Expanding your business online

As a business owner, you’ll know by now that success never happens overnight. It takes years of hard work and commitment – and a lot of learning on the go! This is especially true for small business owners looking to master the fundamentals of digital marketing to expand their business online.

Digital marketing has evolved into something bigger than a means to grow your business. In this age of digital demand, it has become a means for survival. But discerning which online marketing channels are essential to your business, and which are stretch goals to work up to, can be the first hurdle.

Which is why we’ve provided a need-to-know guide on how to scale your business online through digital marketing channels. In this blog, we’ll discuss the ways in which you can operate and market your business online – from social media to ecommerce. And we’ll be busting some technical jargon along the way!

Is your business online yet?

”Being online” can look like a lot of different things, but to keep things simple, do you have a website?

If not, then that’s where you should begin. Websites are like a digital shop window, but they do much more than display your products or services. Investing in a website for your business can help you find customers (and help customers find you!), build trust and credibility, and stand out from your competitors.

There are many ways to go about getting a website for your business. You can hire a specialist agency to build a brochure website (exactly how you’d imagine, essentially an on-screen brochure of information) or ecommerce website (a website you can sell from).

Or you can build your own website using one of the many free or low cost options available online – depending on how technically proficient you are! There are also existing ecommerce websites (some that are compatible with templates on website builders) on which you can list your products or launch your own web shop.

Where you choose to set up base will depend on three things: your objectives, your budget, and your target audience. What are your goals? How much can you spend? Where will be best to reach potential customers?

Define your target audience.

Before we dive right into marketing solutions, it’s probably wise to take another look at your objectives. Ultimately, whatever you choose to do should be guided by a comprehensive understanding of both your own business objectives and the challenges, goals, and lifestyle of your audience – otherwise there’s no guarantee your approach will work!

If you’ve not yet built your buyer personas, or you don’t know what buyer personas are, listen up! Even for small business online marketing, this is a vital step that will help you long term. A buyer (or audience) persona is a description of a hypothetical person who represents a portion of your target audience. Not a real-life customer, just a fictional character created with many of the same characteristics as your potential and existing customer base.

The reason we create buyer personas is simple. It’s often a lot easier to understand and empathise with a person than it is with data in a spreadsheet. Understanding your target audience will help you tailor your marketing campaigns to them and increase your chances of gaining new customers.

But how do you determine your target audience? Well, you need to do some research. If you know how to use Google Analytics, that can be a good place to start. You can also learn a lot from observing customer behaviours on social media if you’re on there.

Don’t worry, if you’re not feeling confident with any of the options above, there’s a simpler way. Ask! You can ask your staff what they’ve learned about the customers they’ve helped, or you can go straight to the source for information and ask your customers directly (though this will likely take time). There are free tools to let you send out a survey which will likely make the job a bit easier.

Here are a few prompts to help you decide on what questions you’d like to ask:

  • Demographic: What is your age, gender, education?
  • Career: What is your company size, industry, job responsibilities?
  • Lifestyle: Do you have children, hobbies, family responsibilities?
  • Pain points: What frustrations or challenges do you face?
  • Objectives: What goals do you have for the near and/or distant future?
  • Media: Do you watch TV, Netflix, YouTube? What news sources do you read? Are you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram?

When you’ve completed your audience research and visualised that information in the form of buyer personas, you’ll be able to start considering which marketing channels are right for your business and your target audience.

Next, create a marketing strategy.

Armed with all that research, you can now start to consider how you’ll advertise to and create content for your target audience. This is the beginnings of your digital marketing strategy – and you can go about it three ways!

While some businesses focus on inbound or outbound marketing, many more use a combination of the two. But what is inbound and outbound marketing? What does it look like? And how can these strategies help your business?

Inbound marketing is a magnet. This approach relies on high-value content to draw in your audience, serving their needs, nurturing a lasting relationship, and investing in long-term lead generation (turning your audience into customers).

Inbound marketing can help you build your brand’s trust and credibility with your audience, but this does require a lot of time and resources. You’ll have seen inbound marketing as blogs, downloadable ebooks, opt-in emails and organic social media.

Outbound marketing is a megaphone. This approach relies on advertising, being interruptive and getting your products or services in front of your target audience to make that sale. Unlike inbound, you’re not in it for the long haul.

With the right approach, you can get almost immediate results, but you’re relying on how persuasive your advertising is. You’ll have seen outbound marketing as adverts on TV, billboards, YouTube ads and sponsored social media posts.

As well as thinking about the kinds of inbound and outbound marketing that could benefit your business, you also need to consider how sustainable these channels are for your business. Creating content for inbound marketing takes a lot of time, but don’t be fooled into thinking outbound marketing is quicker. Managing and adjusting paid social campaigns, creating graphics for ads and budgeting is also time-consuming (unless you’re outsourcing – in which case you’ll need to consider the costs).

Choose your marketing channels.

To help you make the right choices for your business, let’s go over some of the options available to you. It’s important to consider the pros and cons for each marketing channel and whether the channel is a good fit with your target audience.

Email marketing

There’s often some confusion as to whether email is inbound or outbound marketing. The truth is it can be both!

Inbound email marketing relies on you having an opt-in list of contacts. When someone opts into your email marketing, they’ve likely chosen to be there for value, to learn more about you or your products and services. This is a great opportunity to nurture a lasting relationship that can lead to conversions.

Outbound marketing emails are where you buy an email list, and it can feel like a stab in the dark. This invasive method is quickly becoming unfashionable and can even damage trust with potential customers. How many times do you mark something as spam, or delete a marketing email without even opening it? It could be a waste of money, or you could strike gold – it’s all a gamble.

