Everyone’s talking about the web. The Web, “they” say, is where your business ought to be. But you’re only small. You don’t want to spend a fortune. What can you do online that will actually make a change to the bottom line of your business?
Actually there is quite a bit that any small business can do to establish themselves online. And it doesn’t have to cost all that much either. It will take a relatively small amount of money, and a relatively small amount of time, and you can make yourself a profitable online presence.
Let’s be honest, even if you’re having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, you can’t ignore the internet. Your customers expect to find you there. The days are long gone where potential clients searched for businesses in paper directories, or relied on ads they saw printed in the papers. The number one way that someone searches for a client is by opening up their PC (or more and more nowadays their phone) and Googling. If your name doesn’t come up online, it won’t be you that they select for their business.
Probably the number one online requirement you need is an email address. Email is definitely one of the key forms of communication today. Your clients expect to be able to send you an email to find out information from you. They expect to be able to ask you questions via email. They expect your replies to come via email.
Of course you need to ensure that you have set up an appropriate email account too – preferably a specialist business one. SezyJohny92@hotmail.com might make a great personal email address, but unless you’re a plumber with an unexpected side-line it is not going to be a great business account name.
Another common email mistake that people make is that they keep an existing email address that they set up with their ISP, for instance email@example.com. These addresses are fine until you decide for some reason to change your email service provider. This causes a major problem as the old email address will no longer be able to be used by you.
Of course, the best email addresses are those that include the company name. How do you manage to get these email addresses? Well, the easiest way, of course, is to have your own website based on your company name. So if you are Johnny from Rocket Rubber Tyres and you set up the website www.rocketrubbertyres.com you could easily have an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can actually purchase a domain name (i.e. the name of your website) relatively cheaply. In reality you are only renting it, you have to pay for rental again in a year’s time, but for the next year you have exclusive rights to that site.
Your next aim will be to arrange someone to host the site (if you like, this is the firm with the big array of computer servers that keeps your site online for you). Again, you will find that web hosting is surprisingly cheap.
You then need to get your site built. You could get the high school boy who claims to know everything about computers and bamboozles you every time he opens his mouth. Or you could pay a bit more and get an expert who knows how to build a quality site, that looks good and makes you look like a professional to those who check out your site.
Whichever path you choose to take the important thing to remember is that you will have a brand spanking new website, hopefully set up to fully represent you to the public. You will want it to have a wow factor, which means that anyone who looks at it cannot help but be impressed by the sort of business you clearly are.
The one thing you have to remember though is that just because you have a website you are not going to get instant improved results unless you work at it. There are millions of websites on the internet – you have just created one more. Unless you make some attempts at marketing you are not going to get your website noticed by anyone.
What are some of the things you can do to improve things online?
Start with looking at the content of your website. Whoever created it for you should have worked through with you precisely what sort of content will be included. If you went with the professional designer they will probably have optimised how it has been set up, and will have ensured that the written parts are written in a good way for SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and what it really means is that the content of your site is written in such a way that Google likes it, knows what key terms you are focussing on, and positions you higher in their rankings than other lesser sites. As you write posts for your site, think about what phrases your potential customers are likely to search for. You then write your posts, ensuring that you use the selected phrases regularly.
The next thing moves you even more into the digital age. Use social media to help you market your site. Facebook is so much more than just a places to share pictures of cute cats and drunken friends. You can very easily create a Facebook page to act as a showcase to your business. Similarly, even if you haven’t used Twitter in your life, it is a great way to let people know about any new posts you write on your site. Just make certain that you are social though, spend some time retweeting and sharing interesting relevant tweets by other people – that way you may well find your material shared on their networks.
Email marketing is another very successful method of online marketing. Yes I know you probably think instantly of spam emails trying to get you to spend up large on Viagra which will all be paid for by the funds that the Nigerian millionaires are promising to give you. Yet the reality is that in this day and age email marketing has changed. People opt into mailing lists and consciously decide they want to hear about what your business has to offer. Email marketing can be extremely successful, because most of the people you target have already indicated an interest in you.
According to an Email Marketing Industry Census in 2014 sponsored by Adestra, revenue from email increased proportionately by 28% in one year. The companies surveyed rated email as the marketing method having the best return on investment (ROI). On average, the companies surveyed attributed 23% of their total sales to email marketing. Indeed the Direct Marketing Association claims that email marketing has a stellar ROI of 4,300%!
There are quite a few other ways that you can get people to know that you actually exist online. If you are prepared to spend a bit of money, pay per click (PPC) advertising with something like Google Adwords can be extremely effective at increasing the traffic (number of people coming to your website) and conversions (number of people actually spending money with you).
Of course one of the most important ways to get your online presence noticed is to market it offline. Add your website address to your business cards, paint it on your van, and add it to your letterheads (and invoices). If you advertise off-line make certain that you include your website address in your ads.
But the key thing is to get that online presence first. If your competitor has a website, but you don’t, who do you think the person searching through Google is going to go?