In addition to guest posting on the UpCity blog, Rithm Marketing is featured as one of the Top Digital Marketing Agencies in the United States. Check out their profile here.

If you’re a small business with 0 – 20 employees, odds are you are engaged in some form of do-it-yourself (DIY) digital marketing. Whether you manage your Facebook page, your website, your SEO or all of the above, you’re only able to squeeze these efforts in at the margins because you spend most of your time running a business. The question becomes, is it working?

While studies vary on the specific number, a conservative estimate is that 70 – 90% of small businesses are DIY marketers. From a sizing perspective, with over 5 million businesses in the U.S. with 1-20 employees and over 24 million with no employees, this segment of DIY marketers is massive. At the same time, the level of sophistication, technical know-how, and creative ability vary dramatically across this group.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of digital know-how, there are a number of ways to see if DIY digital marketing is really the best use of your time and money. From understanding the risks of DIY to considering what your time is worth, here are some ways to assess your DIY marketing in order to determine if it’s time to hire a professional digital marketing agency.

DIY at Your Own Risk

According to a 2018 study of over 2,700 franchisees, roughly 97% of them said they are primarily using some type of DIY marketing. The same study also cited a statistic stating that 60% of small businesses aren’t sure who manages their Google My Business (GMB) listing. This is a major issue because new research shows that the GMB listing is arguably one of the most important search engine optimization (SEO) ranking factors contributing to a local business’s ranking on Google.

The study also cited a stat that found 36% of small businesses aren’t sure if their website is mobile optimized or not. Again, mobile websites are foundational to any business’s digital marketing. Without having a good hold on the basics of digital marketing, the risk of DIY is wasting time on channels or strategies that really aren’t suited for you, your business, your customer and/or your industry.

Many small businesses are aware of “the basics” of digital marketing and are prioritizing these channels (see below). When asked if they could focus on one type of marketing, social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and search ads and email were at the top. While there does appear to be a recognition of the most effective digital channels, the actual execution of effective strategies is another story.

When considering the challenges associated with DIY digital marketing, let’s look at email marketing as an example. Any small business that takes a DIY approach to this will need to have a way of building an email list through their website, integrate these contacts with an email provider or CRM tool, design engaging mobile-friendly emails, incorporate useful content like blog posts, and deliver these messages to the audience on a regular basis (monthly, weekly, etc.). Even this is a simplified take on email, but a tall order nonetheless.

Ultimately, if your small business utilizes DIY for any digital channels or tactics, you run the risk of overlooking key elements to any digital strategy. This is no fault of your own since the speed with which the digital landscape changes makes staying on top of these trends a full-time occupation. This is why professional digital marketing agencies exist, and in some cases, they are more affordable than you might realize.

ROI & KPIs – Is DIY Working?

Beyond taking advantage of best practices and sophisticated execution, another way to assess your DIY marketing is through the data. But chances are you’re already squeezing in every bit of digital marketing you can given you’re already packed schedule of running a business. This is where another major challenge presents itself to DIY.

Digital channels generate a massive amount of data. From clicks to impressions to calls to form fills, the key performance indicators (KPIs) are trackable online. On the other hand, setting up these tracking capabilities and packaging the data in a way that is digestible and clear is a very technical task. From tracking user behaviors on your website, to overall traffic and visibility of your business on GMB, the various sources of data require analysis. Without the time to do this, you will likely be left wondering if your efforts are working.

Taking a step back, here are some steps to help you better understand just how much time/money you are investing and if it is worth it:

  1. Estimate your time investment for digital marketing on a weekly basis (websites, social media, blogs, etc.).
  2. Multiply that by an hourly rate – whatever you estimate your time is worth.
  3. Take your weekly investment and multiply that by 52 (the number of work weeks in a year).
  4. Divide that total annual investment by 12 to get your monthly investment.
  5. Identify the value of your KPIs (form fills, calls, clicks, emails, etc.).
  6. Track these KPIs via an online analytics provider (i.e. Google Analytics).
  7. Analyze the results for a month or two and see if you’re driving enough activity to cover your cost and then some.

Let’s say you find your monthly investment comes out to $500 based on the time you spend and what your time is worth. And let’s say you want to drive calls and each call is worth $50 to you based on how often calls lead to sales. You will need to generate 10 calls a month from your digital efforts in order to cover your costs. But how will you know if you’re not tracking the calls coming from your website and other digital platforms?

It’s critical to identify KPIs and have the ability to track them online. While a technical task, without these capabilities, it will be very challenging to answer the “is it working” question. On the other hand, not everything needs to be held under a microscope since some digital marketing is a cost of doing business. Websites, Google My Business listings, and Facebook are often viewed as a foundational for any business.

Assessing & Hiring an Expert

The most common reasons small businesses abandon digital marketing or don’t believe in their ability is because they aren’t seeing results, or they aren’t happy with the results they are seeing. However, the results are a function of four primary activities:

  1. The use of sophisticated and effective digital marketing best practices
  2. Brand differentiation and creativity
  3. Tracking and analysis of digital KPIs (calls, clicks, etc.)
  4. Luck!

Without utilizing proven tactics, differentiating your brand, measuring the results and a little luck, DIY just simply won’t be a good use of time. Ultimately, this is precisely what a digital marketing agency would do for you. Yet, just like there is a broad scope of digital understanding among small businesses, the same could be said for agencies. For that reason, here are some ways to assess the quality of an agency for your small business:

  • Expertise: Does the agency have a blog? Read some posts. Do they seem like they know what they are talking about? Or is it all just a bunch of jargon and catchphrases?
  • Offerings: Do they offer core services like website design, social media management, SEO, email marketing, etc?
  • Clients: Look at their clients. If you see small, local businesses, then they are probably able to accommodate lower-budgets. Many agencies have monthly minimums and you can ask directly for that info.
  • Website and Digital Channels: Review the agencies website and various online channels. Do they leave you with a positive reaction? Ultimately they will be managing your efforts, so make sure they promote themselves well first.
  • Size: The smaller, local agency will better serve the smaller, local business. It’s important to find a partner, not some massive digital marketing machine.

If you went through the 7-steps listed above for assessing if DIY is working, then you already know your KPIs and you have a monthly budget. Now you can go to agencies with a strong understanding of what you want to do and what you can afford to spend to do it. This will make the process of finding a partner much quicker and easier.

Conclusion

Most small businesses have the entrepreneurial spirit where they want to learn new things, take on challenges and overcome obstacles. On the other hand, it is also important for small business owners to learn how to use time wisely and not waste it on activities that get in the way of running or growing business. For many, DIY digital marketing just isn’t sustainable.

Digital marketing is a complex, fluid and expansive environment. It isn’t impossible to DIY effectively, but you will need a lot of time, interest in the subject, technical capabilities and an understanding of the latest news and insights that are driving the space forward. Again, not impossible, but layer that on top of running a business and it becomes increasingly improbable that you will be able to do it as well as an expert.

By doing more research into how much time you spend on your marketing and figuring out what that time is worth, you can start to recognize if it’s worth it. The bottom line is that digital marketing is worth it and the better you do it, the better your chances of growing and being competitive in your market.

Joe Morsello
Owner & Chief Digital Marketer at

Joe is the owner and chief digital marketer at Rithm Marketing. He has been building websites and executing digital marketing strategies for about 10 years. Previously Joe was an analyst and director of marketing for a prominent digital marketing trade association.