Each day, small business owners must make important decisions about how to spend their time and energy improving their business and progressing toward their goals. Every small business owner will face different challenges according to their skills and industry, but all of them are required to wear many hats and make daily decisions. Some of these problems will be industry-specific and require subject-matter experts to find solutions for the small business owner, while others may involve management of staff to produce the results that the company is looking for.
Even if a small business owner has tackled their business head-on and achieved a balance in the daily operations of their company, they still have to compete in the marketplace against other companies – and win. Not only will they need to provide a better product or service than their competitors, but they will also have to do a better job of promoting their brand and converting their audience to customers better than their competition.
Since most business owners are focused primarily on the day-to-day operations of their company, it is not uncommon to fail at generating profitable marketing strategies or even hire outside help to ensure their success in local online marketing endeavors. We’ve compiled a list of the top eleven challenges that we think small business owners are faced with when it comes to establishing and promoting their branding using local online marketing, along with some advice on how to address these issues and come out as a winner.
11 Challenges Small Business Owners Face With Online Marketing
- Explaining who their target customers are.
- Understanding what their customers actually want or how to provide it.
- Knowing how to turn their audience into customers.
- Being able to tell if their marketing is working for their business.
- Having enough time to think about marketing their business.
- Trusting marketing companies, so they’re hesitant to try new things.
- Keeping track of their results because they work in the business too much.
- Understanding how much they should spend on marketing and cost per acquisition.
- Knowing how to properly execute online marketing campaigns.
- Committing to the execution of marketing to see if a strategy is effective.
- Knowing where to start.
1. Explaining who their target customers are.
Small business owners usually have a good idea on the type of customers they have in terms of interests or demographics, but may not realize how they can better understand their audience and gain even more customers with confidence. Many business owners think they must outspend their competitors just to make an impact with marketing and advertising, but in reality, focusing on customer service while understanding those customers better than the competition is more effective.
First, it’s important to cover all grounds that can be reasonably covered with little to no additional effort. This will ensure that all of your “low-hanging fruit” customers are acquired for the lowest cost and with the most attention. Secondly, it’s important to at least have a good understanding of who your competitors are targeting so that you can apply effective means (like remarketing) to try and acquire some of their potential customers in a cost-effective way. Finally, it’s important to go the distance and research the interests of your audience to understand them better than the competition, which enables a small business owner to acquire new customers without stiff competition eating up their marketing budget.
A professional marketing services firm can help you understand how to develop different audience profiles (or personas) to reach each potential customer in a meaningful way. If only one method of advertising is used, your potential customers may feel that their specific interests are not being addressed, or the selling point may not be targeted enough to compel them to buy from your company. Using A/B testing and engineered marketing experiments, we can discover what each type of customer will respond to best and provide that direct approach with each of them simultaneously to ensure maximum effectiveness of your messaging.
2. Understanding what their customers actually want or how to provide it.
When doing research on your audience, you have to envision what it’s like from the consumer’s point of view to see what your business is actually doing in the marketplace. Perhaps the products or services that your company offers are high quality, but your potential customers simply don’t know about your business– this may be the only reason that they wouldn’t pick up the phone and buy from you today. Maybe your company nor any of your competitors are offering what your audience actually wants, so it’s important to ask them directly using surveys, speaking with them at events, conducting presentations, or other outreach methods to gain an awareness of the customer’s needs more precisely than your competition.
In many cases, the products or services that your customers are accustomed to may be efficient at solving their problems, but a competitor could still have an advantage where they offer additional features that improve the customer’s mood or satisfaction when a purchase is made from their company. Even if your business’ products and services are equivalent to the competition, the method of delivery or how the customer feels about buying from you can be all the difference in making the sale over a competitor.
The method of product delivery is important, as we can see a perfect example in Amazon’s offering of 2-day free shipping when competing with big-box stores like Walmart. Although the product may be delivered later than the customer wants, the convenience of low prices when combined with a no-brainer free delivery scheme produces a tremendous amount of sales that companies like Walmart are missing out on. Even though the product is exactly the same, and may even cost the same, customers may prefer to “1-Click” shop and forget about it rather than drive all the way to a nearby retail location to pickup the merchandise. Going even further, Amazon has begun working on a logistics network that will provide shipments even quicker or allow customers to pickup from a location near them as soon as it’s available.
Consider implementing unique value propositions in addition to your existing products and services to really add some “icing on the cake” and convince your audience to work with you instead of your competitors. Some of the smallest changes can have the largest impact when your market size includes thousands or millions of potential customers.
