Digital Marketing for Small Business — What Small Businesses Need to Know

October 25, 2021
Authored by:
Nick Huss

Understanding the basics of digital marketing for small business is a must for entrepreneurs. Once upon a time, the logistics of marketing your small business were pretty straightforward. 

You advertised in the local newspaper, occasionally splurging for an insert in a penny saver direct mail campaign. 

That’s how people learned about your business. If they liked your products and services, they’d tell a friend, and word of mouth spread. 

Business Basics Still Apply

Many of those same principles apply to owning a small business today. 

But the platforms have changed… and so have the number of decisions facing small business owners. 

Instead of advertising in local newspapers, there are a variety of targeted digital advertising options to help customers find you. 

Online reviews on Google Business or Yelp have replaced word-of-mouth marketing. Automated email software makes it easy to keep in touch with old customers as well as attract new prospects. And, since the reach of the web is global, you no longer have to rely on only local customers to support your business.

The world is your oyster! And digital marketing is the key to cracking it wide open. 

What Is Digital Marketing For Small Business?

Digital marketing for small business means using electronic tools — from emails to social media posts — to spread your message to your audience.

Digital marketing channels small businesses invest the most:


For small businesses owners, digital marketing is a way to level the playing field and get on equal footing with the “big boys” in your industry. 

Sure, big companies have bigger marketing budgets, but you’re smart and you know your customer’s needs. Using a combination of digital tools, you can carve out a niche for your business that the big corporations have overlooked. 

Find your business edge — lower prices, better service, unique products — and let digital marketing be your mouthpiece to the world.  

Benefits of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing for small business has a variety of benefits over traditional marketing, the most significant of which is your business’s ability to compete with global brands on a global level. 

But you don’t have to conquer the world right from the start.

Digital marketing is scalable, so you can start small and personal and grow your digital marketing platform as your business grows.

Other benefits of digital marketing for small business include:

Affordability & ROI

Digital marketing is also relatively affordable and offers a better return on investment (ROI). 

This is because digital marketing allows you to get your ads before an interested audience. For example, according to the Litmus report, email marketing has a 3600% ROI!


Once you’ve built a customer base, you can segment it further to make your marketing more personal. (“Hey Joe, we noticed you haven’t ordered shoes since last June. How’s that pair of loafers you bought three years ago holding up?”)


Another benefit of digital marketing is that it allows you to analyze customer data and measure the results of your marketing efforts. What works and what doesn’t? 

Software like Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager will help you find out. 

Creating Your Digital Brand

Every business needs a strong, recognizable brand

It’s especially important for small businesses to create a brand that stands out in the marketplace. Online or off, your small business needs a solid brand strategy.

The digital marketplace is no different, except the importance of your digital brand is magnified. 

Digital brands need to make an impression in a fraction of a second and offer levels of discovery to draw people in deeper. 

And it can’t be fluff — unless it’s really heartwarming or really funny. 

People want some substance to their content otherwise, you’re wasting their time.

Your Brand, Your Message

Your digital brand is more than just your logo (though designing a great logo is hugely important). It’s your message, your personality — it’s everything you want customers to know about your product or services. 

What is the tone of your blog and social media posts? Fun? Formal? Informative? Any combination of these? 

Whatever it is, it should accurately reflect what your company is all about and let potential customers know what to expect. Everyone loves a good story. 

What is yours? What are the core values of your company? 

Developing your story is part of developing your brand. Let your customers in on the journey, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going. Don’t plug, just talk.

Although digital marketing reaps the benefits of computer automation, it’s important to stay human

Act, speak, and behave like a human being — it will attract other humans. 

The Human Touch

While this article is focused on digital marketing for small business, don’t underestimate the power of traditional print marketing. Direct mail still works! So do print ads. In a world where people are overwhelmed by digital advertising, a print advertisement resonates decisively, creating a lasting impression. Putting a physical offer — or a coupon — in people’s hands will bring people through your company’s front door … whether it’s a brick-and-mortar business or a virtual storefront.

It’s true that print can be costly for small businesses, but there are always ways to do it cost-effectively. For example, look for alternative printer suppliers (e.g. Toner Buzz) that offer better prices or use economical fonts and colors that require less ink.

