Identifying the digital marketing skills your business needs - Part 1

Find out how to access the knowledge and skills you need to set-up your website and social media presence - considering what you can do yourself and where you might need some help.


7 min read

Part 1 - Setting up your digital presence

It has never been more important for small businesses to have a presence online. Ultimately, the majority of customers are online and digital platforms are a critical way for these customers to find, engage with and buy from companies.

Here we give an overview of how to access the knowledge and skills you need to set-up your website and social media presence - considering what you can do yourself, and where you might need some help.

1. Acquiring digital marketing skills

  • Off the shelf tools: A decade ago, a lot of digital marketing required technical expertise. But now, especially for small businesses, there are many tools that can be used effectively by those with very little experience. Often, you can try them free of charge for a few weeks as well.
  • Online resources, webinars and short-training courses: It’s now much easier to acquire knowledge and skills at no cost or for a very low cost. Sometimes simply googling how to do something will give you an answer or, if you’re using a digital platform, often the provider will give you access to training. And of course, organisations like Business Gateway have a wealth of content, live webinars and pre-recorded courses as well as 1-2-1 advice.
  • Outsourcing: There often comes a point where even if you have the skills, you no longer have the time. If you’re at the stage that you are so busy working in your business that there’s not enough hours in the day to promote it yourself, then it may be time to bring in some help. Whatever skill set you need, you will probably be able to access some freelance help on a relatively low budget. However, for larger projects, you may be better working with an agency as they can draw on several skill sets and provide a multi-platform approach.
  • Recruiting: Some businesses are unlikely to ever need the level of resource that justifies recruiting someone, e.g. businesses that grow mostly by word of mouth. However, if you are running the likes of a growing ecommerce enterprise then digital marketing will be critical. Once your business is large enough then you may want to recruit someone to manage all your digital marketing and other promotion. You may even consider finding a business partner with relevant experience to share the load. Regardless, whoever you recruit will usually still need some budget to outsource specialist elements as there are very few people who will have all the digital marketing skills you need.

2. Setting up and maintaining a website

The great news is that it’s now possible to set up your own website with minimal design and technical capability with platforms like Squarespace, Weebly, WIX or Shopify.

Setting up your website yourself

A simple information website with a contact us form can be very straightforward.

All that most businesses need is information covering:

  • About us - why you are in business, where you’re based, who you are and maybe a background story or biogs of your key staff
  • Products and services - detail of what you offer and prices
  • How you deliver your products and services - information on lead times, delivery, terms and conditions, directions to your premises, FAQs
  • Contact us - phone number, email or a contact form
  • Privacy policy and cookie acceptance statement

Very small businesses will be able to structure this on a single web page, but others may prefer to have separate web pages.

Many people also manage to add in basic ecommerce functionality, online booking and payment functionality using these platforms. They often have good instructions and guides to help you get set up.

When you may need website support

In some cases, it may be worth getting some support from a freelancer or small agency to help design the site to make it look more professional. That support might also help you map out your user journeys to make it as easy as possible for customers to find their way through your site to contact you, place an order, or make a booking.

A budget of £500 to £5,000 should be sufficient for a small website with a very clear and straightforward brief including the basic build and a bit of copywriting, and then a quick session to train you on how to keep it up to date. It may be extra if you need a brand created for your business at the same time.

If you are selling products online, it is worth investing in proper product photography and staging - whether you learn how to do this yourself through YouTube instruction videos or bring in a photographer.

After the site is handed over to you, it is worth having a small monthly retainer so you can pick up the phone when you need to and ask for technical support or a bit of extra design or copy.

Maintaining your site yourself

Once you have a site, someone in your business (maybe you!) needs to be assigned the specific responsibility for maintaining it. For a basic information website, this could be a simple case of diarising a monthly check that the content is still up to date and everything is working ok. During the fast-changing pandemic situation, many businesses have had to make extra sure details like their opening hours and latest policies are correct.

Transactional websites need a bit more work, but depending on the number of products you have, it may still be possible to keep it up to date yourself, and even write a couple of short blog posts every month.