3. Knowing how to turn their audience into customers.
Most of your potential customers already know what they want: to get from point A (where they are now) to point B (where they want to go). Your products and services should be aligned with the audience’s desire to be at point B, and your marketing message should inform them on how you can get them from point A to point B. Anything you can do to help your audience feel like they are closer to point B when buying from your company will increase the effectiveness of your sales and marketing strategy. This will also help with raising overall customer satisfaction because the process feels painless when compared to buying from your competitors.
Many small business owners think they have to be the only ones offering a product or service in order to gain clients. As we have shown above, the experience of buying from your company is vital to satisfying a new customer; as long as it is smoother than your competitors, you will likely earn their business by adapting to the customer’s needs more effectively. Novel approaches like free add-ons or service upgrades, as long as your competitors aren’t offering something better, can push an audience on-the-fence toward your side of the marketplace. Even if something is a standard feature for what your company would like to provide, highlighting these differences can be important in helping potential customers distinguish your company’s offerings as they research their options.
Understanding why your audience isn’t buying can be just as important as learning how or what they want to buy. By doing the research and actually asking your audience what they want may be the important step that no other competitor has taken – and for this, you will be rewarded. Having close connections with your potential customers and seeking to earn their business is a much more effective approach than simply praying and waiting for sales to come in – even if your products are awesome! Make sure you are forming new connections with customers you already provide products and services for, as well as reaching out to non-customers. Find out what makes them tick to see if they actually could benefit from your company’s offerings.
4. Being able to tell if their marketing is working for their business.
Most small business owners know how to read their financial statements well since they are focused on increasing the bottom line throughout the company. However, many business owners may not have a system in place to understand exactly what is going on throughout the sales and marketing process when prospecting for new customers.
We recommend incorporating Google Analytics and other data gathering services for your website and other marketing tools. This would help you better understand what is going on throughout the sales process as a customer decides whether or not to buy from your company. Google Analytics data can help the small business owner see who is actually viewing their website and what they are doing- which we firmly believe is a superpower when it comes to marketing. Since Google already gathers and stores all of the information that its users provide, they can also share these microdata elements with you to understand interests and demographics, as well as data about what these users are doing on the website itself.
While gathering this data is very important to get the best view of what’s going on in your business, it is also necessary to make adjustments as you learn what makes your website actually convert visitors into customers. This could potentially eliminate negative aspects and further highlight the elements that work. Finding out that your customers only buy between certain hours of the day may inform your strategy by limiting advertising exposure to those specific buying hours. In turn, this can lower your costs and produce more effective results. If you discover that a particular page is never converting your visitors, perhaps removing it from a primary location on the home page will allow visitors to flow more naturally to the pages on your website that are converting leads. This will reduce your bounce rate and increase your click-through rate (both important factors for an effective marketing strategy).
5. Having enough time to think about marketing their business.
If you’ve ever used the excuse “I haven’t gotten the time” or “when I have a spare moment,” then you realize that there are more tasks than you can easily manage when it comes to running your business. Successful business owners know how to delegate and automate wherever possible so the company is more effective at accomplishing its goals in a way that involves everyone’s strengths.
Since many small business owners either market their own business or don’t do any marketing, there are many more advantages being left on the table that would accomplish sales goals with less effort than traditional “hard work” methods. In the information age, we have the ability to leverage technology to help us even when it comes to spreading the word and promoting products and services online – which leads to faster and larger company growth.
Some businesses have employees that focus solely on sales and marketing efforts internally, while others may outsource their marketing strategy to firms that specialize in these skills. If a small business owner doesn’t realize the best methods to use when marketing their business, it will be difficult to delegate those tasks to others and maintain cohesion within the organization. It’s important to make sure that someone is dedicated to your marketing success because a business that ignores this aspect is not likely to grow as quickly as they would like (or need).
6. Trusting marketing companies, so they’re hesitant to try new things.
Outside marketing agencies and firms can help many small businesses succeed online. They are focused on operating these specific growth-oriented skills that most companies don’t have the time or resources to devote to maximal success. Small business owners feel a sense of compromise when they decide to spend time on developing their brand within their audience and assess the intricate details that truly drive the company’s sales. With the latest technologies, an advanced marketing agency can work closely with small business owners to inform them of these important details. In doing so, the direction of the company can remain focused on its priorities as it experiences the many challenges of accommodating growth.
