Colin Whitby, from the UK Marketing, Sales & Service consulting team, describes how digital tools allow small businesses to open up to a wider audience, more economically and effectively

For those of us interested in personal development, or maybe taking some extracurricular training through online courses, it may be a surprise to learn that many of these services have been based on traditional marketing tools and methodologies. For example I have recently been exploring some of the New Age materials on offer on the Internet and was interested to see just how far the contributors have come in using the new digital networking and marketing tools now available. These tools and techniques would be equally adapted to any new or existing small to medium enterprises, expanding products and services to reach a much wider global marketplace.

Until recently, the only way to access training or personal development materials or techniques would be to attend seminars or training courses, often involving significant time and expense. Part of the motivation for attending would be to meet people of like minds, exchange ideas and make contacts in the hotel bar or other social networking: this is where the new digital networking tools have come into their own.

New Age meets Digital Age

Many of us with busy lives would still like to benefit from the insights training courses might offer. A new breed of trainers/practitioners uses a range of online digital tools that have been developed for small to medium businesses, often referred to as software as a service (SaaS) to market their products/services to a now global audience. Many of the people entering this e-marketplace are independent sole traders, whose marketing efforts in the past would be to manually email their clients and friends with their new ideas and offerings.

Now, for a limited cost based on usage, some quite sophisticated email tools are available that would traditionally only be deployed by larger businesses. One example, Politemail, is ideal for managing small email lists, integrating with Outlook and basing its charging on the number of emails sent through its portal. Many sophisticated tracking facilities are available giving insights into how many people opened the mail and which links they clicked on within the email for more information. List management is also available with automatic opt-in/opt-out features now coming as standard with some packages.

Digital Marketing Techniques – Blogs and Websites

The emergence of easy to use blog templates and designs with sophisticated editing and tailoring software means that small businesses or single traders have extremely low cost tools at their disposal. They can use them to create their blogs or web sites, where they can effectively launch their new services and receive feedback to articles or offerings directly. Some of the leading providers in this space such as Blogger or WordPress offer their starter services free (with adverts) so that new users can try out the service before buying a more sophisticated package.

Many web designers now consider blogs to be the most effective tool for online marketing and they no longer offer to design web sites for their clients, now focusing entirely on the design and use of blogs. Much of this centres on the separation of the design from the content, a principle that blogs exploit very effectively which means that novice users can update content without worrying that their design will be compromised. A clear advantage here is that changes are no longer expensive and time consuming through remote webmasters, they can be made immediately by non-technical people like myself, as this blog hosted on WordPress will demonstrate.

It is possible to publish monthly online magazines or simply post news and events ad hoc on the blogs which now provide RSS feeds so that people can tag the pages that interest them. Many sites have links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts which add a personal feel to the connection with their audience and provide a very useful extra channel for announcements of new services or events. These can very quickly reach around the world as they are ‘liked’ and ‘re-tweeted’, and the more popular sites are now translated into many languages in order to maximise their potential audiences. With the addition of a shopping cart module they can sell directly from the site, where courses or materials can be downloaded online, often without further action on the part of the service provider.

Multi-media Service Delivery

The surprise for me was the level of sophistication that previously technophobic New Age trainers and consultants have reached. Many now offer their services online via webinars with PDF supporting materials, live, recordable teleconferences and the use of YouTube or online radio channels to post interviews and inspirational materials. For those just starting on this path there are many videos on line now, giving expert advice for free (one of the marketing methods, give something away, then provide a reason to buy the next instalment). If you have time have a look at these videos by Brendon Burchard which demonstrates how this phenomenon works.

My own experience of using these new training methods is that they have come on a long way in a few short years, and that the only problem for new inspired teachers or small businesses thinking of launching their own digital services is how to choose from the vast number of new online services available to them, in order to focus on the most effective use of their time and talents.

For me digital training does not replace the traditional face to face courses or seminars but it does add a valuable additional channel for those who do not have the time, or maybe the inclination, to deliver or attend ‘physical’ courses themselves. As someone who occasionally joins an online course as a contributor I found it interesting to note that we have now progressed to discussing our joint approach on Skype, sending presentations back and forth on chat whilst speaking on conference phone from 4 different countries and time zones to discuss how the presentation will be managed.

We are then able to set up our tele-seminar, with minimum technical knowhow, using readily available online tools which subsequently enable people purchase the course, and then to log in and listen via the web or the phone through their log-in (sent automatically by the system). When they log in we know they are there and can manage their questions thus keeping the flow of the session in our control. All of the materials were downloadable – those who could not make the live call could listen and learn at their own speed, whilst still benefiting from the ‘live’ feel of the presentations.

New Age Goes Global

All these features are well know to those of us used to this functionality, but the community this has reached have often viewed technology with a certain amount of suspicion, yet here they are embracing this process which many might even consider the norm now, particularly with presenters contributing from different countries, and trainees calling from all over the world.

The Internet has not only provided a means to reach the tutor’s existing customer base using new digital techniques, it has also offered a route to a totally new global audience that expands their reach and customer base exponentially. The world really is our oyster.