When you may need maintenance support

A very large content or transactional website may eventually require recruitment of a part-time or even full-time team member of staff to keep product and other information up-to-date. They would likely have other digital marketing responsibilities too, as well as responding to customer enquiries.

3. Social media

The first thing you need to decide about social media is whether you need a social media presence or not. If so, then it’s a case of choosing what platforms to be on. Many businesses will include a mix of:

  • LinkedIn - if you sell directly to other businesses
  • Facebook - if you sell to a local audience or to individuals across a range of ages and your product or service needs to be explained by more written content as well as images
  • Instagram - if the products or services you sell to individuals are more lifestyle based or if you have strong imagery to promote it

It’s a myth that every business needs to be on every platform, particularly if you are tight on budget or time. This is a classic example of where quality over quantity is sensible. Every platform you take on requires resource to activate and maintain a presence.

Fortunately, it is easy to trial activity on platforms to see what is likely to work well for you, although it does take time to build a large enough following to have an impact on revenue.

Once you’ve chosen a platform you will you need skills and resource for:

  • Content planning and writing

    What you can do yourself: If you are a specialist start-up in an innovative area such as science or technology, then initially it will be easier for you to create your own content - it will be hard to find an agency at low cost that will be able to create that from scratch for you.

    When you may need help: However, you could work with a freelancer or agency to take your content and edit it to make it suitable for social media. This can be very helpful if writing engaging copy is not your thing, or there’s a risk your technical knowledge could be too complicated for the general public.
  • Photography

    What you can do yourself: In the early days, you can keep images simple using libraries of free images such as Pexels or Unsplash and of course taking your own..

    When you may need help: For your own products it’s often a good idea to commission a bank of professional product photography and proper styling.
  • Graphics

    What you can do yourself: It’s possible to design your own graphics. There are now various tools for creating images for social media and other channels that can be easily used by people with minimal graphic design experience as long as you have a bit of an ‘eye’ for it. There are free and paid packages for most options. Look at Canva or the likes of Piktochart if you need more infographics.

    When you may need help: As with copywriting, there may come a time when you need to work with freelancers or small agencies so you can free up your resource for other things and take the next step in professional-looking content. But before doing that, make sure you really need it.
  • Video

    What you can do yourself: Using video to promote your business is not always necessary however if you are using it, often it can be short, simple and authentic - no high value production needed.

    When you may need help: However, if video is a key part of your actual product, (e.g. online training) then you will need to invest in hardware (such as a microphone and basic lighting which shouldn’t cost more than £200) and some video editing software. You may even decide to bring in freelance or agency support to help you get up to speed so you can manage it yourself, or you may want to pay for more support with design, production and editing once you know for sure that video is a key revenue driver for your business.
  • Community management. This involves scheduling posts, and monitoring and responding to comments across all of your platforms and messenger accounts. Depending on the sector you are in and the stage of your business, you will want at least two or three posts a week with a max of two or three posts per day, all of which can receive comments. Being seen to be responsive is important and it’s quite distracting to keep an eye on everything on your social page at the same time as running your business.

    What you can do yourself: If your business is mainly desk based or if social is the main platform for your business and you have the focus and time, you may be able to manage this yourself. Tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social can help you manage your presence. And it’s possible to create messenger chat bots on Facebook to help you respond to standard queries.

    When you may need help: However, if you’re out and about or on the road a lot, if you do not have enough time to actively manage and respond, it will be trickier, so you may need some support from a freelance community manager.

Read part 2 to find out how to build your digital marketing activity with email, search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising.

4. More help

Take a look at our step-by-step guide for setting up your digital presence and our article on finding new customers with digital marketing for an outline of the different types of digital marketing channels available to promote your business.

Our DigitalBoost programme offers a wide range of support and resources on all things digital. Upskill on a variety of topics, including Digital Strategy, eCommerce, Social Media and more, and take advantage of our free digital health check, webinars, guides, video tutorials and podcasts.

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