Organic social media

So many businesses are on at least one social media platform nowadays, but what are the benefits of social media for businesses and how much of an investment is organic social media?

Before looking at what to post, you need to consider how people will find you in the first place. If you’re already set up, look to optimise your business social media profiles with a few keywords, a clear logo as your display picture and a solid about section (or bio). Communicating who you are and what you do can be tricky when you don’t have many characters to work with, so keep it simple and focus on the most important bits.

Social media for small businesses can be extremely effective if you have time to nurture your engaged users (the people most active on your posts). But delivering consistent, valuable social media content is time-consuming and the additional time needed to engage with your audience (responding to comments, listening to what’s being said about your business) can mean small businesses struggle to get the most out of social media.

It might be that you hire someone in to help you, or you outsource the planning, content creation and scheduling to an agency and you just focus on engaging with your followers. But social media is a great way to humanise your brand, and that spark of personality can work wonders for sales!

Looking for more tips? Explore our series of free social media webinars – our session on mastering the social media basics is a great place to start.

Paid social media

When businesses pay money to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media platforms, this is called paid social media. It’s just another way of advertising in a space where your audience likes to hang out. The benefits of paid social media include the ability to better target your audience, higher visibility on your chosen platform, and with the right content, an increase in traffic to your website or ecommerce platform.

But advertising on social media can quickly become expensive. It’s highly competitive and requires a good amount of monitoring, testing, and adjusting your paid campaigns to achieve the best results. Often, businesses will use a combination of organic and paid social media to grow their audience and build brand awareness.

Google Ads

There are three different types of ad you can run through Google: search network campaigns, display network campaigns and video campaigns.

Search network campaigns are text-based adverts that can show up in Google’s search results when someone searches for a keyword or phrase related to your business. You bid on these keywords and the price can vary depending on the competition, so it’s important to be strategic about the keywords you bid on.

Display network campaigns are image-based adverts, and these appear on the websites or apps that your customers visit. These require an element of design work, so this approach heavily depends on the resources you have available.

Then there’s the video campaigns, and if you have the resources and budget to produce promotional video, these can be really effective in building brand awareness. These video adverts are often six or 15 seconds in length and are shown before or during YouTube content.

There are also many different advertising models available, such as PPC (pay per click) – arguably the most well-known approach. There’s cost per impression, where the cost is based on how many times your ad was shown but not necessarily clicked. And there’s cost per engagement, which is where you pay when a user completes a predefined engagement, such as watching your video ad.

SEO (search engine optimisation)

SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the process of improving your website so that it ranks higher in search engine results. By optimising your online content in a way that search engines like, you can work your way up the list of results.

But what does that mean for your business? Well, optimising the content on your business’s website can help to increase the right kind of traffic (or number of users) to your website. When the right people are seeing your website, you’re likely to see an increase in conversions (or sales).

SEO isn’t a one-off task though – it needs regular maintenance for best results and those won’t happen overnight. Many businesses look to agency specialists for this kind of help, and that can be expensive. In a nutshell, SEO is great for results but it’s a long-term investment!

If you’re interested in learning more about SEO, take a look at our free webinar on improving your website’s search engine rankings – it covers a lot of SEO basics and has plenty of tips for getting started!


Adding a blog to your website can be a great way to communicate value, tell people about who you are, what you do and your values, and increase traffic to your website. Your first step is to create a blog plan that aligns with your digital marketing strategy – something that your audience will want to read and something that’s going to help boost your search visibility with keywords.

Coming up with blog topic ideas can be tricky, but it’s good to refer back to any keyword research done if you choose to focus on SEO (see above), as this can inspire your blog topics! You can also ask your audience, if you’re on social media, and find out what they’d like to read about.

Blogging does take time, especially if you’re not experienced with writing content, but again this is something that you can learn or outsource to an agency if you have the budget – they can even help you develop your blog plan!

Video marketing

Are you good with a camera? Can you edit videos? Most importantly, do you have something valuable you can share with your target audience? Video can be a great way to offer value, build trust and credibility and grow your audience.

And with the right set up, video marketing is more accessible than ever before. Many small businesses shoot on their mobile phones and upload clips straight to their social media profiles. If you have something valuable to share – like a tutorial or even some behind-the-scenes action – you can communicate your message to viewers in much less time. With dwindling attention spans, video can help keep your audience engaged.

Digital PR

PR is a specific branch of marketing that focuses on guiding the public narrative around your brand. In essence, you’re trying to get people to say nice things about your business. And this is easier said than done!

You don’t really want to find yourself in the news for the wrong reasons, so giving publishers good reason to talk about your business – like community action, work for charities or supporting local causes – can help you increase the positive chatter around your business. It’s also nice to do all those things!

On the other hand, you have very little to no control over content that’s published about your business, so it’s difficult to measure ROI (return on investment) and it requires you to invest time in building your contacts.

PR can be an effective way to build brand awareness, especially if you can talk about something big happening within your business (e.g. you’re moving to a bigger shop or your business is going global), but if your story isn’t that interesting, it can be difficult to get your moment in the PR spotlight.

Your next steps…

If you’re looking for help in determining your sales and marketing strategy, York and North Yorkshire Growth Hub can help. We work with you to help identify your audience, your goals and your journey towards achieving those goals. We can ensure you get the most out of your budget (if you have one in mind) and that you feel confident in taking those next steps.

To find out more about our sales and marketing support, get in touch today.

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Searching for marketing help as a start-up business can leave your head spinning – with every blogger and their dog listing endless digital marketing “must-haves” that seem to cost a fortune (in time and money)! It’s like they always say: don’t run before you walk. So, here’s a quick and easy guide to getting started