Of course, a marketing agency with a poor track record or deceptive sales practices can promise the moon to small business owners, often leaving them disappointed with the lackluster results. Deciding which marketing firm is most suitable to help your small business is a challenge in itself, but the things you should look for in a good marketing firm are:
Business Savviness: A marketing agency that doesn’t understand how to run their own business is not likely to positively affect yours. A smart business owner can spot another when they see it; this is a gut feeling that many small business owners feel like they should ignore when hiring a company outside of their own range of expertise. Smart business is smart business and you want a company with proven success to help your company grow.
Industry Expertise: Since you are the small business owner, you know your business better than anyone else. With so many competitors out there in the marketplace, it’s helpful to work with a marketing firm that has been successful in helping companies in other locations or even within your own market. This shared expertise can ease communication efforts so your interests are understood and taken into account when a marketing strategy is being designed for your company.
Technical Skill-set: Working with a marketing agency that doesn’t have the ability to spread your message far and wide (and effectively) will not be able to deliver on their commitments. The competitive environment requires marketers to use the best available tools to collect and analyze data that is available through your marketing efforts. Choose a company that proves they understand their industry and is committed to serving their own clients with the best-in-class tools available.
Strategic Alliances: As a small business owner, you understand that networking is important for growing your company and solidifying your place within the community. When hiring a marketing company, you also gain the benefit of their network’s capabilities which can be very helpful to a business seeking rapid growth. The best marketing agencies will have partnerships with other agencies and the companies that they work with to be able to deliver a service that is validated by an existing pool of interested parties.
Authenticity & Responsibility: Perhaps the most demanding aspect of choosing a marketing agency is selecting one that acts with authenticity and shares responsibility for your company’s success. A poor marketing company will not make guarantees to prove their commitment to your success because they cannot deliver to begin with. A marketing agency that has been around for some time understands the importance of reassuring their clients that their business is in safe, caring, and capable hands – and a good marketing agency will prove this by sharing their concerns with you during the strategic planning process to make sure they can deliver what you are expecting.
7. Keeping track of their results because they work in the business too much.
Even small businesses that have an internal marketing staff may not be keeping track of changes in their marketing efforts because they don’t collect, see, or understand the data that is available. A professional marketing services firm knows how important acting on information is to the success of a growing company, so they will want to share changes and evolving strategies with you to maintain maximum growth potential. This is done by a process of establishing KPIs, or key performance indicators, and measuring them over time.
Each company will have different marketing goals. For example, one company may benefit from simply having more and more visitors to increase their overall exposure in the market, whereas another company may need to work with the smaller market that they are targeting in a maximally-effective way, ensuring that each potential customer is treated with a high interest because there are fewer opportunities. Other companies may find their greatest success in growing an active fan base through social media platforms, while another may make nearly all of their sales through their regular emails to customers.
When working with a marketing agency as a small business owner, you will want to make sure that both of your perspectives of your company’s goals are matched so you can get back to work on your business’ unique challenges. Establishing KPIs is a perfect way to create data channels that can be easily understood with regular reporting, therefore, you can spend a short amount of time getting caught up on all available marketing data to help make important decisions about the future of your business.
8. Understanding how much they should spend on marketing and cost per acquisition.
Many small business owners look at marketing like a huge hole in the ground, something they should throw “enough money” into, and pray that it returns through increased revenue. Some businesses are afraid to spend any money on marketing their brand at all, whether or not they rely on “guerilla marketing” tactics or spend a lot of time to accomplish their marketing goals “for free.” The thing that all business owners can agree on is that they want their money being spent well and would like their expenses to return as greater revenue.
Email marketing campaigns can either be developed internally or by an expert marketing firm that handles thousands of emails per week. A marketing firm can leverage their insight to deliver the best email marketing campaign for a much lower cost than having dedicated staff. Pay-per-click advertising can be done by simply “boosting” a Facebook post to increase awareness, or a specifically-designed audience can be sent tailored messages to achieve maximum conversions. Clearly, applying decades of expertise with marketing different companies can provide many discoveries about how the market actually works – things that even small business owners may not realize are right in front of them as well!
An expert marketing agency will understand the high need and high cost of marketing a business and will work to achieve the greatest benefit on the budget that’s reasonably available. Good marketing efforts will earn more revenue than the expense to cover them. Making sure that your marketing strategy has been tested for efficiency and success in key performance indicators will keep your costs low and your business growth at the forefront of your goals.
