Digital engagement can be more cost-effective than romantic engagement.
Research by Deloitte Access Economics suggests highly digitally engaged businesses earn $350,000 more per year than their counterparts.
Since we are talking about small businesses, this is a significant increase in sales. Small businesses making full use of the internet enjoy 20 per cent higher annual revenues.
The research also shows that only 16 per cent of Australian small and medium-sized enterprises are making the most of it. This means the remaining 84 per cent – a staggering 1.7 million businesses – are missing out on sales.
So why are most businesses failing to become more digitally engaged? What’s stopping them from making better use of the internet?
From my experience with NetStripes, there are several reasons for this.
1. The family trap
Entrepreneurs are often unaware of what needs to be done and lack the time or skills to focus on effective online marketing. They often use family members or friends to help out but, unless the friend or family member is an expert in the field, generally this is a bad idea.
Take Roz Davis as an example. Davis runs a small but successful legal practice, Absolute Legal Services, from the Central Coast of NSW. She used a family member to design her website, but the site was busy and distracting to the user and didn’t meet the professional image she wanted to portray. Although Davis was lucky to get a functional website, the strategy to position herself and her services in the marketplace needed a lot more focus. Davis has subsequently produced a truly professional site with a firm focused on small-business owners being digitally engaged.
2. The money myth
Business owners often believe they have insufficient funds or that online marketing activities are too expensive to have a significant effect on sales. The research by Deloitte suggests the type of return on investment you can expect.
Gordon Burke, the owner of serviced apartments provider Executive Oasis, says working with a good Australian search engine optimisation (SEO) provider helped his firm to be listed on the first page of Google for the most desired set of keywords in a very short period of time. He couldn’t believe his eyes when, in just three to four months, his apartments took out the No. 1 rank, beating big players such as Wotif.com, TripAdvisor and even Tourism Armidale.
3. Cowboy operators
Many small businesses have been burnt by cowboy operators who have done poor quality work for the promise of a low price. It usually happens with small offshore companies which are incredibly tough to handle.
A senior partner at accountancy practice SM Rosen & Co says he had such a bad experience that he finally had to move to another firm and start from scratch, losing a lot of time, money and sleep on a new venture, Party Affairs, that he was helping his daughter with.
4. Burnt by the big guys
Other small businesses have been burnt by larger digital agencies which have cost them an arm and a leg while delivering only mediocre results. These agencies focus on large corporations, so small businesses with much lower budgets are often overlooked.
How to get from zero to digital hero
If you run a small business, you will have a tight schedule and you might even be too busy to tell people how busy you are. Fair enough. However, the truth is that digital engagement doesn’t require all of your time and it is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your products or services.
The trick is to find the right service provider who has a track record of delivering results and understands both the small-business owner’s psyche as well as the tough demands placed on them.
But to take a full advantage of the internet, first you have to understand what makes companies highly digitally engaged. It’s definitely not enough just to have a website or to use a business email address.
I’d describe high digital engagement as using online strategies and techniques to market your business and engage customers in achieving set goals. So what are the major elements behind that description? Let’s break it down.
1. Search engine optimisation
Commonly known as SEO, this is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s unpaid or “organic” search results. The higher ranked on the search engine results page your website is, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. It’s vital to get to the first page on Google as it garners more than 90 per cent of all traffic from the average search.
2. Search engine marketing
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a wider discipline that incorporates SEO. It involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages through optimisation and paid advertising.
SEM may use SEO or pay-per-click listings, and is widely considered one of the most effective customer acquisition tactics. More than 3.5 billion daily searches on Google offer a few clues as to why.
3. Perfectly engineered, mobile-ready websites
Online means competing on a global stage, so your website must provide a world-class customer experience. Users are impatient and will not persevere if the experience of navigating your site is not pleasant.
For example, 40 per cent of people will abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. In addition, more than 50 per cent of all searches are now done via mobile phones, so if your site is not mobile-enabled you can lose a half of your potential customers.
4. Strong social media engagement
Social media is word-of-mouth marketing in its purest form. Almost 1.3 billion Facebook users, more than 600 million Twitter users and 200 million LinkedIn users make it an excellent channel for business exposure.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to retain clients, and social media sites are the perfect channel to keep them engaged. Almost three out of four social media users read online reviews before making a purchase, so a strategic and customer-oriented approach is vital to win more business.
5. Strategic email marketing
Email is still the king. Regular daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly content-rich newsletters will engage your customers like nothing else. Plus, they are easily forwarded. Like social media, email marketing means you can track the results and get a great insight into your customers. Finally, being able to tailor your emails and designs to suit your target groups is a big advantage when promoting your business.
Dinesh De Silva is CEO of NetStripes, an Australian tech start-up working with small-business owners aiming to increase their sales using smart digital solutions.