How to Embrace Being Agile as a Small Business

When I first started working in marketing it was for family members with local businesses. Their websites were less than 50 pages and they weren’t complicated. I remember reading popular marketing blogs and trying strategies that never worked, and I always wondered why. Eventually, I realized a lot of these strategies were written towards an audience that worked on much larger websites. I remember being discouraged and thinking, “These large brands just have tons of money and everyone links to them—of course they’re going to win!”

Today, I spend a majority of my time working on larger websites. I now realize there are definite benefits to having a smaller business. The issue is I don’t see many small businesses embracing these benefits! In this post, I’m going to highlight 6 practical ways you can embrace being a small business (with a specific focus on digital marketing).

Just because the big guys are doing it, doesn’t mean you need to

It’s interesting that so many large companies want to be agile, and so many small companies want to replicate being a big brand. Instead of spending time doubling-down on the benefits of their company’s size, businesses are wasting precious time trying to copy others.

As a small business, this can be especially detrimental. It’s understandable to want to replicate certain aspects of larger businesses, but at what point does it become a waste of time?

In practice:

Let’s say you are interested in hiring an agency. At Distilled, we work with lots of companies who send over endless RFPs for us to go over, edit, and sign. The process is brutal. We just want to do good work! To be fair, these companies are most likely required to do this. But guess what? As a small business—you can be creative! Instead of an RFP, why not just sign an agreement on a 3-month trial run? One of the most important aspects of a client/agency relationship is whether or not your working styles mesh well together. This will help answer that question without the headache involved.

You have the opportunity to connect with real customers… anytime, for free!

Something that a business loses once it gets past a certain size is the ability to easily connect with a majority of customers on a personal level. Whether it’s meeting and talking with customers, or translating a brand’s message accurately online—there are very few companies that can pull off connecting with customers on a large scale.

As a small business, you don’t have the same scale to deal with, which means you have the unique advantage of working directly with your customers. You can meet them, hear their feedback, and start building a powerful customer relationship right then and there. Companies are literally paying thousands of dollars to get that sort of honest feedback!

You have the ability to connect with real customers, on a much more human level.

In practice:

Other than being able to shake hands and solidify relationships, there are positives to this from a digital marketing perspective. For example, an effective way to get reviews (which are essential to a local business) is to ask for them in person. You can show your customers how to review, and encourage them to do so. This is always going to be more effective than sending out an email asking for a review.

You have the unique advantage of directly hearing feedback from customers. Listen to them, and take that feedback to improve your business.

Embrace the fact you have total control of your site

Most large companies and brands have thousands of pages on their websites. If you’re a small business, you probably only have a few hundred (if that).

This means you can take your website from OK to amazing in just a few days or weeks. Stodgy enterprise organizations make take a couple of years to make a major platform change.  

If your website doesn’t have the basics down (such as having a single h1 on every page, ensuring title tags are the correct length, or having a clean sitemap) you’re really doing your business a disservice.

In practice:

  1. Run a thorough technical audit on your site. Make all the changes/fixes that need to happen. This should be priority #1. Use this tech audit approach combined with this tech audit spreadsheet if you need help organizing these tasks.

  2. Once step one is complete, take the time you’ve saved yourself and experiment with things like answer box opportunities, local pack optimizations, and other forms of SEO.

You don’t need to have a high overhead

I’ve worked with plenty of small businesses that spend money on marketing software because it’s supposedly the best. News flash: spending more on software won’t make your business magically increase in rankings. A common example is someone dishing out thousands of dollars a month for a rank tracking tool. Do you need to spend that much? Probably not.

This doesn’t apply to just tools either.  At Distilled, we talk a lot about T-shaped marketers. In other words, the people you hire can specialize in one area, but should constantly be learning and expanding their basic knowledge in other areas. As a local business, focusing on the quality of people that you hire is even more important. Focus on people who are motivated to learn and are willing to take on challenges!

In practice:

Every tool or subscription you’re paying for needs to have a purpose. Take some time to write down what you’re spending on marketing and ask yourself if there are better (and cheaper) solutions. Not sure where to start? I would recommend rank tracking. My coworker Ben already created an excellent spreadsheet for you to use. :)

You can double-down on the local angle

People love supporting local businesses. I don’t know about you, but if I have to buy something and have an option between Wal-Mart or an equivalent local vendor, I’m going to the local guy! If you’re a local business, you should absolutely be taking advantage of this  angle—make sure it’s clear where you are located, and that you are indeed an independent business.

In practice:

  1. Pay for geo targeted Facebook ads that promote the fact you’re a local business.

  2. You might not be able to get links from huge brands, but you can definitely pitch stories to local bloggers and news outlets.

You don’t need to meet about every single decision

This one gets to me the most. Large companies love having meetings for every decision. I’ve found that for smaller companies what works best is to simply make the changes (AKA ship it). Meetings are expensive, and most meetings are unnecessary. As a small business, you have the ability to simply make changes and get things done.

Embrace the ability to be agile. Not every decision needs a meeting.

In practice:

Before scheduling that all-hands meeting, ask yourself a few simple questions. Can this issue be solved over Slack? Is the meeting necessary? If it is, does everyone have to be involved? At the end of the day, you can meet for hours and not get anywhere closer to the end goal. If you can ship the fix or project you should!

Conclusion: the obstacle is the way

Not to get all philosophical on you, but it’s time for small business owners (and marketers) to stop blaming competitors and get better! Embrace being agile, celebrate your wins, and take the roadblocks you’re facing and turn them into opportunities for your business.

I’d be very interested in hearing other examples of what small businesses are doing in the marketing space. Anything you’ve found that’s worked well? Share below in the comments or feel free to hit me up on Twitter!

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About the author
Sergey Stefoglo

Sergey Stefoglo

Serge joined the Seattle Distilled team in 2015. He earned his Marketing and Communications degree from The University of Washington, and has been helping client’s websites rank organically for the past 5 years. Before his roll at Distilled, Serge...   read more