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Are You Making These Common Small Business Digital Marketing Mistakes?

Connor Whitman
October 8th, 2020 · 9 min read

Every successful business dedicates a portion of their revenue towards marketing efforts. How much you spend and where you allocate those funds depends on your business size, niche, and industry, but if you’re serious about your business success and growth today, you’re putting money into digital marketing.

Some of you are killing your marketing - maybe you’ve got an innate talent, have someone in-house, or have hired a consultant like me. But the majority of small business owners struggle to realize a consistent return on their marketing investment.

Or worse, they don’t realize any return at all. And this, aside from being damaging to the business, is extremely discouraging to future digital marketing efforts, which are all but mandatory to be competitive in business these days, regardless of your industry, niche, and audience.

I get it: you’re busy actually running your own business, and digital marketing is a full time job on its own.

To add to the challenge, digital marketing is always changing, and the strategies, approaches, tools - even just the prerequisite knowledge of where to start learning - is a constantly moving target.

Between your daily responsibilities to your small business, employees, customers, and other stakeholders, it’s entirely unrealistic to expect you to keep up with the digital marketing and strategy industry, let alone build and execute a marketing/strategy plan on your own!

In my experience, there are a few common mistakes SMBs make with their digital marketing, so before you go out and hire a specialist or consultant like me, take some time and make sure you’re not making any of these!

Mistake 1: Social Media Without a Social Media Marketing Plan

If you’re reading this, you probably found your way here via social media! It’s estimated that over 90% of businesses leverage (or attempt to leverage) social media for their marketing efforts.

But from my observations I would hazard a guess that the large majority haven’t taken the time to put together a comprehensive and holistic social media marketing strategy plan.

I frequently see fledgeling brands and companies post a near constant stream of (over) self-promotional content. This kind of content has a few problems:

Low engagement generation

Over-self-promotion on social media doesn’t give current and potential audiences any reason to engage with your business and brand.

Businesses without a strategy frequently have the mindset of “what we’re selling is awesome - it will sell itself if we just tell people about it!”

Unfortunately that kind of messaging doesn’t engage with your potential buyers; it doesn’t involve them in a conversation, or give them a reason to engage with your content.

Take an honest look at the content you’re posting: if more than 30% of your posts read and feel like an advertisement (new products, sales, promotions, etc.), you need to hit pause and reevaluate your social media strategy.

It’s arguably worse than paid advertising

How many of you have unfollowed an individual or brand because all they did was promote something that you weren’t interested in, or that you weren’t interested in right now because that’s all they posted on social media?

I’m going to make a safe guess that it’s greater than zero.

Paid advertising is different - people know it’s an ad, they can choose to engage or not, they can run an adblocker if they’d like to, they can set ad preferences (i.e. “this ad is not relevant to me”), and the messaging/relationship between your ad and the audience is clear.

But organic social posting has a different set of expected, unspoken ‘rules’ (if you can call them that - I think it would better to say that there’s certain etiquette that should be followed). And if you’re just spamming self-promos, you’re making a social (media) faux pas.

You know that one guy at the party who just won’t shut up about himself?

Yeah. Don’t be that guy on social media with your business and brand.

Out of respect for your audience, but also because…

You can damage your brand and social image

Just like in real life, your business has a digital reputation across social media.

While you’re not going to do any active harm to your business (unless you make some egregious mistakes that we won’t get into here), a self-centered social media “strategy” will alienate both your current and future audience. This can range from people tuning your posts out, to turning off notifications for your brand, to current audience members outright unfollowing you.

Regardless of the severity of the damage, it’s a net negative for your brand engagement, on top of the fact that you’re handicapping your own potential growth by limiting the extended reach of people who would see your content if you had active audience engagement.

What to do about it

If you know, or even think, you might be dealing with some of these issues: hit pause on your social media yesterday.

You’re not seeing positive movement with your social media right now, so pausing an ill-formed execution is the absolute best thing you can do with zero negative consequences; you’re not stopping growth, and you’re actively stopping harm.

Then, take a step back and assess your social media marketing strategy, if you even have one. If you don’t, it’s time to put one together. How to build one is an entire class and well beyond the scope of this article, but the best place to start is your buyer personas (you do have buyer personas, right?). Understanding your audience and the value that you provide to them is core to the underpinnings of a successful small business social media marketing plan.

One major other pitfall to avoid is publishing infrequent, random, and disparate content; it’s not actively damaging, but it’s a waste of time and resources.

As for social media PPC, be extremely careful. I’ve seen tens of thousands of dollars literally thrown away (or rather, neatly placed in Facebook’s pocket) because of a gross misunderstanding of how to build and execute paid ads on social media.

Social PPC is extraordinarily effective, but it demands attention to detail, and not only do you need a deep understanding of your audience and audience behaviour, but also of the ad platforms themselves.

Setting up executing a successful social media strategy for a small business is absolutely a fair bit of work, but ensuring you do it will prevent you from wasting your time, money, and reputation while also setting you up for success with your audience from the start.

Shameless Plug and Offer

If you’ve gotten this far, and you’re serious about getting your social media in order, set up a call with me and I’d be happy to run through your social media presence with you, give you some recommendations, suggestions, and starting points, as well as a quick local SEO audit (Local & Social often go hand in hand!).

