If ever there was a good time for bootstrapping SMBs to grow their customer bases on a budget, this so-called recession the US is it. With a growing number of ‘self-serve’ options now available from search engines, social platforms and third party vendors, it’s easier than ever to get your business in front of valuable customers online. All it takes is a little know-how, and pouring blood, sweat and tears over your keyboard.

Ok, so perhaps it’s not that simple in reality. As with any entrepreneurial endeavor, there are still headaches that come with digital marketing, and there is still value for a small business to outsource some tasks outside their capabilities and comfort zone. The key is just knowing which ones, right?

The good news for the creative small business owner is that investing time and/or resources in search, social and other forms of digital marketing is paying off in dividends, and the trends look positive for continued growth.

Powerful predictions and compelling stats have come out of the last several BIA/Kelsey research reports and SMB Digital Conference events, indicating that small businesses are willing to invest even more in the coming year:

  • SMBs will spend 1/3 of their marketing budgets on digital media in 2013; up from 20% in 2010.
  • 40% of SMBs expected to increase their digital spend in 2013.
  • 57% of SMBs are monitoring customer comments online already; 17% plan to start.
  • 52% are utilizing Facebook pages; Only 21% are on Google Places (now Google+Local) – staggeringly low when you consider the impact of Google Search.
  • Only 20% of SMBs surveyed are currently using mobile marketing and more than 50% haven’t heard or don’t know that much about mobile strategies.

The last point is a critical one; do you how many potential customers are actively using mobile devices to search for information about businesses like yours? How are you planning to reach those customers?

Don’t be too quick to dismiss this growing segment based on age or other stereotypes. Sales and usage figures for smartphones and tablets indicate continued mobile growth across all demographics, and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon. According to a February 2013 Nielsen report, mobile activity now accounts for almost 40 percent of time spent online. You may even be reading this on your tablet right now!

Where are SMBs spending marketing resources?

It is interesting to note that small businesses are using twice as many marketing channels than they were 5 years ago, and that does present quite a challenge for SMBs with limited resources to manage multiple media platforms. But there is also opportunity in this challenge, to select just a few key channels and concentrate on using them well, or better than your competitors at least.

In the chart below, there are several areas ripe for increasing your online marketing efforts – namely, email, Google+ (formerly Places), video and online banner advertisements.

The adoption rate of Facebook pages by small businesses is impressive, though success here will ultimately depend on the nature of your business. Not that many fans actively engage with a local plumber for example. Media Used

Source: BIAKelsey, used with permission via Search Engine Land

What you can do for free or on a limited budget? 

  1. Set up a Google+ page for your business. This can significantly increase your visibility in search results. Be sure to include accurate and relevant details – proper business name, phone numbers, hours, website address, etc. Post updates at least weekly or monthly, including special event announcements. Similarly, set up your official listing in Places for Business.
  2. Create a Facebook page for your business. Invite existing customers or partners to engage with you there. Be active, post more frequently.
  3. Use a reputable, 3rd party listing service such as Universal Business Listings or Yext to disseminate basic business information to multiple secondary platforms.
  4. Learn the basics of SEO to help you prioritize website requirements, but don’t get too hung up on specific keyword rankings. Think of SEO as just one small part of your overall marketing strategy. Look for free / low cost online marketing seminars or in person workshops hosted by local SCORE chapters, chambers of commerce or other local business organizations.
  5. Focus on your bottom line and set meaningful success metrics for all your marketing activities, focusing resources on those which translate into more calls, more sales, return customers and deliver increased ROI.

What you can do with a slightly larger marketing budget?

  1. Invest in making your website mobile friendly; your business may not warrant its own mobile app – but you do want to make sure customers can find the information they need quickly from any device.
  2. Test a variety of advertising platforms – paid search, display, yellow page and local directory listings to see what drives the most calls, clicks or sales to your business. This may be one area to onboard an advertising specialist or consulting agency.
  3. Focus on building customer retention and engagement through social media, email marketing, loyalty programs, CRM systems and customer service.

About the Author(s)

Elisabeth Osmeloski

Elisabeth has been in the search marketing industry since 1999, and currently works for two of the leading trade publications in the digital marketing space. She is also co-founder and President of – a local professional association for online marketers.

Director of Audience Development, Search Engine Land & Marketing Land

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