The typical small business doesn’t have an in-house IT department, marketing department or social media manager. At a time when many businesses are hesitant to spend money, and others have chopped or eliminated marketing and advertising budgets, it’s rare to find a small business with staff who are devoted strictly to these functions. Sure, it’s possible that some team members know a bit about computer networking, and others may know their way around Facebook or Twitter, but that doesn’t mean the business is equipped to properly manage its online presence. The problem is, unless your business doesn’t care about generating new leads and sales (hello!?!?), or about your business reputation (including what is being said right now about your company online) it is really important to devote resources to managing your business’ online identity. But where to start? Here are 4 tips to help the typical small business owner efficiently create a manageable framework.
1. Establish goals
Every business wants more leads, sales and profits. But yours really needs to establish more reasonably attainable goals. Choose a few things that are concrete, such as the completion of a project. For example, one project/goal may be to set up online ordering and payment for products or services (e-commerce). Another might be to set up an online price list or menu that can be easily updated by your staff. Another might be to get an email Newsletter or blog up and running. These interim milestones are all fairly easy to achieve on their own, and they may over time help your business generate more leads and improve customer service. If you can identify several important interim goals like the ones mentioned here, it will be much easier to evaluate whether your online efforts are successful as you move forward. Each task you accomplish will be a step towards more leads, sales and profits.
2. Choose the right Content Management System (CMS)
Every business needs a good website. And unless you have a big budget, your best bet for efficiently creating a functional, optimized website is to use a content management system. A CMS is essentially a website skeleton. It controls how the various pages, posts and other content on your site will be arranged and displayed. The great thing about today’s CMS platforms are that they are easy to use (even for a novice), constantly updated (by programmers, not you) and open-source (so you can get as creative as you like with the final product). WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are some of the top content management systems in use today. They are all free. There are many others, but we recommend that you select one of the more popular ones because of the large and ever-growing library of extensions and plugins which, when added to the CMS, give your site the functionality you desire. Depending on what you want your website to do for your business, one CMS could be a better fit than the next. Each CMS can help you create an engaging, search engine optimized website. Even if you have a modest budget, you should hire a professional to design your site. You can get training to help you update it later, but to make sure it looks and behaves the way you want it to (and helps you track your important data) you need professional help.
3. Become visible
Your business should be easily findable by customers online, and this means you need to have more than just an optimized website. But, before you go out and open an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Lux, Chime, Yelp, Foursquare and every other social networking site (there’s a new one launch every other day it seems), do some research on your clients. What is the demographic of your typical client? Do they participate in social media? Do they visit review sites before they buy? Do they do online research? Don’t waste time creating profiles, generating content and monitoring activity on sites where you are not likely to engage with a potential client. It is easy to spin your wheels and waste time and energy here, so your focus must be on becoming visible in the right places. Claiming your business listing on the top directory sites (in addition to making sure you are accurately listed in major search engines) is a good place to start.
4. Monitor and engage
Unless you have the resources to monitor and participate in the online conversation, you could do more harm to your business reputation than good. So, if you want to provide your clients with email support, you need to monitor your email! Likewise, if you establish a Twitter account as part of your customer service, you need to monitor Twitter (and you’ll need some third-party software to properly do this.) If your clients are reaching out to you electronically or on social networking sites but you don’t respond to them in a timely manner (or, worse yet, ever), think about the impression you are leaving. Your competitors are happy to satisfy these folks if you aren’t!
The value of establishing and maintaining visibility online differs from business to business, but most would agree that it is really important. And you can quickly get left way behind if you ignore technology trends. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this, you’re not alone. Take this opportunity to get up to speed now with your online identity before you’re completely lost. Note: if these 4 tips are over your head, consider calling in a pro to help lead you down the right track.