5 Steps To Get Your Local Business Online

A web presence is a major part of the marketing mix for most large companies these days. However I find many small businesses have still not taken the plunge.

With the rapid growth of local search and a tendency to research everything online a website is a must for smaller businesses in today’s competitive market. In fact research firm BIA/Kelsey notes that the website now serves as the core of local business marketing linking to all other forms of advertising including print, the Yellow Pages, mobile, SEO/SEM, social media and e-mail/direct mail.

Here are 5 steps to get your local business online.

1. Create a Website

There is no excuse for not having a website. The last thing you want is for a potential customer to type your name into Google or another search engine and not find you. Instant failure.

Your website should also serve as the hub to other parts of your marketing mix including direct mail, social media sites, print ads, review websites and the Yellow Pages. It’s where you can provide additional information on your products and services, provide customer support and news.

2. Provide Up to Date Information

Once you have your website make sure that it’s kept up to date. There’s nothing worse than a website with outdated information. There are a wide variety of CMS’s (Content Management Systems) out there that allow you to update your content rather than go back to your web designer for each little change.

3. Include Contact Details

Contact information, including your address and telephone number, is vital to ensure search engines and local sites pick up you website. They also clearly tell prospects where to find you and how to get in touch. Ensure they are prominently displayed on every page of your website.

4. Launch a Blog

I love blogs. I really love them. They are a fabulous way to keep in touch with your prospects and customers and the search engines just love them.

They are a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and to give prospects a glimpse of who you are. My Essential Guide to Business Blogging is a must read if you’re branching out into the blogosphere.

5. Get Social

I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter by now. These, and other social media sites, are the next big thing. People are talking about you and you can ether join in the conversation or close up shop. Join the large social networking sites and any others relevant to your industry and start talking.

With more and more people using the internet to find products and services can you afford not to have an online presence?

The Folly of Facebook For Business

As many of you know, I have been in the web design/marketing business for a long time. In that time I have seen lots of fads come and go. Remember Excite, Looksmart, Orkut and MySpace? I do. And the latest – Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook as a social media tool is amazing, and it has lots of useful applications, but lately I’m seeing more and more pure Facebook businesses and it has me scratching my head. As a social media tool, and part of your marketing arsenal, Facebook is great – but to run a business solely from it. Not so much.

Let me back track, a number of years ago I used to follow Google index updates religiously. Websites and businesses lived and died by these updates. In fact loosing your rankings put many businesses out of business. The savvy operators pretty quickly cottoned on that to rely on a third party, who you have no control over, to get customers and make money wasn’t smart. So they diversified. Also known as not putting all your eggs in one basket. I see the situation with Facebook exactly the same way.

Facebook started as a social media application that enabled people to connect and have a conversation. Over time, as usually happens online, people found ways to advertise their business and make money from it. In itself that’s fine. but remember, Facebook is a business too and so far don’t seem to have made much of a ROI. I have no doubt that at some stage they will put into place some sort of advertising fee structure and rules for commercial pages. In fact I’d bet my house on it. If Facebook is your sole means of advertising your wares where does that leave you?

Not convinced? Recently I heard of a business who managed to build over 2500 “Likers” to their Facebook page. Unfortunately they did something to annoy Facebook and their page was deactivated. All that effort and hard work. Gone. And as they had no commercial arrangement there was no one to complain too.

The point of this being – don’t rely on Facebook to build your business. Use it to engage and communicate with your customers but use it as a supplement to your website. Your website is owned by you. You control it, and you decide what can and can’t be done on it. And that can’t be taken away from you.

Communicating With Your Customers

With a four and a half month old baby I’m suddenly doing a lot more of my shopping online. Along with the convenience I’ve found it’s helped me get an even greater insight into how different businesses approach selling products online.

One glaringly obvious way I can compare businesses is in their communication. And I am amazed at just how differently they communicate. From people who email me every step of the way to those who I don’t ever hear from until the product arrives at my door. Can you guess who I prefer?

Once I’ve found what I’m looking for and handed over my credit card details I really want to know that my order has been received and you’re sending it out to me. It’s not hard to acknowledge an order and to keep your customers informed of where you’re up to in the shipping process. It takes such a little amount of time – or can even be automated – so I wonder why so many businesses don’t do it. Can’t they be bothered? Is it to much work? Don’t we, the customer, matter? Perhaps the web developer who built the site didn’t emphasize how important it is. Whatever the reason I can tell you which businesses get my repeat orders. And I suspect it’s the same for their other customers too.

If you run an e-commerce website make sure you communicate with the people who order from you. Do it clearly and do it often and you’ll be in a much better position to reap their repeat business.

Customers Want To Know When Their Goods Will Arrive

Selling products online? If you are then take note: let your customers know when they should received their order. I’ve ordered from two different online stores in the last 24 hours and neither of them gave me any time frame for delivery. In both instances I received confirmation of my order but no delivery time frame. It’s such a simple thing to include and pretty much essential in my book. It gives the customer peace of mind that their order is important and being shipped as soon as possible.

If you sell products online do you include delivery times? If not I suggest you get onto your web designer straight away and rectify the problem.

How Not to Treat Online Enquiries

This one is almost to dreadful to be true. After having the decency to email a company to let them know you won’t be going with their service you’re insulted by said company. Yup this happened to a couple in New Zealand:

They asked for a simple quote on the cost of a wedding marquee – but lovebirds Steve Hausman and Paula Brosnahan got a vicious email from the hire company describing their planned nuptials as “cheap, nasty and tacky”.

Of course the email has spread like wildfire and the company, The Great Marquee Company, has had to post a statement on their website. The owner Klaus Jorgensen has also sacked the person who wrote the email – his wife!

Really, you’d think people would know better. I suspect The Great Marquee Company is going to need some online reputation management real soon. ;)