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7 Problems Facing Small Businesses in Modern Online Marketing

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It’s almost impossible to survive as a small business in the modern world without some kind of online marketing strategy, even if that’s just a website and a basic social media presence. Assuming you could build up enough foot traffic and reputation in the physical world, you’ll still have to deal with competitors who offer everything you do, plus the online visibility component.

But getting started with an online marketing strategy (and managing one long-term) isn’t exactly straightforward, nor is it easy, even for an experienced entrepreneur. The truth is, small businesses are facing some hard challenges in the online marketing world. Fortunately, there are always alternatives and workarounds:

1. Budget.

First off, marketing can be expensive. There are many cost-efficient ways to market your business, but even then, you’ll be spending hundreds of dollars a month at a minimum to start seeing results. For many small businesses, especially newer ones, this is a crippling additional expense. Plus, in the first few months of your execution, you may have to deal with a negative ROI or break even until you learn how to make the changes necessary to become profitable. Don’t write off marketing because it seems like an unnecessary expenditure; even though it demands additional investment up front, it will pay off if you’re willing to grow your strategy. This is an investment, not an expense.

2. Strategic Basis.

As a small business owner, you’ve decided to start online marketing. You have a budget of $2,000 per month, and you’re excited about the potential benefits you’ll see. But what exactly do you do with that money? Do you start with a website and start building arms of your strategy around it? Do you distribute that money evenly across many strategies, or invest exclusively in one to maximize its potential payoff? There’s no one answer to these strategic questions, especially at the beginning of your campaign, when you don’t have any historical data. Though it might be scary, the best thing to do is pick a direction and run with it—you’ll always have time to change later.

3. Time Investment.

The time investment is another concern of small business owners, on two levels. On the individual level, it takes several hours to plan, execute, and even understand a marketing campaign. Even if you’re working with an agency or another external partner, the time burden can be significant. On a broader level, most online marketing campaigns only pay off significantly in the long-term; for example, it’s usually several months before a content marketing strategy or SEO campaign starts to pay off. For small businesses in need of more immediate revenue, this is disconcerting.

4. Trusting an Expert.

There are thousands of self-proclaimed marketing experts available on the web. Some are individual consultants, some are freelancers, and some are agencies. Each of them claims to have the “secret” to marketing success, but each offers a different price level and very different range of services. As a small business owner without much dedicated expertise in this area, it can be challenging to sort out what constitutes a “good” marketing strategy from a “bad” one. Schemes are always a problem, to the point where Google has several support pages dedicated to helping users understand these schemes.

Link Schemes

(Image Source: Google)

5. Competition.

Online marketing is popular for a reason; it’s effective. If you’re entering the game for the first time, you’re going to face a wealth of competition, the most concerning being from well-established businesses who have longer histories and bigger budgets than you do.

Finding a way to beat these competitors can be tough, especially when you’re just starting out.   You may need to be selective about the strategies you use, or find a specific niche to get a good angle. Otherwise, your already-tight budget is going to be stretched thin, and you’ll have a hard time breaking a profit.

Competition Research

6. Analysis.

Small business owners are usually inexperienced when it comes to marketing analysis—they may look at a statistical report and not know what questions to ask, or how to make sense of the data. Because of this, it’s easy to misinterpret the data, or even to draw the wrong data in the first place. To make matters worse, you won’t have much historical data on your company at all, giving you no basis for comparison. The best thing you can do here is rely on multiple external sources and don’t be afraid to experiment.

7. Adaptation.

The marketing realm is changing all the time, with new trends and technologies to consider. The most successful marketers are the ones who see these changes and are able to adapt to them, even though it’s easier to stick to the same old strategies you’re used to. Since your attention will be on developing your small business, it’s hard to dedicate enough focus to adapting your marketing strategy to new circumstances, but it’s a major priority if you want to succeed.

If you’re facing some—or all—of these online marketing challenges as a small business owner, you can at least take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone. Again, these problems won’t go away immediately, and there are no shortcuts to fix them, but they can be addressed, and reasonably, with the right ambition and direction. One by one, as you correct or compensate for these challenges, you’ll find your marketing potential growing in a concretely measurable and consistent way.

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Samuel Edwards

In his 4+ years as a digital marketing specialist, Sam has learned the ins and outs of online marketing. Additionally, he has worked with countless local businesses as well as enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including: NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and human rights organization Amnesty International. Today he continues to work with and establish SEO, PPC and SEM campaigns.

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1 Comment

  1. avatar

    Brendon Dennewill

    Some good points Sam. I believe however that the overall alignment with Sales is what’s missing. Until a business aligns their marketing strategy and budget with their revenue goals – for the same period as the budget period – the perception of an expense will be hard to shake off.
    Until your audience (small & medium sized business owners) know what their Lifetime Customer Value (LTV) is and what they believe the Cost of Customer Acquisition (COCA or CAC) should be, there is no relation to Revenue goals.
    This is where we can learn great lessons from how public companies position their need for funding.
    It’s all based on how much money they will need to acquire a critical mass of clients to make that business viable in addition to the funding they need for R&D, inventory, distribution and/or software.
    The days of investing all that money in a sales team – that is struggling to keep up with a buyer that knows more than them in many cases thanks to solid online resources – is not setting the sales team or the company up for success.

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