5 digital marketing challenges faced by SMEs and how to overcome them  

Digital marketing has transformed the marketing landscape completely. As a small business, it's crucial to spend time and budget on your digital marketing activities but you might be facing one or more of these challenges.

Over the last five years, digital marketing has significantly changed the marketing landscape. Specifically, the pandemic saw more customers than ever head online and the number of people shopping online (both B2C and B2B) has remained at a high level. In fact, 71% of small businesses survived the pandemic by digitising including creating websites to allow customers to shop online and in terms of finding different ways of working. 

Going digital is now essential to survival, particularly as there is no so much competition out there. As a small business, it’s essential to keep up with new marketing channels, platforms and technologies to reach your target audience when they’re browsing online effectively. 

We know that SMEs face a number of challenges when it comes to marketing - as a small business ourselves, we have faced the same issues and had to find ways to overcome them. Marketing your business online doesn’t have to be difficult, it’s just a case of carefully planning your time and resources to make sure you focus on the most effective activities.

47% of small business owners run marketing on their own so you’re not the only one trying to do everything by yourself! 

Let’s have a look at the key challenges faced by SMEs when it comes to digital marketing and how you can overcome them. 

Challenge 1: Having the budget to invest in digital marketing 

Unless you’re a big business, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have millions to spend on digital marketing. In fact, SME digital marketing budgets tend to be limited, if they even exist at all. Traditional marketing methods such as print or television advertising can be expensive and the return on investment is extremely difficult to measure. 

Although digital marketing can be more cost-effective than traditional methods, it still requires some budget. As a small business, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not allocating any money (no matter how large or small) to marketing. 

How can you overcome this challenge? 

If you have a low budget and want to squeeze the most out of every penny you’re spending, we always recommend focusing your efforts on the most cost-effective solutions available. This means planning and focusing on the activities that are most likely to generate a return for your business. To start with, this will take some trial and error to find something that works for you. 

However, you can have a look at what your competitors are doing and see what’s working well for them and what isn’t. This insight can be invaluable when it comes to understand what’s most likely to resonate with your target audience. 

Challenge 2: Having the time to work on digital marketing 

For your marketing efforts to be successful, you need to plan, run and review your campaigns to learn more about what’s working and what isn’t. If you’re not following these steps, it’s unlikely that your digital marketing campaigns will be as effective or successful as they could be.

However, all of this takes time. Something small business owners don’t have a lot of! There are so many online channels available from email to social media and Google ads to your website that finding time to put effort into all of these can be almost impossible.

It’s likely that, if you have a team, it will be small and everyone will be trying to do a bit of everything. With so much work to do and only a few people to do it, marketing is one of the first tasks to be overlooked or pushed further down your to-do list. 

How can you overcome this challenge? 

When it comes to spending time on your digital marketing activities, spend time in the same you do your budget and focus on the tasks that are likely to generate the best results. For example, there’s no point in setting up and posting on a LinkedIn account if your customers are not using that channel. 

Careful planning and understanding your target audience will allow you to focus on the activities that are most likely to drive results for your business. You can ensure that you’re spending time on the most valuable activities and not wasting valuable time that you can spend growing your business. 

In addition, delegation can really help in saving your time. Give a member of your team the time and space required to work on marketing for your business. Assign the tasks that need to be taken care of to someone else - ideally someone who is better equipped with the skills required than you are. Or, you could think about outsourcing your digital marketing

You can find out more about this in our blog: Top 7 benefits of outsourcing your digital marketing up. 

One of the key benefits of outsourcing is you have access to people who are skilled in digital marketing and will know exactly what you need to do to reach your target audience effectively. It might cost you a little bit more, but you’ll also get better returns. 

Challenge 3: Having the knowledge to implement a successful digital marketing strategy 

Digital marketing and the strategies you need to employ are constantly changing. For example, Google regularly changes its algorithms which can affect how well your site performs in terms of rankings. Keeping ahead of these changes and having the knowledge and confidence to use the range of digital marketing channels available effectively can be a huge challenge. Especially when you’re trying to manage a team, keep customers happy and your business running well daily. 

