I just finished the edits for the 7th edition of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit coming out this summer and I’m excited for the release in a couple months! Of the new material I added this round, I’m especially happy with the section on digital strategy; check out the sneak peek below.
Digital overwhelm is pretty much universal among my clients and colleagues — and too much of the information out on the interwebs is, IMO, way out of touch with the realities of small businesses doing DIY marketing. It’s simply unrealistic for most small ventures to do everything that marketing “experts” online say you must do: set up metrics and conversion tracking; build email automations and marketing funnels; build landing pages and forms; create and post images to multiple social media channels; do A/B testing; track engagement on social media; collect emails and organize them into lists and segments; compose and send emails to your lists; manage your Google Business Profile; and more and more and more.
Yes, doing these things (and doing them well) will help your marketing operations be more effective. But most small operations don’t have a fully fledged marketing department, and are lucky if they have a person on staff who’s good with graphic design and text. Managing the administrative side of marketing — accounts management, customizing reports, building automations and integrations, etc. — isn’t just a side headache to deal with. It’s part of The Work, and an important part at that. Doing the creative part without tackling the administrative part is likely to result in wasted effort and resources, something no fledgling entrepreneur can afford.
Because small biz owners recognize the importance of marketing, but don’t have budgets for dedicated staff or an outside firm, it’s super common for the owners to take these tasks on themselves, creating a big ol’ time sink that takes time away from other critical tasks like sales, operations and strategic management. And inevitably when the marketing department is a team of one, they simply can’t do All The Things — especially tasks that are complex like setting up Google Analytics or creating email automations. Cue angst and overwhelm.
To help cut through the tangled, overgrown jungle of “digital marketing best practices,” I wrote a new section to focus on the big picture and create something like a roadmap for effective DIY digital strategy. I think it condenses the main tools and practices to be aware of, in just enough depth to help busy business owners plan modest, realistic marketing activities. The final, full version will be in the edition released this summer; below I’m sharing an excerpt.
How do you handle the impossible challenge of Doing All The Marketing Things? I’d love you to share your lessons learned, tips and tricks with me!
Digital Strategy Should Serve Business Strategy
Excerpt of draft material for the 7th edition of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit, to be released Summer, 2023.
Way before you start thinking about your website design or whether to create a business Instagram account, put careful thought into how you envision the digital side of business activities fitting within your overall business and marketing strategy. In particular, make sure that your online activities serve your business strategy and not the other way around. For example, don’t let a Web developer talk you into an online store, a blog, or a YouTube channel if they don’t directly serve your business needs, target your market, or fit within your resources.
In particular, clarify whether your digital activities will mainly promote your offline business, or whether a good portion of your sales will actually be made online. These fundamental strategies and goals will be reflected in all sorts of different choices, from budgets for building your website, to hiring ongoing technology consultants to help with search engine optimization, and other costs related to running and marketing the site.
This chapter outlines the best online marketing options—most of which cost little money—such as email outreach, blogging, and networking with social media. Consider these along with your offline marketing efforts (discussed in Chapter 8), such as special events, directory listings, and customer loyalty programs, in order to develop a comprehensive strategy that will guide your website planning. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways to develop your business online; then we’ll look at a methodical process for building your site which may include many of these components.
Properties and Presence
For most businesses your existence online starts with a website. But where else can the public find your business online? I’m talking about places like:
- Your website, which may or may not include a blog with regularly added posts.
- Any site where customers can buy your product or service, such as an Amazon store, Etsy store, or Fiverr profile.
- Social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, etc.). This is often where businesses are the most active with their marketing communications. Some social channels like Facebook allow e-commerce directly from the social channel, without having to direct visitors to a separate online store.
- The email boxes of folks on your email list(s). Email outreach is a major component of most businesses’ digital strategy.
- Your Google Business Profile, which provides information about your business to people searching for that kind of business. Customer reviews at your Google Business Profile can have a major impact on sales.
- Review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor where customers can post reviews and your business can respond.
- Listings in various directories, such as local chambers of commerce or trade associations. Many organizations host directories as a tool to steer customers to their member listings.
- Publishing platforms like Medium or Substack where you post regular articles or essays, either in the voice of your business, you as the owner, or a different staffer(s) tasked with writing duties.
- Trade-specific forums, like a Google Group for members of an industry or merchants’ association. Some might call these social media channels but I consider them distinct because they’re more industry-focused than customer-focused.
- Mentions in news articles or community events calendars.
