Online Presence for the Small Business
Establishing Your Online Presence in 2021
2020 was a real turning point for small businesses, as local brick-and-mortar shops really took a dramatic hit from the pandemic. Now that the masks are coming off and people are venturing out, shops and small businesses are seeing an increase in traffic. Even so, it’s wise to develop an online presence that will support your business, regardless of whether or not you maintain a brick-and-mortar establishment. This post contains a brief compilation of guidance we’ve provided to small business owners who’ve reached out to us about developing their online presence.
Put Your Self in Your Customer/Client’s Shoes
When you can put yourself in your customer’s shoes, you’ll get a pretty solid idea of what they need and from there, can develop a strategy for how you can best approach them.
To start, take some time to answer these questions:
- Who are they?
- Where (physically or online) do they frequent?
- What problem are they trying to solve?
Going through this process allows you to build out your client persona. This is the basis for where your business needs to be, how you will brand yourself, and what products and services you will sell. Without knowing these concrete pieces of information, a business can spend thousands of dollars in online spaces without seeing any returns.
For example, let’s say you own an ice cream shop. Just as you would choose a beachfront location over a space next to an ice-skating rink, where you are positioned online is important. Your branding, service options, type of web platform, and where you advertise online are directly related to the success of your business.
Take some time to work with your team or with a friend and write these things out. Remember, everything about establishing your online presence will be based on these assumptions. Once you have these things on paper, it will be much easier for a consultant or design agency to help you achieve your best online presence.
In this day and age, some businesses still don’t realize that a majority of their customers will visit their website before making a purchase. – Forbes
Decide What and Where You Will Sell
Now that you know who your client is, where they are, and what they are looking for, it’s time to determine what you’ll sell online. It may not be as simple as listing everything on your shelves or service board to a website. Shipping costs, buyer education, and state restrictions may all come into play. We recommend starting small, with just your premium or top selling products, and growing from there. It also may be helpful to offer something online that is not in your brick-and-mortar store as a way of drawing customers to your physical location, where they will find a much larger selection to choose from.
Keep in mind that some shop owners may be able to use an existing platform like Etsy to sell their products and services. For example, if you are very small and sell very niche personalized craft-type items like pottery, needle point, or woodworking, you might just want to start off selling on the Etsy site and have a few social media accounts to help boost your credibility and provide marketing channels. This will allow you to focus and be right where your clients and customers are already searching!
Now unfortunately, we typically recommend this option to a few select businesses. For those that are more than just a solo boutique shop or who have a larger inventory/team, you really will get the most benefit and credibility from creating your own website in order to accommodate growth in the future.
For more information about this strategic planning, check out Three Things to Do Before Designing Your Website
If You Need a Website
If you are like the majority of businesses and do need a quality, custom website, don’t rush it! In 2020 we saw businesses looking to build new sites or redesign their current sites, without giving much thought to integrating their site with their business. Unfortunately, a website isn’t just a magic bullet. You must have an implementation and a continuation strategy in order to be successful.
The type of strategic planning we are talking about should take you a bit of time to come up with, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. As Temok puts it, you want to Keep It Simple (KIS) –
“Start with a plain, professional and smooth-working design and develop it over time, if you choose to. Keep in mind that in the online business, efficiency is more important than aspect and intricacy.”
Another thing that we sometimes see is that businesses launch their websites “half-baked.” While it’s important to have and stick to a launch date, quality matters! There’s only one first impression, and you always want your site visitors’ first experience to be a positive one. If something’s not ready, hold off. People are pretty forgiving if you aren’t ready to go on your exact launch date. They are less forgiving if they experience user issues or if your site contains minimal content.
Once you launch your website, it’s time to put that continuation strategy into practice. Show your expertise by writing a few articles on topics that target your clients’ interests. This will not only show new visitors that you are experts in your field, but it also highlights to Google that you are keeping an updated site with relevant content.
You want to have Quality over Quantity and Consistency over Complexity
Isa from the Entrepreneur even suggests offering Free Live Workshops to help get new people in the door of your online store and suggests that it’s pretty much as easy as pushing the “Livestream button” on your Facebook app.
“The key here is to show off your knowledge and expertise without giving everything away. When your clients see how much you have to offer for free, they can’t help but wonder what else you have up your sleeve. At the end of the master class, have a killer pitch prepared. Direct your attendees to your signature course, program or membership.”
Speaking of Social Media, how do you go about using that? Well, we suggest starting off with one or two platforms – the ones where your target audience is “hanging out,” and posting relevant, value-adding content. This is a great way to create a community around your brand, similar to the way that you would interact with your face-to-face customers in your physical shop
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about email lists. We all hate spam emails, but one of the reasons we receive them is because they actually work. If done right, email lists can generate a significant amount of your website traffic and ultimately, revenue. Include an email opt-in form on your website and follow these simple rules when sending out content to your email lists:
- Don’t oversell via email – you don’t have to present your entire inventory here
- Only email highlighted information and items that you would actually want to receive from a business
- Always give people the option to “unsubscribe” from your emails
In conclusion, the world has drastically changed and the new normal is “digital and convenient.” Small businesses aren’t going away, but the ways that clients and customers interact are evolving. The digital aspect can be a bit daunting for folks who’ve primarily operated as a brick-and-mortar store. If this is you, don’t let the technological leap scare you! The virtual environment allows you to continue reaching you current customers, while developing new relationships with customers who may not show up at your physical location. Now’s a great time to take the leap and establish yourself online—lots of people out there need what you’re selling!
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