Digital marketing, when combined with relevant and quality print marketing, can create wonders. This is an extremely powerful yet still relatively untapped opportunity. So, make sure you give it a try.

How To Use Digital Marketing Effectively  

Digital marketing can make or break your small business. The key is using digital marketing the right way. 

Start with a measurable goal — “We want 1,000 new clients over the next six months” — and work backward. 

How will you attract these new customers? And, more importantly, who are they? 

Identifying your target audience is vital to obtaining your goals. 

Know Thy Customer

Understanding what your customers are looking for has always been the key to a successful small business. Digital marketing allows you to truly hone in on audience specifics — how they search the web and what they’re looking for. Meet a customer’s digital expectations and you’re halfway to a sales conversion!

Digital marketing for small business is not all about sales, however. At least not upfront. 

It’s about establishing a relationship with a client that lasts a lifetime. Servicing customer needs at the point of sale are only part of a much longer, more complex equation. 

Digital marketing can help your small business serve your clients each step of the way. 

Your Digital Footprint

The first step in developing a small business is establishing your digital footprint. You’ll need a website with a store that allows you to take orders, schedule appointments, etc. 

In 2019 (not too long ago) only about 60% of small businesses owned a website (Visual Objects, 2019):

This number is probably higher now, but still, not all small businesses take the advantage of having a website.

This is a great opportunity to easily gain a competitive advantage and start your digital marketing at the same time. Creating a website is a matter of minutes nowadays. Editing and maintaining it (for example on WordPress) is also not that hard.

But, don’t skimp on website design and other important parts of the website development process! Use high-quality tools, content, photos, and videos and do everything possible to make your site’s “user experience” smooth and seamless.

While it’s preferable to use custom shots for your brand’s page, you can also make use of stock images to cover the image gap. These databases are especially helpful in providing high-quality pictures when you don’t have the skills or the resources to invest in a personalized photoshoot. 

If you own a small business that has a physical storefront, strive to make your branding and marketing similar to the experience they’d get in your actual store. 

Greet them. Show them around. Let them try stuff out and give them time to decide. Digital guideposts should gently lead customers from one step to another. 

Finding Your Customers

You’ll also need a customer funnel or “drip sequence” to attract new customers and keep current customers in the loop on new products. 

Over 1,190 small businesses in the US said keeping customers was their third biggest challenge:

Sources: Keap and Marketo

This is where automated email marketing software, like Mailchimp or other options on this list, comes into play. 

Let’s face it, everybody uses email, and it’s a great way to reach customers.

CRM Software

Also, consider CRM (Customer Relations Management) software to bring all of your customer information “under one roof.” 

CRM software comes in many varieties. Some have a lot of useful additional features while others are more traditional “databases” containing customer information.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn’t an option for small businesses … it’s essential. U.S. buyers buy on Amazon 41% of the time, while 28% use Google to search and then buy from Amazon (Marketo, 2020). And 60% of smartphone users have used a search result to contact a business directly, such as the "Click to Call" option (Think with Google, 2019). 

Good SEO can mean the difference between showing up at the top of the first search results page or languishing undiscovered on page ten. 

Optimize your website so people can find you in search engines. Consider tools like Yoast to help optimize blog posts and on-page content.  

PPC Advertising

When planning your digital advertising campaigns consider using pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines. 

Good keyword research will draw people into your ad and drive people to your site. Just make sure you are ready to capture those leads on a landing page or some other method to convert those customers once they reach your website. 

Customers want to know more about your products and services. Give them all the information they need.

Social Media Marketing

In addition to PPC advertising, consider a social media campaign to “warm-up” the audience and get them accustomed to your brand and services. 

In today’s digital world, you can bet that a good portion of your client base uses Facebook, Twitter, Tik-Tok, or another social media platform. 

Be where your customers are … establish your social media brand and give them good content!

Small businesses ranked their biggest opportunity for gaining new customers:


Essential Digital Marketing Tools

Digital marketing can be overwhelming to a small business owner, especially when you’re just starting out

Fear not — robots are here to help!

If you want to save money and handle your digital marketing in-house, there are plenty of great business automation software options that will help simplify complex tasks. According to Hubspot, 68% of businesses use automation in some way.

Here’s a look at some valuable digital marketing tools you can start using today. 

Email marketing tools

As mentioned above, email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to drum up a new business and stay in touch with existing customers. 

