Digital marketing is more important in the small business owner’s arsenal than ever before. It’s hardly surprising news, considering that more than half of the world’s population is online. That means 3.8 billion people are now a potential target audience for your business offering— and its online marketing campaign.

The downside? With more information available on the internet, customers’ purchase decisions have become more complex as well. Buyers now refer to multiple sources, both online and offline, to make up their minds about a product or service.

That’s why small business owners need to be proficient in the fundamentals of digital marketing. Enter your entrepreneurship journey armed with an understanding of the online marketing basics. Capitalising on these channel strategies will help you grow your company and your revenue, no matter your size or industry.

online digital laptop computer marketing startup sme
3.8 billion pairs of eyes are now trained on online channels… so that’s where you should be marketing your business.

1. Paid Marketing Channels

a. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Everyone who uses the internet should be familiar with Google, the most widely-used search engine on the planet. Search engine marketing is basically putting advertisements on the search results pages; these ads usually appear in the prominent spots (like the top or the side) compared to unpaid organic search results.

This is an important part of digital marketing, because many people do a search on Google (or other search engines) in order to find something that they need. For example, an SME owner looking for a financing solution would probably search for “sme business loan”. If you’re a lending company, it would definitely be wise to put up a paid search ad— so a potential client can click on your ad when it pops up on his search results, visit your website, and use your services.

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Paid ads are given prime real estate on the top of the search results page.

If you want to start doing search engine marketing, you should start by creating a business account on Google Ads. The process essentially follows these steps:

  • Conduct market research on which keywords your target customers are searching for
  • Decide on the keywords you want to bid for
  • Create ads relevant to those keywords
  • Bid for your ads to rank for the selected keywords
  • Optimize your ad performance by monitoring how much you pay per impression, per click, and even per conversion

b. Social Media Ads

Another big component of online marketing is social media. Close to 80% of internet users today are active social media users. There are many popular social media sites, but you should start with the biggest (Facebook), which happens to also own another big one (Instagram). By early this year, Facebook had 2.38 billions monthly active users and Instagram had about 1 billion.

There are a few types of ads that can appear on Facebook and Instagram, but a key one is ads that appear on user feeds. Feeds are one of the most frequently-visited features of a social media platform, which makes it a strategic location to place your ads. One thing to note is that soft-selling on social media may work better— after all, everyone hates ugly, intrusive ads on their feeds.

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An example of an ad that appears on Facebook user feeds.

The steps to start advertising on Facebook are pretty similar to SEM, but of course you’ll need to create an account on Facebook Business Manager instead. The good news is that you can also advertise on Instagram using the same ad platform.

2. Free Marketing Options

But of course, not every small business has the digital marketing budget to run paid ads on Google or Facebook. And from our experience working with SME owners, we know that managing your business expenses is one of the steepest learning curves for first-time entrepreneurs.

The good news is, there are marketing channels you can tap on— entirely free-of-charge. You’ll just need some good old fashioned hard work, and a thorough understanding of how your target consumers think and act.

a. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

We’ve established the importance of ranking top in search engine results, but SEM requires a marketing budget. The question is: do you always need to pay search engines so your website is featured on top? Will your costs continue to increase if you want to get more revenue from this channel? The answer, thankfully, is no. There is a way to get your business to appear as a top organic search result… and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

Here’s an important preface: SEO can get complicated. The metrics are ever-changing, because search engine algorithms are ever-changing. Still, the basic principle is pretty simple. Search engines want to deliver the most relevant and credible results to users, so you need to make sure your website beats out competing sites for the keywords that are important for your business growth.

Emphasising Relevant Keywords

In order for your website to rank in organic search results, you need to provide both search engines and users with the most relevant content for the keyword. For instance, if you want to be listed in the top positions for the “e commerce financing” search, your page should provide information about your service offerings, and mention the keyword multiple times where appropriate.

Another idea is to publish a relevant blog post: for example, comparing and ranking the best “e commerce financing” options available in Singapore, and explaining what makes yours the best. On top of that, you should make it easier for search engines to know that you are offering relevant content by putting the keyword in relevant parts of your website, such as the title tag, slug, meta description, sub-headings and others. This is referred to as on-page SEO.

On-page SEO: The keyword should appear in the title, slug, and meta description

Backlinks

Another consideration small business owners should make for their digital marketing strategy is off-page SEO. This helps validate the credibility of your website, by having other credible websites “recommend” your website in the form of backlinks. Let’s take our “e commerce financing” example: you have a higher chance of appearing on top of the organic search results if there are many news media platforms or review sites (themselves with good authority) putting up links on their websites to yours.

b. Social Media

Of course, paid social media ads are useful, but there are ways you can get eye traffic to your business without breaking the bank. Creating a Facebook or Instagram page for your small business is entirely free of charge, and can be an important customer touch-point to introduce, publicise and post updates about the product or service you’re marketing online.

Social media marketing campaigns lend themselves particularly well to B2C offerings that can be introduced in a fun, interesting and unexpected way. Humour’s your best friend in making your posts stick, and converting viewers to followers, and eventually to paying customers.

For B2B companies, social media can be harnessed to introduce a personal and light-hearted touch to your business— for instance, by introducing your employees, or posting a glimpse of “a day in the life.” This allows viewers to put a face to the name of your company, and cultivates that human connection integral to business-to-business relationships. The beauty of digital marketing is that it’s a free and casual avenue for growing trust, credibility, and top-of-mind presence for small businesses.

An InstaStory is the perfect medium for delivering a short, impactful snapshot.

Kickstart your Campaign

But realistically, not all SMEs can afford to devote the necessary time and resources to SEO or social media; you might not have the expertise or manpower at present to hire a content marketing specialist either. While SEM and social media ads are shortcuts to getting your small business in front of potential customers through digital marketing channels, that’s only if you have the budget to fund it.

Here’s where Aspire comes in. If you’d like to access funding to scale up your digital marketing efforts or hire marketing manpower, we’re here for you. We know the entrepreneurship journey can be both tough and rewarding; that’s why we specialise in providing startups and small businesses with the funds they need.

Of course, we’ve only covered some basic channels of digital marketing. There are still display ads, email marketing, influencer marketing… the list goes on! However, mastering these basics should be enough to kickstart your digital marketing campaign, and get off to a head-start in your small business journey.


Psst… you might also be interested in:

Low-budget Marketing Ideas for Your Small Business

Low on Budget? Here are the 20 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas


At Aspire, we envision a world where business owners have fast and simple access to the funding they need to grow. That’s why we’re on a mission to re-invent banking for SMEs across SouthEast Asia. Our current product provides SME and startup owners in Singapore with financial flexibility though a line of credit of up to S$150k, which can also be used to make business payments to enjoy 60 days free credit terms. With no monthly fees or obligations to withdraw, you only pay interest on the amount you end up using. Opening an account is free and can be done online here.

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A shopaholic trying to minimalist. Keyword: trying

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