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An effective digital marketing strategy for small and micro businesses

On 19th and 21st November 2019, Richard Bradford, Disquiet Dog's MD delivered two workshops to explore digital marketing and identify manageable marketing strategies for micro and small businesses working in the watersports, hospitality and wider tourism sectors in West Sussex.

Digital Marketing - Red pill or blue pill?

Digital marketing is a lot like that scene from the 20-year-old film classic, The Matrix, where Neo is offered the option to discover reality by taking the red pill, or continue to exist, oblivious to the truth. Many of us prefer not to look digital marketing in the face, for fear that it will be too complicated, too costly or too unpredictable. In the workshops, and now in these follow up notes, we go there! And it's not necessarily that scary.

What do you want?

It's vital to start by looking in some depth at your business, and reconnect with your ambitions, your objectives, and what drives you to get up and go to work every morning. Digital marketing is just marketing online. That's obvious when you say it, but all too often, digital marketing (also called online marketing) can have you think "just Facebook", "just social media", or "a nice-looking website". At its heart, marketing is still about meeting your clients' needs profitably.

So you need a clear picture of:

  • What sort of growth you're trying to achieve
  • Which products and services you can best use to achieve that growth
  • Who your most likely customers are, and what they're like as people
  • Where they are in the world. Are they on your doorstep, or are they coming in for further afield?

When thinking about digital marketing for small businesses, it's vital to get this vision as honed as possible, because with limited time, money and resources, you don't have the luxury of carrying out random marketing tasks in the vague hope that they will deliver growth back to you.

No amount of amazing digital marketing is going to paste over the cracks of poor customer service and customer experience, or convoluted processes when it comes to trying to book and pay. In short, remember to run a quick health check across your whole business, to make sure you're not missing some obvious issues which, if remedied, would make sure you're not losing out on repeat and renewal business, or favourable word of mouth and positive brand experiences.

There's nothing more frustrating than employing amazing marketing strategies and tactics to get people to your door, only to lose them due to issues under your control. No amount of marketing will fix the leak, so best to mend the bucket first.

No guilt! You are great just as you are.

It's so easy to look around at competitors, particularly as a small business, and feel guilty that you're not doing as much as the competition. Let's say it once and for all:

  • You are not them.
  • You never will be. And that's a good thing.
  • Be more you.
  • Enjoy and dive into your differences.
  • Hone what you offer.
  • Polish your product or service and
  • Keep listening to your customers.
  • Find your tribe, the people that love you how you are right now.

The more you can proceed guilt-free, without worrying what t'others are up to, the better and more guilt free you'll be.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

What's the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

  • Outbound marketing is the act of pushing out information, advertising and offers to potential clients which may arrive largely uninvited when the recipient was not necessarily seeking such marketing output or thinking about your offer. Email marketing is a good example.
  • Inbound marketing is the act of preparing in advance to ensure you are present and available to potential clients at the time they are actively looking for the kind of product or service you are offering. Content marketing is a good example.

Outbound marketing, in some ways, feels quite old-fashioned, even though it is widely used. Many of us don't like receiving endless, spammy, unsolicited emails, and yet we still send them out to clients. It's not that the approach doesn't work, because it can!

If ever you've heard yourself or your colleagues say "Advertising in ABC publication doesn't bring people in like it used to", or "we used to get a lot of demand for XYZ, but it's just not so popular any more", keeping reading!

We think inbound marketing is superior. This approach means that you align to what your market tends to be looking for. In that sense it's much more "marketing" than "advertising". You work diligently to answer questions, anticipate needs, provide useful information, so that the day someone is researching where they can learn to kitesurf in Sussex, or who does great guided walks, or where's a nice place to stay nearby, you end up appearing quite naturally in front of these potential buyers.

Inbound marketing which ticks Google's boxes

At the heart of an inbound marketing strategy is Google. Google works as a librarian and simply endeavours to unite users with the very best information for their searches. But don't take our word for it. This is what Google says about Google:

Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Rather than spending all of your time trying to reach out to people and sell to them, inbound marketing is based on the idea that you simply need to provide the right kind of content for potential users. And this is how Google works too.

At Disquiet Dog, we say you need to bring into alignment 4 things:

  1. What people want
  2. How they search for what they want
  3. What you offer
  4. How you talk about what you offer

What to say

Sticking to this simple approach, you can safely ignore all the mesmerising talk about Google and its super-complex algorithms. All you care about is your relationship with your potential clients, and your hope to meet their needs (profitably). You just need to align the words and phrases your target audience is using to search, and the words and phrases you use when you talk about what you do.

