Creating an online presence for your small business.

Creating an online presence for your small business.

Eye-catching displays and a well-designed layout are essential to the success of any brick-and-mortar retail store. If you’re like most business owners nowadays and want to expand your brand beyond your local neighborhood to give all of your customer's additional shopping options, you absolutely need to make your business known in cyber-space. Taking a few basic steps can set you on a course to online success.

Why you should take the plunge.

Feeling a bit squeamish about making this big step? Devote a minute to considering all of the benefits that doing so could bring to your business. They include:

  • Increased credibility. These days, most people expect that you will have a website that is available for their review day and night. If you don’t have a web presence, people might start to believe that your store does not have credibility or staying power.
  • Maximum accessibility. Having the ability to provide easily accessible and sought-after product and business information online is important to the success of any small business. Customers often need answers to the same questions: Details about products, your store hours, your return policy, etc. Feature details online and your buyers will get the information they need when they need it. Meanwhile, you will have saved precious time since it only needs to be entered into your website once.
  • Low costs with high returns. The internet can provide a fruitful marketing platform far cheaper than traditional advertising avenues once cost. Add a social media presence to supplement your website and your brand can really take off.
  • Flexibility. You can run the online portion of your business anytime and from anywhere. Even the beach or a mountain retreat can become your office.
  • Expanded reach. You can sell to customers from across town or around the globe.

If you’re convinced that now is the time to move beyond your physical storefront, rest assured: expanding your brand is not as hard as you may think. Follow these steps to get started:

Find a domain.

Your website will be the virtual face of your business. Therefore, it is important to come up with a website or domain name that reflects your brand and is easy for customers to remember so be sure to brainstorm and ask friends and family for their input as well. Then search online for companies that can help you to register your domain. As long as someone hasn’t already selected the name you have in mind, you can register it for a modest cost of around $20 to $70 for two years.

Outline your site.

Each and every word and image on your website is critical. That is why it is vital that you spend time planning its design, content, ease of navigation, and structure. An online search will show you that there are many hosting and site design companies who are in the business of helping entrepreneurs design and launch their own websites. In addition, you will need to decide how you will accept online payments. There are a number of ways to accept online payments including via electronic shopping carts. Whichever vehicle you ultimately use to accept online payments, it should enable you to easily take orders, make credit card transactions, send confirmation or thank-you emails to customers, and notify you of purchases so that you can take care of the shipping in a timely manner.

A few important factors to keep in mind as you put your site together include the following:

  • Place your contact information clearly and prominently on your homepage.
  • Ensure that your site loads quickly and is intuitive to click through.
  • The graphics should be appealing and eye-catching.
  • Content should be well-written and easy to understand with no spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Finally, your website should be integrated with your other business footprints, including your social media channels and your brick-and-mortar location(s).

Shape your social media identity.

Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn aren’t just for exchanging cat pictures or watching the latest viral video. Savvy entrepreneurs know that these sites are now one of the best ways to market themselves and their products, become a popular online presence and, perhaps most important of all, have rich and dynamic relationships with your customers. After all, social media is where live chats, glowing testimonials, selfies, customer-made product pictures, and online buzz are all generated. As a small business owner competing with larger businesses, you can’t afford to miss out on any of it!

Don’t forget about email!

Nowadays, no one is far from their cellphones and email gets read multiple times per day. While that does not mean you should constantly bombard your customers with information and promotions, you should definitely use branded email as a way to both get the word out about your business and keep it on customers’ radar. If you don’t, you risk falling between the cracks and being supplanted by a more motivated, customer-centered competitor. Just be careful not to turn customers off by emailing them too often. 

Create a marketing strategy. 

Even the best website with the most compelling content and images and sparkling customer testimonials will be useless if no one sees it. That is where developing a clear and conscientious marketing strategy comes in. Make sure that people who are searching for the products and services you offer actually find your site on Google, Bing, and other search sites by using what is known as search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. In short, be sure that the content of your site is in line with the keywords people are inputting and that all of your links actually lead to the proper places. Images are also important to obtain high search engine rankings, so be sure that yours are closely related to your content.

Your online presence gives you a host of opportunities to highlight what makes your business uniquely equipped to meet your customers’ needs. From its name to its design and navigability, from the products it features to the way it integrates with other vehicles such as blogs and social media, your website can quickly become the nerve center of your entire operation. Getting your online presence up and running involves careful thought, planning, and often, collaboration. However, investing in taking this journey truly can bring your business to a whole new level of success.