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Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Small Businesses

Updated: May 3, 2023

One of the biggest reasons I stepped out on my own was to help grow small businesses - there is nothing more gratifying than helping an entrepreneur achieve success.

The challenge with small businesses (and even medium size businesses) is that their marketing budgets are small and they need to stretch their dollars. That is often why small businesses wind up tackling things on their own and trying to learn about things like paid search and social advertising.

Google and Facebook are counting on this - which is why they have made their products seem so easy to use. Hit the boost button on Facebook and enter your card. Go to Google Ads and follow the easy steps!

These platforms are NOT doing small businesses a favor - what they are doing is helping funnel ad dollars to areas where they need to grow revenue.

For example, Google automatically selects "place ads on Google Ad Network" as an option during automated campaign setup. This can place your ad virtually anywhere on the internet and the performance is significantly lower than restricting delivery of a paid search campaign to Google. Google does this because savvy marketers don't select this option - and Google needs to place ads on external sites to increase their revenue.

Hiring an advertising and marketing agency sounds like an expensive leap for many new business owners. But: any marketing and ad agency worth the investment is going to return that investment with real revenue and growth. I tell all my clients - any ad dollar you spend should pay for itself with the returns.

Another thing that happens (and has happened to one client of mine with their previous agency) is that clients can feel like their agency is nickel and diming them to death and are not invested in their success. This is just a bad way of doing business - if you are a business owner and your agency isn't available to talk strategy and create value - they're not the right fit. I try to always be available to my clients and - frankly - I tell them to let me know when I am being a pest!

Any business that has a small marketing budget should be considering the following:

  1. Facebook/Instagram: These platforms are great places to stretch ad dollars and get local reach. The right plan incorporates your individual business goals and has trackable results. Advertising on these platforms has drawbacks but the benefits generally outweigh these. Facebook/Instagram has intense an intense ad training curriculum called Blueprint - but that's a significant time investment most business owners can't make. An agency can get things like a page pixel and custom audiences setup and help select the right tactic for your goals. Additionally, your agency should be testing creative, audiences, tactics and more to find the sweet spot for your business. As a side note: many businesses are relying on organic reach and trying to make their ads "standout" to get free word of mouth. Organic reach is essentially a pipe dream nowadays - going viral is like striking lightning - and *trying* to go viral is almost sure to fail. Organic posting is still a great idea to reach your devoted followers and get some incremental reach. But: businesses investing a lot of time on an aggressive social content calendar are better off creating a few pieces of content and spending some money on ads.

  2. Google Ads: Google owns a bunch of advertising options not just paid search. But paid search is the first place any business should be if they offer local goods and services. If a business offers a service someone may be looking for - paid search ads ensure your business shows up first, has the most real estate on search engine results, and has trackable results. Google Ads don't have to cost a fortune - if your geographic coverage area is dialed in and your agency is doing advance homework on keywords and negative keywords - your ads should pay for themselves.

  3. LinkedIn: Many small businesses are more B2B focused. B2B marketing is inherently more expensive. But LinkedIn makes reaching decision makers in other businesses easier and more affordable than direct mail. If you are targeting certain industries or job titles - LinkedIn is a perfect place to spend. LinkedIn is more expensive than Facebook but reaching a business audience at scale on Facebook requires more spend and more waste - so the dollars do shake out.

When I start a new campaign for a client I generally advise them that their campaigns will take 1-3 months to be dialed in depending on daily spend levels. That doesn't mean they won't be successful right away - it just means the success should improve as your agency optimizes things.

Lastly, an agency should be 100% transparent with ad spend. The client should always have access to their Facebook and Google accounts. The proper way to set up paid search and social accounts is to have the client create the accounts and provide payment details - and then allow the agency to "connect" in to these accounts to do the setup and maintenance. Why? This creates complete transparency on ad spend so the client can - if they want - dive into their account and look at things. It also allows the client to retain all their data should they decide to part ways with the agency. Too often I have heard of clients firing their agency and losing their historical data. And with fraud rampant in the digital industry - it's important to know the ad dollars and metrics you are getting are accurate and verifiable.

If you are a small business considering an agency my best advice is to reach out to several agencies and get rates and pricing. Ask for a comprehensive breakdown of agency fees - not just for items you are planning on doing right away - but things you may consider in the future.

- Lauren

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