9. Knowing how to properly execute online marketing campaigns.
Even if small business owners take care of their own marketing efforts internally, they should consult as many outside sources as they can to gain awareness of the competition. They should also understand what advantages are available and what is being used against them in the marketplace. Competitors who have dedicated marketing professionals working to grow their brand may be able to accomplish far more in terms of reaching your target audience than you may be able to with fewer resources. Hence, you may need to allocate even more resources just to keep up competitively and/or sharpen your campaign to achieve better results than other companies.
Earlier we mentioned how delegation and automation are important to company growth for a small business owner, and few are better at automation tasks than some marketing professionals. Since so much of the communication that happens through digital sources is being automated, it’s discouraging to see how much time and resources your company is spending just to keep up with advanced technologies. With a dedicated team of marketing experts, you can ensure that the regular processes being done for many competitors are matched with regular updates which will add to your overall bottom line.
When you work with an advanced team of marketing experts, you will find that strategic planning is one of the most important factors to a business’ success with digital advertising. A cost-effective approach that takes into account what competitors are doing and responds accurately to customer demands will be the most successful in the marketplace. When you have a dedicated team working to ensure the growth of your KPIs, you should find your company outpacing your competitors much quicker than unfocused efforts or hesitation.
10. Committing to the execution of marketing to see if a strategy is effective.
As a small business owner, you should seek the advice from as many sources that are available to you. This will help you understand what others are doing in their companies and potentially give you new or better methods to grow your business. Just because a strategy is recommended by an expert does not mean that it will succeed in its intended goals. With close attention to data collection and analysis, you can quickly respond to factors in the market and shape your brand’s unique path to success within the market.
Even if you feel that you don’t have the time to focus on marketing your business, you should consider working with professionals that can quickly and easily deliver the metrics to you in an understandable way- so your business decisions are not being made in the dark. When you’ve got the blinders on, you’ll be taking unnecessary risks with your time and resources which could allow competitors to gain significant advantages over your company.
Since we have so much access to data in the information age today, it’s even more important to know what to focus on. Establishing these focal points is something that trained experts can help you do as a small business owner. Sharing the data of competitors and previous experiences may inform your unique value proposition. Marketing success doesn’t happen overnight; having the right metrics in focus and continuously collecting data is a highly effective way to keep up-to-date on where your marketing strategy is heading and allow you to adapt to new information to stay ahead.
11. Knowing where to start.
This is one of the most difficult challenges, but it can be solved! Start by implementing the marketing activities that will yield the highest return with the least amount of effort. A fully automated and successful marketing system isn’t possible without someone doing the input work. Setting everything up can’t happen overnight so you’ll need to start somewhere. Strategic planning with experienced marketing professionals can provide a great deal of information on how to proceed in your company’s online marketing efforts. This is done by actually understanding how the existing market is operating instead of venturing out in the dark.
Remember that you will need to discover your key performance indicators (website traffic, phone calls, online sales, lead forms) and develop a system to not only collect information but to implement changes as time goes on. An in-depth strategic planning session can offer this full perspective for the small business owner who wants to focus on developing the products and services that make their company great. The best marketing efforts simply share with the world your passion for delivering excellent products and services to your customers- in a way that will help you gain even more customers with respect to the cost of acquisition.
Once you’re able to start on executing your tailored marketing strategy, you can focus on the key metrics that will inform you of your business health and performance according to those desired results. Some methods will be surprisingly effective where not much consideration was originally given to the idea, where other “sure fire” marketing strategies will fail with a difficult or unconventional audience. Keep all of your options on the table but seek to limit your exposure over time to the methods that provide your largest ROI. From there, you will see growth increase month after month and year after year.
Here are some effective ways that you can start marketing your business online today:
- Setting up a Google search campaign is extremely directional in nature, meaning people are taking the initiative to search specifically for what you have and then click on your website. Using keyword research tools and website data, you can understand what makes your visitors “tick” and provide them more of what they already want.
- Local SEO – run an audit on your website to make sure you’re indexing on search engines for the keywords that you should be showing up for. There are many aspects to ranking websites on search engines, but you should first gain an awareness of where your business stands online before developing a plan to improve its positioning.
- Create a blog and try to post on it weekly. A solid content marketing plan will help your business get more visibility on search engines and social networks, providing access to potential customers you weren’t able to reach before.
- Setup, claim and verify all of your social media profiles for your business (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Business Listing, Twitter, etc). This is very important because you will want to control what people see when they search Google for your business name. Having a profile on each of the major social media platforms will help you control what’s being shown on Google / Bing search results for your business name searches.
- Hire a professional online marketing company (like us)!