6 Digital Growth Areas for Small Businesses in 2013

by Ken Mueller on June 18, 2013 · 8 comments

6 Digital Growth Areas for Small Businesses in 2013
I was reading Geoff Livingston’s blog yesterday about a study on the State of Digital Marketing for small  and medium businesses, which was put out by a client of his, Vocus. The study offered a number of insights into how these businesses are using digital marketing.

Since this is National Small Business Week, I thought I would dig a little into the study and make some observations, based on the research as well as my work with small businesses on a daily basis. I’m not going to rehash all of the numbers and those related in the study. You can easily find those in Geoff’s post, as well as in the full study which you can download for free from Vocus. You can see some of the findings as displayed in the infographic at the end of this post.

On a positive note, it seems as though SMBs are finally understanding that there needs to be an ROI that is tied to making money, not just getting social media likes and shares and engagement. On the other hand, as I read into this study and read between the lines, there are a few things that stand out for me and show me some real growth areas for how small businesses in particular should be approaching their online presence. Remember, where I quote numbers for the study, these are for small and medium businesses combined. My assumption is that the numbers for small businesses alone will be lower, and in some cases, dramatically so.

1. More communication and less marketing?

My thinking on social media and the online space has evolved greatly over the past few years. When I started my business, I was all about marketing. But the more I work with businesses and their social media and digital presences, I’ve moved away from that. I still use the word marketing in my pitch because that’s what businesses want, but I think that any real success in the online space comes when we have a shift in thinking away from marketing, and more toward communication and customer experience. Often the right mindset within the culture of your business makes all the difference. I try to disavow my clients of the notion of marketing right from the get-go, even though there is marketing involved. By focusing on marketing, most small businesses make the leap directly to outbound marketing and spitting out sales messages. By turning the focus on the customer, they get a better understanding of how they should be using their online presence. We need less “me” and more “you.”

2. A need for integration

The study and accompanying infographic look at how SMBs are using social media and other digital tools, and what they are using them for, but what I’m not seeing is how all of that is integrated. Sure, some are using social media, some are using email, some are using blogs. But what I’m not seeing, both in this study, and in practice, is how all of this is integrated. Not just online, but also with the offline activities of small businesses. None of these things exists in a vacuum. Until we integrate, we won’t see what the real ROI of our efforts is. And until we integrate, we won’t realize the full potential of our digital presence.

3. What? You don’t have a website??

I don’t know why, but I’m continually surprised when I go online searching for a company and all I find are directory listings and review sites. I’m shocked at how many small, local businesses have no web presence at all. According to the Vocus/Inc. study, nearly 87% of all SMBs have websites. That might seem like a high number, but not to me. The barriers to entry are so low these days, that it’s possible to get some sort of web presence for next to nothing. And for a small sum, you can get a highly functional and attractive website.

The other thing I’ll add is that what I’m even more shocked about is how many small businesses have really bad web sites, either because it’s an old site that has never been updated, or they are hiring people to make new sites that look like really bad sites. I could show you half a dozen or more web design firms right here in my town that are churning out ugly, non-functional websites on a regular basis, and making good money doing so.

It’s 2013. Get a website. And shop around. Get one that suits your needs and represents the quality of your business. Understand that a website is no longer a luxury, or even a nicety. It’s important. Probably more important than a lot of the other marketing activities you’re undertaking and spending a lot of money on. And before you get your site, consult with a digital marketing person who can guide you along to make sure you’re getting the best possible site to meet your needs and budget.

4. Small businesses need to embrace email for customer service

The study reveals that nearly 66% of SMBs are using email for marketing purposes. I’m actually surprised the number is that high, but of course we’re not sure how they each define that. For small businesses, the cost of doing email marketing well can be somewhat cost prohibitive, even with free e-newsletter services. It can also be somewhat time consuming. But what really surprises me is that only 61% are using email for customer service. In a customer focused business culture we need to make sure we are using every means possible to provide great customer service. If nearly 40% of businesses aren’t using email for customer service, it means one of three things is happening.

  • They don’t use email
  • They don’t publicize their email
  • They ignore their email

I’ve seen all three of these scenarios, and it’s a bit boggling. As consumers are living more of their lives online, it only makes good business sense to make sure customers can reach you electronically, and that you respond to them when they do.

5. Content marketing needs to take on a larger role

Only about 53% of SMBs are producing content in the form of blogs or white papers, while about half as many are creating online events like webinars. Remove the medium sized businesses from that equation, and I’m betting the number is much lower. Small businesses are just starting to understand the power of content marketing. Small businesses often fall prey to those phone calls from folks offering them “a spot on the first page of Google” not understanding how SEO should be done.

Blogging and content marketing can be the most important elements in optimizing your website for search engines. Plus, video is taking on a much greater role as well, and Cisco predicts that video will begin to outperform Facebook and Twitter by 2017. And remember that thing about being more customer-centric up in point #1? This Cisco report also indicates that fan-generated content tends to outperform content created by businesses. That’s something that small businesses need to jot down and remember as they move forward.

6. Time to Go Mobile

Very few SMBs are using mobile, either via an app or through an SMS/texting program. Again, the number for just small businesses is probably much lower. I don’t think that every small business needs an app or a texting rewards and notification program, but I do think we need to rethink how we do business in a world that is quickly being dominated by mobile technology. At the very least, your online presence needs to be mobile ready, but you also need to understand how your customers are using mobile technology. The concept of SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) is becoming increasingly important to small, local businesses, and has serious implications about how businesses communicate their message to consumers. I would love to see is a study and breakdown of just small businesses, and particularly the smallest of the small.

By most accounts, a small business is generally considered to be under 250 employees. And while I have some clients that fit well into that definition, or even in the definition of a medium business, I’m more concerned with what is happening on Main Street in my town. Most of the small businesses I deal with have fewer than 25 employees. Some have fewer than five, and therefore the notion of having a full-time person devoted to digital marketing isn’t even an option. For many of these businesses, the owner, and perhaps one other person, wear all the hats: sales, marketing, HR, accounting, and so on. It’s a very different world for these businesses which make up the backbone of our local economies, and therefore their approach to digital marketing is necessarily different.

That said, here is the infographic from that Vocus/Inc. study, to help you get a better idea of the research I’m talking about.





Wow, this is a pretty in depth analysis.  I love it, and you took the conversation further. Off to share, and thank you for the deep dive!

KenMueller moderator

@geoffliving I feel like I've barely scratched the surface, but thanks! Thanks for the great content and study.

fourtopper like.author.displayName 1 Like

Wow - this post is spot on. Everything is blending together and it's exciting to see how some SMB's are finally embracing the internet.

KenMueller moderator

@fourtopper Yes, but there is a long way to go. I think the medium businesses are driving this, and the small businesses are far behind, especially the smaller, local ones.

JenPhillipsApril like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great post Ken, I work with a lot of SMB's in my area on digital marketing.  A lot of them come to one of my social media classes and they're often surprised by the integration of website, email marketing and social.  They think it's just "Facebook" but there's SO MUCH more.  Though our conversations are starting to change.  A high number of them now say something like, "My website is getting redesigned."
 Or, "I know I need a website, what or who do you recommend?"  So, that's a good sign.   Look forward to reading the rest of the study.  

KenMueller moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@JenPhillipsApril I hear all the same things on a daily basis. We still have a very long way to go, that's for sure.


  1. […] 6 Digital Growth Areas for Small Businesses in 2013 – Inkling Media […]

  2. […] 6 Digital Growth Areas for Small Businesses in 2013 – Inkling Media Go to this article […]

Previous post:

Next post: