By Rieva Lesonsky

Online marketing can make the difference between a high-performing small business and one that’s just average. So found the results of a new study by Forrester Research for Act-On Software. Forrester talked to marketers at a wide range of small and midsized businesses (SMBs) and discovered that those who regularly used online marketing made more money, got more leads and otherwise profited from their digital marketing efforts.

When you’re working with a small budget in a tough economy, I know it’s hard to figure out where to put your marketing dollars. What Forrester found might help you.

First, Forrester says,  SMBs are not cheap when it comes to marketing. In fact, compared to big companies, SMBs spend a higher percentage of their revenues on marketing.

However, in general, they’re still focusing most of that budget on traditional techniques. SMBs in the Forrester study showed a marked preference for face-to-face marketing, such as personal networking and attending trade shows. As a result, they’re less likely to use online marketing, and when they do, they use it in a less comprehensive fashion.

Although SMBs aren’t completely lacking in online marketing, they are falling behind bigger businesses. Here are some numbers:

  • 48 percent of SMBs use personal social networking sites, compared with 66 percent of large enterprises.
  • 51 percent of SMBs use professional social networking sites, compared with 66 percent of large enterprises.
  • 51 percent of SMBs use blogs, compared with 74 percent of large enterprises.
  • 72 percent of SMBs use email marketing, compared with 80 percent of large enterprises.

Why does this matter? First, online marketing tactics are easier to scale. While SMBs cling to tactics such as print ads and tradeshows, tactics such as email and online webinars are easily scalable, allowing you to reach a larger audience without any additional expenditure.

Second, as Forrester’s report puts it, “the journey for nearly every purchase today begins with a Web search.” Face it: If your business isn’t online when customers go there to search for what you sell, you’re not going to get noticed.

There are lots of places to get started with your online marketing efforts. If you’re a novice, I suggest visiting your local SCORE office or your nearest SBDC. The experts there can get you started. What I don’t suggest doing is waiting a minute longer to get your marketing message online.