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4 digital tweaks that can future proof your small business

By Dr Jayne Rodgers

26 October 2021


If you run a small business, you’ll know that Covid-19 restrictions have played havoc with business planning over the past year. Face-to-face contact has declined dramatically. You may have already pivoted online, even if only tentatively, just to keep your head above water.

Digital Marketing
Digital Marketing

Although restrictions are now lifting, major challenges remain. The dominance of major online retail has accelerated, is here to stay, and feels like a massive threat when you’re a small trader operating on tight margins.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, because the rise in remote working has changed where people shop, eat and get services locally. A shift to more local shopping habits in general mean there are opportunities to cash in – just so long as you’re able to build awareness of your services and customers can find you online.

All this means that digital know-how will be key to future success. Getting this right doesn’t have to be as complex and daunting as it sounds though. Over several years working on the Google Digital Garage project, and through the Digital City programme, at Teesside University Business School we’ve identified some easy, low-cost changes you can make to help your business thrive online.

And the great news is, you don’t be a digital guru to implement them…

Your action plan

1. Know your audience
You probably already know who your core customers are. You understand who to target, what they need, how to reach them, how to serve them, and keep them coming back.

If you’re marketing online, apply the same logic. The age of your customers will tell you where to find them. Gen Z and millennials love Instagram and, increasingly, TikTok. Over 35s tend to stick to Facebook, and if you’re targeting other businesses, your best bet is LinkedIn. It’s not quite as cut and dried as that, there are always grey areas, but there is plenty of advice online that will help you find the right channels for reaching your customers.

2. Make use of data
Once you know which channels are best for your business, you need to put the data those channels provide at the heart of decision-making. Lots of companies make random guesses when it comes to marketing online, spending money on social media and search advertising without really being sure if it’s going to hit the right audience.

Social media channels provide analytics for businesses that are incredibly useful when you’re running a small business. You can use this insight to see the type of content your customers respond best to, what times of day posts get the most attention, and which posts get shared with others. If you know your content and ads are spreading organically – friends sharing with friends – then you know you’re on to something great.

It’s also a good idea to link what you discover through ad analytics with data from your own website. This will help you really understand your customers. Web analytics provide key demographic information about visitors on your site, what they do when they’re on your website, and whether they do what you want them to. All analytics tools work on similar principles, but Google Analytics is the best known, is easy to install and is a great starting point. There are of lots of straightforward tutorials online on how to use it.

3. Improve customer experience
For many small businesses, embracing digital ways of working has become a recent necessity. Now is a good time to step back and consider how your customer experience online is shaping up.

Think about the customer journey on your website. Is it easy for customers to find what they need? Is booking services or buying your products straightforward? Is pricing, delivery and shipping information clear?

The best way to answer these questions is to get someone from outside your company (and within your target audience) to assess your website. The rule of thumb is that the more clicks a user needs to make on your website to get what they want, the more likely you are to lose them. Use this informal assessment to identify issues and adjust any area found wanting.

4. Integrate digital across your business
‘Digital’ isn’t something that should be done by a single person. Too many businesses pass digital and social media responsibilities to a young person ‘because they understand it’. That might be true for personal use, but business systems need business processes to work properly.

So if you so employ multiple people with different areas of responsibility – which could cover anything from customer service to operations, even in a small team – involve everyone and ask them what would help their processes run more smoothly. Once you’ve done this, the natural next step is to consider using a digital CRM platform such as HubSpot, Salesforce or Zendesk. This will enable you to pull together marketing, sales, service and content management information in one place. Systems like this are easy to use, relatively low cost and can seamlessly integrate both your team and your processes into digital ways of working.

Make digital your long-term goal

No doubt many businesses will be able to move towards a post-pandemic future without making these changes in the short term, keeping customers and continuing to turn a profit.

However, all businesses are digital businesses to some degree now. Even if you run a corner shop, you should be considering getting on Google My Business so customers can find your businesses easily in searches. It’s free, shows where you are on Google Maps, can link to your website and also provides you with the opportunity to boost your profile with reviews.

Whatever kind of business you run, small tweaks like this will enable you to become more visible online, run your businesses more effectively – and ultimately become more resilient whatever the future holds.