You've made the leap to running your own business, sales are coming in, word of mouth is going out, and you're feeling confident enough to start branching out into something new to keep up momentum.

Perhaps you’ve decided to embrace digital and put your business online. But where to start?

Starting off simply is your best bet. You'll want to set targets, make a plan for reaching them, and then be sure to continually measure the progress you make.

Setting online targets​

There are a lot of goals that you can set for your business, so the most important thing is deciding which ones are the most meaningful to you. Generally, most online marketing campaigns set the following types of goals, aiming for these example targets on the way:

Goal: Get more people to a website or store
Target: Increased sessions and visits on website and customers in store

Goal: Increase sales, subscribers or enquiries
Target: Increased website conversions, data capture or lead generation

Goal: Raise brand awareness
Target: Increased searches for your brand name online

To decide which goals make sense for your business, start by figuring out where your web traffic is coming from. Are people finding you on social media, through organic search, or by referral from some other site? The answer can help you decide whether you want to build on the referral sources having the most success, or double down on the ones that are lacking.

Make your decision by looking carefully to see which sources of traffic result in the most sales. For an artisan carpentry business, referral traffic may be your best bet since users searching for carpentry are usually the ones who end up buying it. For a relatively unknown company like Hiut Denim, on the other hand, an Instagram campaign was effective because it introduced the brand to a new audience. Hiut ran images of jean makers in Cardigan, Wales, which personalised the product and showed how it was helping revive the denim industry there.

Once you decide on your goals, set targets that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic and Timed. To set realistic goals, look at progress in terms of percentages. If your website gets 2,000 views a month, a target of 100,000 views in six months could be unrealistic. But increasing your views by 75%—to 3,500—could be achievable.

Reaching your targets

There are many ways to achieve your online targets:
  • Free: Set up goal tracking in Google Analytics; create social media pages and post useful content on them; register with Google My Business; tweak the words on your website for improved search engine optimisation (SEO); create an engaging newsletter. 
  • Low investment: Use Google AdWords so that your ads start appearing in search results; boost posts on Facebook and Twitter; send staff to a workshop for digital marketing and/or social media management training. 
  • Medium/high investment: Spend money on display advertising; improve your search campaigns with sales or offers; create video ads to engage new customers; make your website mobile friendly and responsive. 
Regardless of how much you spend, committing to a realistic budget and an achievable schedule with clear milestones will boost your chances of success.

Measuring your progress

Paying attention to bottom-line results (like sales) at the end of a period is important, but also keep a regular eye on progress towards your online targets. There are many online tools available to help you do so.

Google Analytics and Search Console help track goals (Simply Business have a useful guide to getting started). These analytics tools can tell you how many people clicked on your ad, visited your site and took certain actions (like filled out a form or watched a video). Use these results to constantly tweak and improve your plan based on where you're having success. For example, Search Console can show you what search terms are bringing people to your site in the first place, and then you can better work those terms into your SEO strategy.

Built-in insights are available on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and third-party tools can also be used to track progress on those channels, such as Sprout Social, Hootsuite and Audiense. These will let you know which posts get the most engagement with clicks and shares, among other things.

And remember, not everything has to live online. Never underestimate the usefulness of an old-fashioned spreadsheet when it comes to tracking things like leads, signups, downloads and more.

By setting online targets ​​​​​​that are important to your business, planning a way to reach those targets—whether you use free, cheap, or high-end tools and investments—and continually tracking your progress, your small business will be ready to succeed both online and off.

Learn more about making the most of your online presence by signing up to our free Digital Garage lesson