about potential solutions like your product or service? Are they Googling it? Do they care if you are near them (aka “Find a plumber near me”)? Or do they learn about these possible solutions in a trade journal? Or a conference? Or a training program?
Do they listen to podcasts? Or read articles on Linked In? Who do they follow on Twitter? Do they belong to any networking groups or trade associations?
The more you can understand their sources of information and their motives for what to look for and where, the more strategic you can be with how you can put yourself in front of them.
- What other factors might influence their purchase decision?
What are you selling? Consider the cost and time commitment expected of your customer and how that can influence the sales lead time and the need to evaluate other bids. Are there in-house solutions or recommended providers?
Who is the end user? Is it the same as the person who sets the budget? What is the budget process and how might it affect their purchase decision? Are there extra signatures needed over some dollar amount? Does that play a role? The more you understand about the inner workings of your target customer, as well as their role in the supply chain, the better informed you are to sell to them.
Be sure to also consider what’s going on outside of their business that could have an impact – like, say, a global pandemic or an extreme shortage of a raw material, as some purely hypothetical examples. ?
Also look into whether there are any big changes going on in the industry or the company that might make them more open to trying your version of a solution for them. Are they growing rapidly? Opening a new location? Merging with another business? Hiring a new CEO? What changes give you the opportunity to reach out, and then increase your chances that they might be interested in buying what you’re selling?
“It all comes down to research”, says the Market Researcher
For those of you who have worked with me, I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that my recommendation on how to get started with digital marketing is through research of your customers and their industry. Sure, like the old saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail”, I do tend to start all of my problem-solving expeditions with market research, my go-to solution. But it’s not just because market research is a key tool in my tool belt.
In reality, every business owner should be setting aside time each week to do a little looking around online (and in person now that we can get back to that more and more) to learn more about your target customers. The better you understand your customer, the better prepared you will be to start making some customer-specific digital marketing decisions, on your own or with a professional.
Note: I am currently putting together a list of free resources that provide a great overview of variety of digital marketing techniques. This list is geared toward any small business owner planning to manage a DIY Marketing Plan – or those who want to be somewhat better informed before they reach out to hire someone to help. If you think you’d like that list, contact me to ask for the Digital Marketing Starter List, and I’ll email it out to you when it’s done!