In this issue, we meet entrepreneur and digital marketing expert Alice Benham. Alice is on a mission to simplify growth and help entrepreneurs take intentional and sustainable action. Since stepping into business at age 17, she has been passionate about swapping the smoke and mirrors of entrepreneurship for honest and open conversations, hosting the chart-topping podcast Starting the Conversation. Alice is also known for her unique approach to goal-setting and is the author of The Digital Marketing Handbook, her forthcoming book. We learn more about her advice to small businesses and her amazing business journey.

Alice, you are soon to publish the Digital Marketing Handbook, a no-nonsense guide to digital marketing. Why did you feel there was a need for the book? 

Digital marketing presents businesses with a remarkable tool for growth, but achieving that success means wading through the noise, conflicting advice, and vague tips shared online. People don’t begin a business to become marketing experts, so how can they learn what is relevant to them and take action?

Since stepping into business at age 17 and working it out for myself, I’ve seen firsthand how impactful it is to deliver practical marketing insights with a focus on theory and action.

I’m tired of seeing people struggle to reach their goals because of a lack of marketing knowledge; this book is the antidote.

What are the essential elements of an effective digital marketing campaign?

Many strategies and campaigns are missing two key elements: a clear purpose and action. Firstly, we need a clear vision, outlining what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to reach, so your plan can be focused. And secondly, we need a focus on action. A plan without action is wasted time, so it’s key to consider how you’ll get started and the ways you’ll ensure action is taken consistently and, most importantly, learned from.

With so many digital platforms, how do you know which is the best one to choose for your business?

It’s tempting to feel the pressure to be on all platforms, but particularly when starting out, you’re better off focusing your platforms on one. 

There are three questions to ask yourself to make an intentional choice:

1) Where are my ideal audience members spending their time?

2) Which platform will suit the style of message I want to share?

3) Which platform do I enjoy using and feel familiar with? This way, you’ll pick a platform that is relevant for your goals but also likely to come with less resistance when it comes to using it.

How can you establish an ROI with the vast reach of some of the mediums?

With organic marketing, in particular, it’s unrealistic to expect ROI to be measured in a black-and-white way. Instead, consider the qualitative and quantitative measures you can use to both indicate and measure the success of your strategy. Carefully map out what’success’ would mean for that platform or content, and build the habit of stepping back to measure those KPI’s against the time and energy you’re putting in. 

If you’ve given something for 3+ months and your time feels wasted, don’t be afraid to experiment with something else.

Which social media platform is the best choice for a new start-up?

Whichever will help them reach the people they’re trying to reach and spread the message they’re trying to spread! If their main goal is to generate sales with corporates, LinkedIn may be the best. Whereas if they want to raise brand awareness and connect with consumers, TikTok could be the starting point.

How important is data capture when devising a digital marketing plan?

In marketing, data is your ticket to growth and resilience. Every piece of data you get back, whether it be about the performance of a piece of content or your audience demographics, holds information. When we take time to track, question, and learn from the data, we can evolve our marketing strategy to stay current.

Marketing is all about experimentation and testing, and data is key to doing that.

What are the legal and complaint aspects that are most important to consider when formulating a digital marketing plan?

GDPR is an important thing to consider, particularly when utilising email marketing and gathering people’s data in exchange.

What role do video and interactive content play in an effective marketing campaign?

Video is a growing medium, understandably so, with it being such an easy way for consumers to learn, connect, and be entertained. Many platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, heavily encourage the use of video content, so it’s important to experiment with how your message can be translated into video form. 

There can be a misconception that video content needs to be time-consuming or require fancy equipment, but something as simple as a voiceover with a short scenic clip or a behind-the-scenes video can do the job brilliantly.

How do you define the key metrics when analysing engagement on social media platforms?

What are you aiming to achieve with that platform? Define that, and then pick out metrics that will measure or indicate that this is happening. Measuring metrics for the sake of it will likely distract you, and not every single metric will be relevant for your goals. For example, if your goal is brand awareness, measure reach and audience size; if your goal is conversion, measure click-through rates and website traffic.

What are some of the mistakes small businesses make when approaching digital marketing?

Expecting perfectionism or to feel’ready’. While I’m all for aiming for excellence, so many people are held back by their desire to get it perfect, which in turn creates a lack of action. Effective marketing requires an attitude of experimentation and embracing messy action.

