By Chris Brake, Managing Director, Digital Kitbag

Last week was Local Business Week, an excellent campaign designed to encourage people to buy more from local businesses. However, you may find it surprising to learn that many small businesses are failing to take advantage of the opportunities available to boost sales online; research we conducted with Buzzboard revealed that just under half of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - 44% - don’t even have a website. And of those that do, over 70% don’t have a mobile optimised site.

Our survey into the SME digital marketing landscape looked at factors such as website and search engine readiness, online marketing and multiscreen capability, and the findings highlighted that shocking levels of digital immaturity are holding back UK SMEs.

The reason for this neglect? To put it simply, as business owners, you don’t need me to tell you how incredibly busy you are, and finding time to devise and implement digital growth strategies within the day-to-day running of a business is easier said than done.

However, the lucrative benefits that a comprehensive digital marketing strategy can bring to your business are most definitely worth noting, and it doesn’t have to be complicated and time consuming. Here, I cover some simple and effective ways to establish your business with a successful online presence.

1) Improve your website and think mobile

Firstly, a good website will ensure you are easily found by potential customers. You can make your website more efficient by ensuring it is professional, mobile-friendly, and easy to navigate across multiple devices.

The key things to consider are:

• Creating ‘About’ and ‘Contact’ pages are two important elements that some businesses can often get wrong. Your website must be both informative and appealing, while also letting the visitor know how to get in touch.
• Listing all your products and services. A professional-looking website is important, but it’s also vital the visitor knows exactly what he/she might invest in.
• You only have to look around you to see the prevalence of smart phones, so make sure your website is mobile-friendly. According to Computerworld, over 20% of Internet traffic is now on mobile devices and this number is increasing each year, so you need to make sure your business is tapping in to this.

2) Join social networks

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular and allow you to interact with your potential customers on a more personal level. Your customers are already on social networks, so joining one will save you a great deal of time by taking you right to them, instead of waiting for your customers to come to you.

Four social networks you can take advantage of and their individual benefits are:

• Facebook – as the world's biggest social network, it is excellent for advertising and sharing content. Facebook has 31 million UK users and 24 million users log on to the site everyday.
• Twitter – it is particularly good for keeping your customers up-to-date because of how easy it is to create and post ‘tweets’. Twitter has 15 million UK users and 66% of Twitter mobile users mention brands, making it a superb domain to promote your own.
• LinkedIn – as a professional network, its users will take your product or service more seriously. It has 10 million UK users and is experiencing rapid growth with two new members joining every second.
• Google Plus – ideal for connecting with your customers. Google Plus has 300 million active users worldwide and, according to Tone, 43% of UK users access the social network through their mobiles.

3) Get your business on Google

As the world’s largest search engine, working with Google can be a fundamental asset for your business as it helps local customers find you quickly.

Key things to consider are:

• Before you join Google’s services for your business, you should sign up for a Google account. Make sure that your email address is related to your business, and not a personal email – this makes linking to Google’s services easier for you to manage from one place.
• Claim and verify your business on Google My Business. Google My Business is essentially Google’s online business directory, showing results that relate to local search terms.
• Add your registered business address, even if you use multiple addresses or if you are mobile (such as a mobile hairdresser or plumber). This helps your business to appear in local searches.
• Complete your business details. On your Google+ Local page you can add specific details about your business and post business updates. The more accurate information you give Google, the easier it will be for customers to find you.

4) Stay in touch with your customers

Attracting new customers is one thing, but being able to keep hold of them is another.

Two easy ways to do this are:

• Create and maintain a list of current customers’ email addresses. You can gather email addresses in a number of ways, including in-store, over the phone, at events where you are promoting your business and online through contact forms.
• Make sure to use those email addresses. For example, a good way to build relationships with your customers is to send them
a ‘thank you’ email after a sale, to offer them a discount for a future purchase showing that you value their custom, or to send out emails whenever you have an important business update.

5) Build trust and credibility

Digital marketing allows you to not only build your brand online, but also your company’s trust and credibility. Allowing customers to write reviews that prospects can read, responding to customer enquiries and complaints in a professional manner, and sharing industry-related content will make consumers see you as a leader in the industry your business is active within.

6) Make use of easy-to-measure real-time results

Easy-to-measure real-time results allow you to see how many people are clicking on your links, downloading your information, using your contact forms, or generally engaging with your brand. Be sure to use this insight wisely by reacting accordingly and refining your marketing strategy to ensure you’re giving your customers, and potential customers, exactly what they want.