The technology takeover is here. As a small business owner, you know you can’t fight it anymore. Whether you’re excited, apprehensive, or both, you’ve decided that the best thing for your business is to get tapped into the opportunities available to you online. But where do you even start? From building your own website to setting up social media profiles, joining directories, advertising, and more, your digital checklist is more than a little overwhelming.
One of the main challenges small businesses face in terms of influencing—or even joining—the online social conversation is that there is simply so much information out there. It’s difficult to know where to start, where to focus, and where to invest the marketing dollars and time you have.
Don’t panic, though. In my book, The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook: Converting Online Conversations to Offline Sales, I offer a comprehensive explanation of how small businesses can carve out a space within the online scene, connect with consumers, and market to them in order to grow. Here, I share eight specific tactics to help you establish and grow your company’s online presence:
Clean out the skeletons in your online closet. Your first task should simply be searching for your business on various online business directories (like Citysearch and Google). Make a list of the skeleton profiles you find and note any changes that need to be made. Most online directories will allow you to log in and claim your page. From there, you can report and correct any errors and merge duplicate pages.
Set up an online storefront… As you first develop your online presence, you may not have much free time or extra money to devote to this task. It’s perfectly fine—even advisable—to take a minimalistic approach when building and furnishing your website. Bells and whistles aren’t nearly as important as making sure your website is professional, accurate, and representative of your offline storefront experience in terms of general tone and branding.
…and monitor the neighborhood. Consumers who have used your product or service can publicly post glowing reviews or scathing criticisms, neither of which you can completely control. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on what’s being said about your business, both on and off your website. Positive and negative online feedback is valuable, because each gives you real-time feedback about what’s working and what’s not.
Put yourself on the map. Most likely, you identified a few skeleton profiles when you searched for your business on popular online directories. Now it’s time to strategically augment them. Based on your location, identify the top three online directories consumers use when searching for the product or service you offer. Once you’ve done that, set up a business profile on each of them.
Work on your social life. When used effectively, social media sites can increase your business’s visibility, give you an opportunity to present a more personal side to potential customers, drive awareness through social activity and check-ins, and turn casual buyers into true fans. If you have the time-and-energy bandwidth to do so, set up profiles for your business on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Do regular maintenance. It’s a given that over time, your business will evolve. You’ll modify your logo, employees will come and go, information and photos will become outdated, you’ll introduce new products, etc. That’s why it’s important to set up a regular online maintenance schedule to make these necessary updates to your website and various online profiles.
Consider hiring pros to boost your reputation. After you have established a basic online presence, the sky is the limit in terms of how involved, extensive, and creative your interactions with consumers can be. There are paid-for services to help you connect even more quickly and effectively with potential and existing customers.
Be smart with your budget. Establishing and growing your online presence is no different from establishing and growing your physical one: You need to be financially savvy.
I recommend starting by cataloging your current marketing allocations, categorizing by group (e.g., direct mail, events, print marketing, broadcast marketing, etc.). Then, figure out which category or categories are least effective.
Building a plan for your online reputation before you dive in will save you countless hours down the line, so take the time to do things right up-front and to cultivate a solid understanding of the work ahead of you.
About the Author
Annie Tsai is the author of The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook: Converting Online Conversations to Offline Sales (Wiley, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-118-61538-6, $25.00), available from all major online booksellers and via Wiley. She is chief marketing officer at Demandforce, an Internet marketing and communication company that advises small- to medium-sized businesses.