Creating a strategy that is unsustainable. It’s so tempting to want to do all the things and be on all the platforms, but most of the time, being overambitious with your capacity will lead to inconsistency and frustration. 

Know the time you can give to marketing and create a plan that fits within that.

Not tracking and analysing the data. Marketing is one big experiment, but it’s only a useful one if you look at the numbers! Take time to look at the performance and get curious about what you can learn from it.

How should a small business work with SEO consultants?

You’ll get the most out of any external support by being clear with your goals, working collaboratively, and ultimately trusting them to do their job and know what’s best.

Is blogging still a useful tool for driving traffic to a website?

Absolutely! If you focus on creating blogs that are relevant to your target audience and ensure they’re optimised with the right keywords, you can use them to increase your ranking on search engines.

How important is your website design, and what best practice tips can you provide for a good, well designed business website?

If your website content (aka words) is the inside of the shop, the design is the windows that help people see clearly. Great design on its own doesn’t make an effective website, but great design will make it appealing and easy for people to access and consume the content on there.Here are some quick tips:

Avoid dead ends; ensure every page includes links to other website pages that would be a relevant next step. (E.g., link from your ’services’ to your ‘contact’, or link from your ‘about’ to your ‘blog’)

Think above the fold. The very top of each page, especially the home page, is your most precious real estate, as it’s what everyone sees when they land on that page to decide if they want to keep scrolling. Ensure it packs a punch.

Optimise for mobile – a simple but somehow still forgotten step! Consumers are increasingly growing via mobile, so check that your design translates well to that screen size.

How do you see AI and automation changing digital marketing in the future?

If used well, AI can be your marketing sidekick, helping you come up with ideas, analyse feedback and data, and bring efficiency into your processes. Whether you’re asking it to gather research, analyse feedback, or come up with draft 1 for you to then work from, it can be a really helpful tool.

What are the dangers of AI and virtual technology?

While I’m excited by the ways it can support our marketing efforts, I don’t believe AI should be replacing the role of a human. Marketing is, at its core, a conversation, and using AI to write all your copy and create all your content from scratch will most likely remove the personal feel from what you’re creating.

You started your first business at age 17. Tell us more about your early experiences…

After quitting school early, I took on a freelance job at 17, which, unbeknownst to me, meant stepping into the world of entrepreneurship. 

My early days were fuelled by naive enthusiasm and a willingness to say yes to everything, which meant I quickly discovered my love for marketing, grew an agency client base, and learned a lot of lessons very fast. It also meant I made a lot of mistakes and burned out after 18 months, but in hindsight, those were valuable experiences!

What were some of the main challenges that you faced as a young, aspiring entrepreneur?

I could write a full article just about this! Here’s to name but a few:

Lack of financial knowledge: As a 17-year-old, I could barely manage my personal account, let alone work out how to pay taxes, manage cash flow, and price myself. I was met with a huge tax bill after year 1 and vowed to learn from that mistake quickly.

Loneliness: I didn’t know anyone else running a business, and the online space wasn’t saturated with community and helpful content in the way it is now. I often felt isolated and struggled to get support from anyone who understood.

Burnout: After 18 months of saying yes to everything and having no processes, my body forced me to stop, which led to 6 months off of work. I had to learn the hard way that I had limited capacity and needed to focus on sustainability if I wanted to be in it for the long run.

Was there any support available to you?

Not really, as at the time it was pretty uncommon to choose entrepreneurship over university, and I couldn’t find many like-minded people! 

However, that was 8 years ago, so I’d like to think now there’s much more conversation around alternative career paths and a lot of content and communities online for business owners.

Which digital entrepreneur do you most admire, and why?

Grace Beverley is a huge inspiration of mine; the way she runs her business’ in a value-driven way, documents her journey so honestly, and is always adopting new and innovating marketing techniques is a joy to follow. She’s also proof that, as female entrepreneurs, we can be

Lastly, if you could offer one piece of advice to anyone regarding an online digital marketing campaign, what would it be?

Take messy action! Don’t spend so long waiting to get the plan perfect or to feel ready that you delay your action and, ultimately, your progress. 

The sooner you take messy action, the sooner you’ll learn and grow!