Pop It: Even with the best product or service, a home business may not thrive on word-of-mouth recommendations and local advertising alone.
To compete in today’s market, businesses of all sizes should establish an online presence to reach a larger customer base and connect with consumers.
Establishing an Online Presence
Create a professional website.
Before you do anything else, make sure that your business’ website is polished and welcoming.
Test your website to be sure that it works on the customer’s end.
- If you don’t yet have a website, don’t worry! It is now cheap and simple to create your own using tools provided by the same companies through which you will register your domain name.
- For an additional fee, you can also set up your website as a full online store.
Use local listing services.
To attract more local businesses, be sure to sign up for these services, which allow your business to show up on services like Google Maps and local Yahoo! searches.
The main three are Google Places, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Places.
- In addition to simply placing your business in local search results, these services allow you to post pictures, real-time updates, and additional information like parking tips.
- They also allow customers to post reviews of your business.
- The best part is that they are completely free!
Invest in search engine optimization (SEO).
This service allows your business to show up on earlier pages of search engine search results.
This makes it more likely for your website to be found among other, similar websites.
Check out wikiHow’s article on How to Optimize Your Website for Search Engine Use.
- Ways to optimize your website include writing interesting, original content; posting images with captions (so people who use image searches are brought to your website), and using tags.
Advertise to your consumer base.
Placing advertisements online is generally expensive, especially if you intend to reach large groups of people.
By targeting your advertisements, you will be able to attract the type of traffic you want to your website.
- Perhaps the best way of doing this is by investing in Google AdWords.
- This service displays your advertisement to customers on relevant websites and those who make relevant searches. This increases the likelihood that viewers of your ad will actually click through it. Be aware that other search engines offer this service as well.
- Another way to do this is to reach out to websites that are related, but not direct competitors, and see if they will trade website ads — they let you advertise on their website, and they advertise on yours. If you make bracelets, another website selling bracelets will probably not be interested in advertising your product, however, a website that sells vintage dresses may be open to an exchange.
Embrace social media.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others, have become a necessary part of doing business. Take the time to put together interesting and informative profiles for your company on each platform and investigate others like Instagram and Tumblr, depending on your product.
- Facebook should serve as the most informative part of your social media presence. As a business owner, you should seek to populate every available section of your profile, including creating a visually-interesting cover photo. You can then begin to fill your wall with relevant posts, like business updates and events.
- Twitter and Instagram can be used to briefly update your customers on new products or promote the brand using hashtags. Posts to these platforms can be pictures, short videos, or simply text showcasing your brand or products. Hashtags can be used to tag these pictures and spread your business’ name in a brief but effective way.
- LinkedIn is the most professional of the social media platforms. It can be used for a variety of business-building functions, but mainly functions as a networking tool for marketing within your industry or making new hires. Establishing a presence on LinkedIn can help your business gain recognition and can connect you with the right people to help you succeed.
Send out press releases.
This can be a great way to get your business’ name in a widely-read publication.
Just be sure that you have a reason to do so, whether it is a new product or a sales record. Keep in mind that you will also have to submit a properly formatted and grammatically correct press release to be published.
- Another thing to keep in mind here is to target the right audience.
- That is, you would be wasting your time sending in your fashion press release to a publication that primarily deals with sports cars.
- This is an extreme example, but consider who you want to target when you send press releases.
Connecting with Your Customers
Write a blog.
Maintaining an interesting and well-written blog is a way to draw customers in and keep them involved in your business.
Be sure that you post frequently enough to hold customers’ attention.
- One advantage of being a small business owner is that you can make this blog personal. This does not mean you should share personal details with your readers, just that you can relate your own experiences to your products and your brand to bring them to life. This is commonly referred to as “lifestyle blogging” and has become a large part of how small businesses interact with their consumers.
- Another option with blogging, as with other social media platforms, is to hire a ghostwriter to represent you or your company. However, be careful if the writer is publishing under your name because if you are caught this may come off to your customers as dishonest.
Participate in relevant online forums.
Forums are where interest groups meet to discuss various aspects of whatever that interest is.
By posting in relevant forums, you can display your expertise and potentially draw in customers.
Avoid solely pushing your product, however, and focus on participating in the conversation as well.
Genuine helpfulness in forums builds customer trust and boosts your own online reputation.
- For example, a small business owner that resells vintage watches might create a name for himself or herself on watch forums by helping other members identify fake timepieces. Even though the owner isn’t making a sale with this time, they are building a reputation for trustworthiness that may bring other forum members to their online shop.
- Try searching for forums by typing your business and “forum” into a search engine. So, if you are a knitter, try searching “knitting forum.”
Maintain social media accounts.
Just having a good account isn’t enough. You need to regularly update the account with business events (sales, new products, etc.) and relevant articles.
By posting regularly you are essentially advertising to customers for free.
As with blogging, feel free to enlist help to update your social media profile if you feel that you do not have time to do so.
Respond to customers.
Connecting with customers through these platforms means nothing if you don’t respond to comments or questions that they post there.
Try to check these platforms regularly and respond in a helpful and enthusiastic way.
Whichever method you follow, it is essential to see that the advertisements are clear and impressive. It should state all the qualities of the product in a clear and crisp manner to attract the attention of the customers.