Grab a time here!

I’m also excited to announce that I’m now officially a certified Sprout Social Partner, which means I now have even more tools, training, and skills to help businesses like yours succeed.

If we do find that there’s mutually a good fit to work together, I’m also discounting any Social Media Marketing and SEO services booked by the end of the year by 25%

Alright, enough of that, taking the sales hat off and back to content!

Mistake No. 2: Cutting Marketing Spend (instead of reallocating it)

To preface - sometimes there are entirely valid reasons to cut marketing spend, but if you’re in one of those situations you’ll know it.

What I’m referring to here is the (very common) knee jerk reaction to cut all spending for digital marketing when one facet (usually poorly executed) fails to deliver results.

This would be the equivalent of getting rid of your entire car because you put summer performance tires on your truck in the winter.

One reason I love working in digital marketing as a strategy consultant is because I have the opportunity to speak with a wide variety of business owners regularly across industries to discuss how to leverage digital marketing to grow their business and meet their goals. One almost ever-present hurdle that comes up at the very least weekly is the perception that digital marketing doesn’t work, or at best it doesn’t work as well as people say/think it does.

And to a point: the business owners who say that are 100% right. Poorly executed digital marketing is absolutely not worth investing in.

Unfortunately, that’s what most small business owners have been exposed to, whether it’s through trying to DIY a complex business function, or because an inexperienced (or dishonest) outside party was brought in and did a hack job that performed terribly.

Whether it’s a poorly built Google PPC campaign, or someone promising SEO results in days rather than months, or social media marketing that fell flat (re: last section), many small business owners have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to digital marketing.

It’s a completely rational response, too, when something doesn’t give you the return you either anticipated or were promised.

But digital marketing is absolutely vital in todays market. What’s important is being ever vigilant, monitor your campaigns, and allocate your spend where it’s doing the most good for your business. This is exactly the reason I’m as analytics and data-driven as I am in my approaches, because we can’t make informed marketing decisions without that information.

As a small business owner you’d never make business decisions without hard data - the same applies to digital marketing.

It’s good to be cautious and not throw money away (see my earlier comment about social media PPC), but smart, fluid marketing spend that is informed by data and your KPIs has the potential to transform your business faster than almost anything else - and if you’re smart, it doesn’t have to break the bank, either.

As an aside, this is one reason why I’m such a proponent of holistic digital strategy - not only does executing your strategy across multiple channels have benefits, it also allows you to collect the data to know which channels align best to your business and growth goals.

Mistake No. 3: You Aren’t Collecting Data

I’ve honestly lost track of the number of jobs I’ve walked into where there was no analytics/data collection.

To my previous point of how vital using data is to digital marketing, you need to be at least collecting the data, even if you aren’t using it right away. Even if you aren’t running a marketing strategy at the moment, having historical data to see how performance compares once you do start running a strategy is valuable in its own right.

Without data and analytics you have no idea your traffic sources, how people engage with your business, site, and overall brand, and so much more.

Constant, consistent measurement and analysis of your data to inform iterative improvements to your digital strategy is key to success.

Between Google Analytics, UTM tags, analytics tools native to the social media platforms, as well as a slew of other data collection tools like Hotjar, Amplitude, Heap, and Quantcast means that you can easily set up and have access to an unbelievable amount of data in minutes.

It’s definitely a lot of data to digest, so to put it all together and monitor the KPIs that matter most to your business I highly recommend using Databox - it’s the dashboard tool I use with all my clients and absolutely swear by it.

This is a very general point that I alluded to earlier: digital marketing and strategy is a constantly moving target, and it’s hard to keep pace with the changes in trends and behaviour.

Just this year alone we saw a massive surge in video marketing. This was definitely spurred forward faster than expected by COVID, but we all knew that video content was rapidly rising to the top of the most effective marketing mediums.

Are you prepared to design, develop, and produce engaging video content? Or are you in the large majority of small business owners who know they need to be producing it but don’t know where to start?

Are you aware of the shifts in what is possible on social media? The large majority of people I’ve spoken to in the last week weren’t even aware of LinkedIn’s redesign and expansion of features (LinkedIn Stories anyone?

How about what marketing automation tools exist, their price points, features, industry specificity (i.e. Drip is amazing, but only if you’re running an eCommerce business), and future product roadmaps?

There’s a lot to keep track of, and it’s easy to fall behind, quickly, especially given the pace the industry is moving at currently.

Outside of client work, a very not-insignificant portion of my job is keeping up with industry news, whether it’s features, tools, or general audience/user behavior.

Keep that in mind if you’re aiming to DIY your own digital marketing while running your own small business.

Be sure you’re planning time to keep yourself cognizant, aware, and educated with digital marketing industry news so you can be ahead of the curve.

It’s definitely a bit more work, but if you’re ahead of the curve, that means you’ll be able to get ahead of your competitors and take your business to the next level!

Interested in taking your marketing to the next level?

I’m always interested in learning about and helping businesses with their digital marketing and strategy challenges. Even if you just want some insight and free advice on your marketing efforts, feel free to Book a Call! - if there’s an opportunity to work together, we can explore it, and if it’s not a good fit I’m always more than happy to point people in the right direction!

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