How are you going to do that? If you could know exactly what people type into Google when they're looking for the kind of thing you offer, and if you could know roughly how many people per month were using each of these different search terms in Google, then you'd know which were the most popular and relevant terms for the kind of product or service you're offering. Furthermore, if you could also find out where in the Google rankings you appear for those top terms right now, then you could start to get a picture of which search terms you might like to position more highly, knowing that that would result in more and more people coming to your website.

The good news is, you can know all of these things. Keep reading!

Where are your people?

You're a small business, you're in West Sussex. If you came to the workshops, you are possibly involved in watersports tuition, or hire, or equipment sales, you're possibly in the hotel & catering industry, or maybe you are from one of the many amazing visitor attractions and cool companies such as beer and wine makers, hill walking & cycling tour companies.

So where are your people? The clients you're after... Are they literally around the corner, or are they from further afield? London? Or are we talking anywhere in the country and overseas?

This is important because what people search for, and how they go about it, will vary in part according to their geographical location relative to yours. If they live round the corner, they'll know you from proper word of mouth. But these days it may still take a personal recommendation on Facebook (or whatever social media platform) for them to actually walk in and say hello.

If your clients are further afield, the likelihood is that many of them will be typing stuff into Google in order to find suppliers like you. We want it to be you though...

A simple digital marketing strategy for small and micro businesses

Well done for getting this far down the article. The end is near.

Here it is. A quick win digital marketing strategy that gets to the very heart of the whole "digital thing". You need to:

  1. Use software such as SEM Rush that you can get online in a free trial (We get nothing for recommending this to you). Enter your website address up top and you'll be able to generate a list of the keywords for which you're already positioning in Google searches. You'll be able to see how many people use each search term per month too. Note that this is not the full list of all the keywords you could and should potentially be appearing for, but it's a quick start. As you're a relatively small business, it's not always worth embarking on some hifalutin complex piece of research. If you do want help, we do offer that, and you can find out more about our marketing services here. Right now, it will be worth seeing if there are a couple of search terms where you could improve your positioning, and begin driving more people to your site.
  2. Keep in mind the people who best sum up your target market. What are their personas? Their characteristics? When it comes to writing content later, you'll need to be mindful of these people.
  3. Don't forget to keep making sure all other parts of your operation are smooth and successful and keep people coming back.
  4. Pick out maybe just one or two of the keywords from the list, the quick wins. These are likely to be terms where you're maybe in the top 20 or so positions on Google and where there is a fairly good volume of people searching each month. That could be 10 people, 50 people or 500 it's up to you how you categorise that. If you're spoilt for choice, think about which keywords would take people closest to a buying decision. Would it be better to position for "sailing in sussex" or "sailing courses at the weekends in sussex", if you're a sailing school? The latter is a more refined search and will potentially make you seem more relevant, and take people closer to a self-made sale..
  5. Start thinking about what content (blog articles, course pages, news features) you could write about which specifically talks to those keywords. So if you see that you're 20th for the search term "Paddleboard hire in Chichester harbour", have a look at which of your pages appears in 20th position, and have a think how you could improve the text, to talk more to the theme of the keyword search. For example, "10 things you need to know about paddleboard hire in Chichester harbour". Are there any danger spots? What are the tides like? Is it free to park the car? Can I bring my own paddle board? Do you offer paddleboarding lessons in Chichester harbour too? Are lifejackets and wetsuits included? The more you write about the different facets of the same keyword theme, the more relevant you are becoming for that search term, and the higher you'll rank in online searches.
  6. Once you've updated the website, come back in a week's time and see if your position has changed for that keyword.
  7. Keep adding other content your customers would find useful. Build a tapestry of content which helps your potential clients find you and choose you.
  8. Repeat. Build your content over time, and as your business grows, try and invest more into the process to create a snowball effect.

Find out more

This is an abbridged version of a 90-minute talk by Richard Bradford of Disquiet Dog Digital Marketing Agency. Richard speaks and trains regularly on the theme of digital marketing around the UK and worldwide, and you can book your own bespoke session.

Disquiet Dog provides digital marketing support and consultancy to the education and leisure sector. Our mission is to make agencies like ours redundant, by empowering you, and organisations like yours, to do digital marketing successfully in house. We appeared in Worthing and Chichester courtesy of Sam Smithson and all the team at Experience West Sussex, who are doing fantastic work to unite leisure & tourism providers up and down the West Sussex Coast.