It’s important to keep up with new marketing channels, platforms and technologies which can all help you reach your potential customers effectively. Without the right knowledge, learning how to use all of these can feel like a huge mountain to climb. 

How can you overcome this challenge? 

If you want to learn more about how to market your business online, there are plenty of free resources available. Whether you intend to run digital marketing activities yourself or not, learning more about the channels available to you, how they work and why they’re beneficial for your business will help you to understand exactly how they can help your business. Even if you decide to outsource the activities, a basic understanding will allow you to work alongside your digital marketing partner more effectively. 

Some of the best resources for learning all about the latest digital marketing trends include: 

  • Hubspot offer a comprehensive blog and you can even have a go at one of their free courses 
  • Think with Google is a useful resource for keeping up with changes in technology and the latest trends that can help you promote your business online 
  • Neil Patel has so many blogs, resources and tools to try so you can give your digital marketing a boost  

Challenge 4: Measuring return on investment 

Traditional marketing is often seen by many business owners as hard to track. Knowing what you’ve gained from the money you’ve spent can be almost impossible to quantify, which can make it difficult to justify your spend on marketing. 

On the other hand, digital marketing makes this much easier with tools such as Google Ads, Google Analytics and Google Search Console which can show you where your website visitors are coming from and even the area of the UK they live in. 

Attributing sales and revenue to specific digital marketing channels can be tricky but analytics and data can give you a much better insight into the activities that are working well and those that might need tweaking or which are not working at all. 

How can you overcome this challenge? 

When you start your marketing campaigns and when you create your plan, set SMART objectives so you know exactly what needs to be tracked and measured to help you understand which of your marketing activities are paying off. 

For many businesses, sales revenue is a key metric to track but if you’re looking to build brand awareness, you might be more interested in the number of visits to your website or the keywords you’re ranking for. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve and how you’re going to measure it will help you to see exactly which activities are driving the best results for your business.  

Challenge 5: Generate more leads 

For a business owner, the key to making your business more profitable is to target and engage prospective customers and turn them into paying customers. Generating more leads is high on the agenda for any business. But, it can be surprisingly difficult. 

In fact, 91% of marketers say that lead generation is their most important goal. 

How can you overcome this challenge? 

Remember that driving leads for your business is not all about quantity. You want to drive quality leads too. You also need to understand what a high quality lead means to your business. High-quality leads are the people who are most likely to buy from you - if you get your digital marketing strategy right, the leads you drive should be easier to convert. You don’t necessarily want to spend your budget on people who will buy from you once and never come back. It costs money to constantly drive new leads, so if you can build relationships with customers, they’re more likely to become repeat and loyal customers. This makes your budget much more effective and saves on having to spend money to drive new leads constantly. 

Remember that all of your customers will move through the marketing funnel from awareness to conversion. You need to ensure that your marketing activities are answering their questions and providing solutions to their pain points every step of the way. 

To do this, you need to know exactly who your target customers are, who your most profitable customers are and where they spend their time online. Gather an understanding of what grabs their attention and leads them to make a purchase. 

When you have this information, you can push out the messaging and content that’s most likely to resonate with them and find the people who are most likely to buy from you. 

Using digital marketing to build good relationships with customers offers a long-term solution that provides huge payoffs. Remember that only 4% of website visitors are ready to buy at any time. The other 96% of people will require nurturing and relationship-building before they finally buy from you. 

Key takeaways 

When you’re running a small business and trying to grow your business, there are so many challenges to overcome. Knowing how to get the most from your spend can be almost impossible if you don't know anything or very little about digital marketing. 

In this blog, we’ve covered the main challenges we see SMEs facing and provided ways you can work around these challenges. If you’re still not sure where to start, we can offer a free digital marketing audit to help you get on track. 

You might also want to read our other blogs: 

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Blog written by

Amy Ward