Go digital

You don't need a large budget to create a buzz

Marketing can seem pretty scary if you’re a small business. According to research from Royal Mail*, SMEs are held back from using new marketing channels because they’re worried about measuring return on investment, cost, capacity to handle customer responses and a lack of expertise. And two-thirds admit difficulty in getting customers to take action as a result of marketing.

But here’s the great news: inexpensive digital technologies mean marketing via both conventional and new media channels has never been more accessible, enabling SMEs to compete with much larger businesses.

Tweet it

Social media has changed the landscape of marketing in recent years, and for the large part it’s free. Kind words cost nothing but when posted on social media they could be worth in excess of £31.3bn per year to the small businesses on Britain’s high streets, according to an independent study for American Express conducted by Econsultancy**.

Hair salons and barbers, cafés, restaurants, pubs, bars and food shops enjoy the biggest boost from ‘social sharing’. The younger the audience, the greater their social media circle, with 18- to 24-year-olds generating the highest revenue on their local high street at £162, despite having the lowest average spend of £5.47 per visit.

‘It wasn’t that long ago that Yellow Pages was sending out a sales rep to try and sell me a small ad for thousands of pounds,’ recalls High Access founder Niel Bethell. ‘So when I first saw Twitter, I was amazed that it was totally free. It has helped accelerate our growth and developed us as a national brand that’s something more than a stereotypical maintenance company.’

For some SMEs, digital marketing remains intimidating, particularly those who don’t consider themselves digital natives. But with easy-to-use software and tools for creating and managing digital marketing campaigns there are few excuses.

Even TV is no longer out of reach for SMEs. It’s now possible to make and air a TV ad with a small budget. With the proliferation of cable channels, there are plenty of opportunities to buy small numbers of ad slots at a reasonable price.

Track your traffic

‘A successful marketing strategy no longer requires a six- or seven-figure budget, but it may mean hiring people who can create the right buzz,’ says Alisa Copeman, VP of marketing at American Express. Marketing staff will probably be the biggest investment you need to make.

‘When you have a very small marketing budget or team, every lever you pull can have an exponential effect on your business,’ says Ed Relf, founder and CEO of Laundrapp. ‘In the businesses I’ve started, more often than not the initial channels tend to be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Adwords, email marketing and SMS.

There are plenty of channels to try, then track the traffic and understand where the traffic is coming from, and how much people are spending. After that it’s just a question of doubling down on the things that work.’

*Royal Mail MarketReach, June 2016, from 250 online interviews with decision-makers at SMEs in the UK
**Econsultancy interviewed 4,071 adults in November 2015