The term I use for these places is “digital properties.” Your “digital presence” (aka online presence) is essentially the sum of the various digital properties where your business can be found.
Identifying the digital properties where your business will exist is a good first step in digital strategy development. Take time in your planning process to describe where you envision your business having a presence, and what that presence looks like. If you intend to focus heavily on any particular channel like YouTube, clarify that now. Think about your goals and plans for posting content, and your guidelines for engaging with others online, when to respond to bad customer reviews, and who on your team will be responsible for monitoring and engaging.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with social media and other digital presence tasks, so I advise new entrepreneurs to set the bar low, pick a couple channels that you think you can manage well, and don’t worry about the ones you’re not using. Over time you’ll figure out whether you’re missing out on opportunities on other channels, and if so you can always shift your efforts. It’s a mistake to try to cover too much at once, unless you have a hefty marketing budget with an experienced team. Most start-ups aren’t in that position.
With your planned digital properties and presence sketched out, you’ll be poised to dig in to a plan for coordinating your activities at these properties to win customers and generate revenue.
Data Tracking: KPIs, Metrics and CTAs
The more you intend to rely on online sales or digital marketing, the more important it will be to establish ways to track the effectiveness of your efforts. Identifying your key performance indicators (KPIs) is an important step in accomplishing this.
- KPIs are indicators of progress towards specific business goals, like number of completed sales, number of leads collected or percentage of site visitors who clicked a button (I’ll share more about Calls To Action below). Some KPIs are not specific to your digital strategy; for instance tracking monthly and quarterly sales overall is a KPI that every business should track. But some KPIs will be specific to your digital side, such as how many site visitors submitted an inquiry form, or signed up for your email list. More on this below.
- Metrics is a more general term, referring to a wide range of data your business can track such as site traffic, user behavior at your site (which pages they visit, how long they stay at your site, etc.), social engagement (numbers of followers, numbers of likes or shares, etc.) or other measures.
The thing is, nothing about business metrics happens automatically. Tracking data and measuring your marketing effectiveness requires a lot of thought and set-up in advance. But doing so is essential if you don’t want to waste your marketing budget.
💡 Hiring the help of a Google Analytics consultant might be a wise investment, but DIY approach is doable. There’s a pretty steep learning curve in being able to set up specific conversion goals and reports in Google Analytics showing exactly the data you’re interested in. And it can be hard to find knowledgable consultants in a moderate budget range. Advertising agencies specialize in this work, but they typically require budgets in the thousands. If you don’t have that kind of money to spend (and the vast majority of small ventures do not), one option is to check out Fiverr or other freelancer platforms. I don’t normally recommend hiring freelancers from these platforms because they can be terribly exploitative in how they underpay and drive prices down for the freelance market. However when you need niche expertise that you can’t find locally at an affordable price, these platforms can be a good resource. I have used Fiverr in this way a few times and make point to tip extra generously.
Another option is to bite the bullet and DIY it. Start small and pick just one or two KPIs to track, and use it as an exercise to teach yourself or someone on your staff to develop Google Analytics savvy. There are tons of resources online to guide you. It will likely feel a bit overwhelming, but with a methodical, patient, diligent approach you’ll likely develop valuable skills in a few months.
Digital Access and Inclusion
When developing your vision of how your business will exist online, it’s important to think about how to maximize accessibility for all users. Some people you want to reach may face barriers to accessing or engaging with your content; consider what those barriers may be and figure out how to remove or lower them. For example, how will your website appear to those with vision impairments? Will your Zoom event be accessible to the hearing-impaired? Is your content provided in any languages other than English?
Also consider users who may have limited access to the Internet or devices. If you develop systems that require filling out an online form, or using an online appointment scheduler, you may exclude or at least turn off potential customers who would rather interact by phone. It’s easy to assume everybody is online all the time, and that using your smooth digital systems is the “best” way to run things. But there are plenty of customers for whom neither is true. Ideally, you’ll be able to accommodate both types: the digitally savvy and the tech-avoidant.
Internal Management Tools
So far the digital strategy elements mentioned above focus on your business’s digital interactions with the public. But digital tools also have major value in managing the back-end operations of the business. Shared Google Calendars and using Slack channels to communicate within remote teams are two simple examples. Many successful businesses use more robust systems like:
- customer relationship management (CRM) software like SalesForce or HubSpot
- retail point-of-sale systems like Square or Shopify
- marketing automation software like MailChimp or ActiveCampaign
- project management software like Monday.com or Trello
- office collaboration software like Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace