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Online Marketing Skills for Small Businesses

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In today's digital age, the savvy small business owner knows that digital marketing isn't just a buzzword; it's a necessity. Whether you're running a cozy Etsy shop, running a law firm, or or keeping the lights on in a physical store store, digital marketing can be the game changer that propels your business forward. From engaging potential customers on social media to optimizing your website for better search engine rankings, the digital landscape offers a plethora of opportunities to grow your business. This guide dives deep into the essential digital marketing skills every small business owner needs to master, complete with specific examples and resources to kickstart your journey.

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Understand Your Audience

The cornerstone of any successful marketing strategy is understanding your audience:

  • Who is your audience?

  • When do they make their purchasing decision?

  • Where are they when they make their purchasing decision?

  • What are they looking for when they make their purchasing decision?

For instance, if you're selling handmade jewelry on Etsy, your audience might be middle-aged women who are fashion-conscious and looking for unique pieces. They may make purchasing decisions ahead of a big event or impulsively. They may be price-insensitive and looking for a unique piece that will get a lot of compliments. Knowing this, you may price your jewelry higher and run some advertisements or offers right before big holidays. 

On the other hand, if you are a law firm, you likely know that your audience makes purchasing decisions when they have a legal issue they need to deal with. They might be googling “real estate lawyer near me” but be unsure about quality. In this case, you might make special efforts towards search engine marketing or advertising, and be sure to have a lot of testimonials on your website.

This information not only helps tailor your product offerings but also guides your marketing efforts to resonate with your audience.

Digital marketing requires a lot of empathy, so you should be talking to your customers all the time. Try and figure out (although not super overtly!) about where they heard about you, why they chose you, and what else they considered instead of you.

Identify your most important “digital location”

In the realm of digital marketing, not all platforms are created equal for every business. Identifying your business's most important digital location is crucial for effective marketing and customer engagement.

For instance, if you run a restaurant, your Instagram page and website are likely your digital hotspots. Why? Instagram is perfect for showcasing mouth-watering dishes through visually appealing photos and engaging stories, tapping into the platform's massive user base that often seeks culinary inspiration. Meanwhile, a well-designed website with an easily accessible menu, reservation system, and contact information acts as your online business card, providing essential details for potential diners. It likely doesn’t make sense for a restaurant to invest several thousand dollars to get a website up and running when off-the-shelf and easy enough to use options exist. 

On the other hand, if you're managing a law firm, your website and your phone line becomes the cornerstone of your online presence. Your website should project professionalism and trustworthiness, featuring clear information about your services, attorney profiles, case studies, and contact details. You should have someone available to answer the phone at almost all times (or be able to call back if someone leaves a voicemail). While social media can play a supporting role in building your firm's brand, the website is where potential clients will go to assess your credibility and expertise.

In both examples, the chosen digital locations align with the nature of the business and the behavior of its target audience. By pinpointing and focusing on the most effective online platforms for your specific business type, you can create a more targeted, impactful digital marketing strategy.

Understand different channels to reach your audience

Now that you have a better understanding of your audience, there are a few different ways for you to get in front of them. If you are a small business—especially if you are leading marketing efforts by yourself—you will not have the ability to invest in much more than one channel. Be sure to pick the right one and switch to another if you’ve invested a lot and are still not getting the returns. Here are a few channels to consider:

Content Marketing - Content marketing is all about creating and sharing valuable content to attract and engage your target audience. This could be through blog posts, videos, podcasts, or infographics. For example, a local bakery might share mouth-watering pictures of their latest creations on Instagram, along with recipes or baking tips. A law firm might share a guide on how to deal with a specific legal issue (although not giving everything away in the blog post—so they have to work with you)! The key is to provide content that is not just promotional but also informative or entertaining, something that adds value to your audience’s lives.

The medium matters a lot, too. A law firm likely doesn’t need to invest in its Instagram, and a bakery doesn’t need to invest in its blog. Be sure to think about if your users are on Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc. and are they on their phones or on their computers.

Social Media - You’ve probably heard or seen the stories—someone posts about a business in Instagram or Tiktok, and it blows up overnight, with the business barely being able to keep up demand. Social media is a powerful tool for small businesses. It's not just about posting regularly, but also engaging with your audience. For a home decor business, this could mean showcasing your products in real homes, sharing customer testimonials, or creating interactive polls on Instagram. Remember, each platform has its unique audience and style, so tailor your content accordingly.

Email Marketing Strategies - Email marketing remains one of the most effective ways to reach and engage customers. Building an email list can start with a simple signup form on your website. Offer incentives like discounts or exclusive content to encourage signups. Then, keep your subscribers engaged with regular newsletters, product updates, or special offers. A personal touch, like addressing subscribers by their first name, can make your emails more appealing. You can use services like Mailchimp, Hubspot, or others.

Online Advertising Options - Online advertising can boost your business’s visibility. Platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads allow you to target specific demographics, locations, and interests. For a small yoga studio, targeted ads on Facebook to local fitness enthusiasts can be more effective than broad, generic advertising. Online ads can get expensive, though, and take a little bit of experience in order to get right. It’s extremely important to track how much it costs in ads for you to get a paying customer—if you’re not profitable, you either need to adjust the ad or stop running it.

Learn new technologies

The landscape of digital marketing tools is changing rapidly, especially with advances in artificial intelligence. There are a lot of great tools to help small businesses. Here are a few:

  • Upwork - helps businesses find freelancers. These freelancers can do anything from website development to content writing and more. They can even do your digital marketing work! However, it's extremely important to both read reviews of freelancers and supervise them closely. You may find that hiring the freelancer wasn't worth the time and money. In other cases, you may find that th freelancer was worth their weight in gold
  • ChatGPT - helps answer questions about digital marketing that you might have. Can also help with creating content (including images!), but be careful—it may product some content that isn't accurate, which will cause search engines to penalize your search rankings.
  • Website generators - there are so many website builders these days that will allow you to get started with running a website very quickly. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are all drag-and-drop builders that can do most things you'd need for a website. Square and Shopify also offer website builders in addition to much more (e.g. payment processing, etc).
  • Customer relationship managers (CRMs) - you want to be able to track customer leads who come in and send them emails every so often so they won't forget about you! Check out Mailchimp, Hubspot, and other email tools that can you help.

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Where to Learn These Skills

Thankfully, there are abundant resources available for learning digital marketing skills. Dreambound offers several digital marketing bootcamps for those looking to learn the skills quickly and efficiently. Many of these bootcamps are designed specifically for business owners looking to level up their own businesses. 

Online platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Youtube also offer courses ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Many of these courses are created by industry professionals, ensuring you get practical, up-to-date knowledge. However, they may be a bit overwhelming to navigate if you don’t know where to start.

Conclusion

Mastering digital marketing is no small feat, but it can unlock a new stage of growth in your business. By understanding your audience, creating engaging content, optimizing your online presence, and leveraging data, you can significantly enhance your business’s reach

Justine Tacmo
Written by
Justine Tacmo

Justine Tacmo is part of the Growth team at Dreambound. He assists the organization by updating critical information so students receive the most up-to-date information for their desired trade schools. Besides, he has a passion for writing and expresses it through poetry, covering themes of life, love, and mental health, which is also his advocacy.

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