Physical disadvantages for little SMEs turn into major advantages digitally, when they can become small and disruptive. So says Mindshare MENA’s Regional Head, Digital Boye Balogun.

I really like small and medium businesses, having run a small business myself and worked with various SMEs.

I find that some of the disadvantages SMEs face in the physical world, because of their size, can be turned into key advantages in the digital world.

Be active across all channels

In the digital age, every business is a digital business: it operates in a connected environment regardless of whether the business transacts online or not. Marketing communications are online, word of mouth is online, and discovery is online.

Because your business is not in that playing field doesn’t mean your competitors are not running on the track. More importantly, your customers expect you to be engaged and active across digital and social channels.

When I think of disruptive businesses and approaches, I think of What’s App, Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Skype, Amazon and Mpesa, but also my local restaurant – where you choose how much you pay for the meal. It could be a disruption that changes the industry or one that changes a small aspect of it.

Taking advantage of digital

I have highlighted eight ways to ensure you are taking the advantage of digital marketing to drive your business goals.

(Remember, as you grow bigger, those challenges will be different and require different solutions.

1. Be everywhere

Online visibility is vital for your customers to find you. This means that,  in addition to your website, you require an approach for the digital platforms that your target audience are on or that simply cover the bases with key destinations such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and YouTube.

Fashion site, for instance, is just the beginning of their online story – it is also told from Instagram to Tumblr. It’s like walking into a house – the website is your reception room, leading to different rooms and/or social platforms.

Be found, be everywhere!

2. Act small; be adaptive

I have been in numerous meetings with big organizations where their major challenge is that they are too big to react to changes in their industry or in the digital world; CMOs are saying we need to “act small” and move fast.

Guess what? As a SME, you ARE small, so take advantage of your size to do things faster, be more engaged on digital platforms than bigger companies and share your company milestones, your journey or an early peek into product development.

Use daily insights from conversations on your digital platform, product sales data and your industry news or trends to “pivot”, to change, adapt and deliver the best possible product or communication in the fastest possible time.

A “real-time” approach is very effective.

3. Build digital content

There is a huge and growing thirst for online content like videos, articles, images, stories, live chats, widgets etc. Building unique and relevant content does two things; it drives visits to your online destinations (WIN!) and builds brand loyalty faster.

To be clear, don’t expect your content to go “viral” – most viral campaigns are heavily supported by media investment.

What you need is a solid and consistent crop of content that is engaging and interesting. The theme and your content approach will most certainly lie in the very fabric of your organization. You just need to tease it out.

Compare SME accounts | Compare SME credit cards ]

4. Invest in experts and tools

I see countless businesses trying to do everything themselves and failing. Build an ecosystem of experts who can help you to navigate the technology framework, emerging digital opportunities, marketing investment split or to just validate your direction.

They don’t always have to be big consultancies or agencies but it won’t hurt to get an expert on board – or even as a service barter deal. While you’re at it, invest in automation technology and tools.

Start with this question: “What will make my digital marketing faster and less labor-intensive?”

Options range from social content management tools to help manage your social media conversations (Hoot suite, Percolate) to tools that give you an in-depth understanding of your website visitors (Google Analytics, Omniture).

5. Try new things

Innovation, not technology, is the cornerstone of digital marketing. This means you have to be a little adventurous… and adoption is the name of the game. Not only should you be on Instagram but aware of emerging opportunities such as What’s App.

Digital innovation could be choosing to create a social-only product, fueled by the number of committed buyers, or the gamification of your loyalty card. I particularly like any brand that embraces new platforms quickly, but innovation can come in very different forms.

Bigger companies might not be as flexible – use this to disrupt. Take a few risks and innovate.

6. Empower your people

In a small organization your people could make or break you; therefore, you need to utilize your best assets – your people.

Train your workforce to be a digital workforce, ensuring they are trained in social media and its ethics and to be your advocates.

Growing a social business is a collective effort, so you need to formulate a clear way of empowering your employees.

7. Power budget

A dollar or a million dollars, you will spend *some* money on advertising and, increasingly, more of the budget will be spent on digital advertising. Where do you invest? The smart money should firstly go to areas where there is a level playing field.

For me, that means optimizing your website for organic search. Search engines like Bing, Google and Yahoo are a major source of traffic to your website; search engines base website rankings on merit, not might. Focus on a clean technical build, clear navigation, meta descriptive pages and a content-rich website, using the keywords that are relevant to your business.

Boom! Home advantage.

Compare SME business finance | Compare SME equipment finance ]

8. Mobilize

A surefire way of getting ahead is to jump the traditional wave. If there’s one thing you want to focus on as a business, it’s the mobile audience (which is… Everyone).

Mobilize your site, mobilze your content, mobilize your commerce.

Consider creating an application for the mobile audience, extend your customer relationship marketing  (CRM) to MMS/ SMS, connect all your marketing through signposting mobile content and, most importantly, start mobile commerce through loyalty cards, couponing, location-based offers etc.

It’s really not complex, and the local and personal elements make it ideal for small businesses. Check-in marketing, through the likes of Foursquare, is also a great way of activating loyal social customers.

All in all, I find that the most successful SMEs are open and connected brands that allow customers to be part of their journey. In short, they are digital businesses and are part of the connected world.  Good luck and go #Disrupt.

Mindshare’s Boye Balogun is the Regional Head of Digital at Mindshare MENA, a leading media and communication agency. He helps brand build and accelerate their digital and social media marketing. He is a regular speaker on the MENA digital & media circuit, sharing insights on digital innovations, disruption strategies, and data intelligence.

We invite SME experts to write for us. Read other guest opinions on the SME market.