According to GetResponse, emails welcoming new customers have an open rate of 82%

Content marketing tools

Bringing all of your digital marketing “under one roof” has a number of benefits. It’s easier to keep track of your various marketing campaigns and sync them together. 

For example, mega-corps like Forbes, Yamaha, and Walgreens — as well as thousands of smaller businesses — use Coschedule to organize digital marketing efforts. 

Hubspot also offers a host of online tools to help businesses both large and small grow their customer base and create meaningful user experiences. 

Content marketing with video leads the way. Over 60% of businesses stated that a video on Facebook resulted in a new client (Animoto, 2020). 

A good content marketing tool can get your message to the people who need it most.

Analytics tools

Analytics aren’t helpful at first. But the more customers your business encounters, the smarter analytics become. As your customer base grows, good analytics can spot emerging trends and reveal which marketing efforts reach the most clients. 

For example, Google Keyword Planner is great for creating ad content, while Google Analytics will tell you everything you need to know about how customers interact with your website — including which pages they visit, how long they stay, and whether your content leads to a coveted sales conversion. 

Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics can help you optimize your social media marketing so that you don’t waste your time creating lame content. Armed with cool analytical data, you can produce social posts that hit home and draw clients in!

Social media tools

The immediacy of social media is a great way to reach out to customers and build buzz about your brand. The vast majority of 8 million Facebook advertisers are small and medium-sized companies (Facebook Insights). 

A big part of a successful social media marketing campaign is consistency as well as quality content. Posting on a regular basis keeps your audience engaged and wanting more. 

Online tools like Buffer and Hootsuite can help you schedule and manage your social media posts as well as to measure user engagement so you can see which posts work most effectively for your business.

Social media statistics for small businesses you need to know:


Should I Outsource My Digital Marketing?

Look, we get it. Times are tough and money is tight. But your business won’t grow unless you invest in it. If you have a couple of bucks in your budget, outsourcing your digital marketing — or portions of it — might make sense for your small business. 

Outsourcing your digital marketing means you leave email list segmentation, campaign launches, and landing pages to the “pros.”  A quality marketing house will have top-level designers on staff (or retainer) so your ads are sure to have the biggest visual impact.

Finding A Freelancer

Hiring a good freelance designer has a couple of hidden benefits. Experienced designers have worked with a number of different companies — possibly your competitors — so they’ll know what’s current, what’s cutting edge, and what digital marketing for small business works.

While outsourcing your digital marketing costs money, it will save time — time you can devote to actually running your business. Crafting quality content and making sure it gets delivered properly day in and day out is a major time commitment. 

In fact, it’s often more time-consuming than a full-time job. Handing this essential task off to a team of experienced professionals can alleviate a world of headaches and produce far better results than any one person could alone. 

Building From The Bottom Up

Even if your small business is just getting started, a digital marketing agency can help you build your brand from the bottom up. From logo design and mission statements to shopping cart management and follow-up emails, the outsourcing options are endless.

A good digital marketing agency will guide you through the ins and outs of digital campaigns and can help predict outcomes. One of the benefits of handing off marketing tasks to an outside agency is that they are responsible for accountability and virtual team communication, two of the more challenging aspects of managing a remote team of digital marketers. Outsourcing makes sense if there are digital marketing tasks that don’t require your micromanagement.

Omnichannel Marketing For Small Businesses

Omnichannel marketing is where all of your marketing efforts come together, amplifying one another.

For example, a potential customer sees your print ad in the local newspaper. Then they see your booth at the local street fair. Later that night they scroll past one of your ads on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media platform. You’ve already established a certain level of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness and you haven’t even spoken with that potential customer yet! 

This is the power of omnichannel marketing. It quietly spreads your message in the background, staying on a potential customer’s radar until they’re ready to do business with you. When they’re ready for your products and services, they’ll already know your brand and have a certain level of trust. Building and maintaining that trust depends on how you treat customers once they’ve entered your virtual or physical storefront.

Getting them through the “door” is digital marketing done right. 

Small business owners must find unique ways to cross-promote to increase their brand reach. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling homegrown flowers to local buyers or digital downloads to a global audience — fulfill a need for a fair price and your clients will thank you with their loyalty!

All graphics from Envato Elements. Featured image from Freepik Premium.

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