Once upon a time, there was a general store smack dab in the center of a small town in Middle America. It offered valued products and services to residents of that town and the surrounding area, and it flourished, given that it was the only place around to purchase these items. It had no competition, and it built a huge customer base without any advertising, marketing, promotion or communication. It could set its own hours, charge customers whatever it wanted, and implemented policies that solely benefited them. And it could do these things because residents had no other options. There was nowhere else to go.
Flash forward to today, where this scenario is extremely unlikely, even in the most rural areas of our country. Technology has given today’s consumers almost limitless opportunities…and has created a challenging dilemma to small businesses still operating the “old” way. Their competitors are fighting for the same customers, regardless if the business is located a couple blocks away or somewhere in Southeast Asia. The Internet has become a fixture in the lives of a growing number of individuals worldwide, and it’s through this vessel that they want their information. And small businesses that take full advantage of available technology will ensure that they keep up and even surpass their competition.
It’s Just a Web Site, Right? WRONG!
A critical first step of this process is establishing a Web presence, which some small businesses mistakenly believe they already have just because they have a simple, static Web site with a few pages. This may have constituted a Web presence in 1998, but it certainly doesn’t cut it with in today’s Internet culture.
Customers want more than a list of services, prices and an “About Us” page. They want the ability to purchase items, schedule services, sign up for e-newsletters and coupons, join online groups, post comments and quickly get in touch with someone. In short, they want the site to be interactive, not just a series of static pages. The visual component could be important as well, as an old, worn-down site may not be appealing to many consumers and portray the company as out-of-touch with today’s technology. A Web site represents a business online; therefore, it’s important that it showcases it in the best light possible.
Ok, so you have a great Web site. Are consumers able to find it? It does a company no good if their state-of-the-art site does not appear in search-engine results. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play, and it’s important that a business do its homework on this concept and learn how to take full advantage of it. From using the most relevant tags on your Web site to authoring relevant articles and press releases with back links to your Web site, a proper SEO plan of action can ensure your business ranks high in search engine queries.
Social Networking Is Not Just for Personal Use
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are no longer just for corresponding and keeping in touch with friends or sharing family photos. They’ve taken on a whole new dynamic and are now an integral part of many small business operations. Aside from offering a simple way for customers to communicate with the business, they provide an online resource for company news, coupons, discounts, promotions and other pertinent information.
They’re easy to manage, update and, in some ways, play as crucial a role as the company’s Web site, as they create a more personal online setting that many individuals find more comforting than a Web site. They also make it easy for customers to navigate to and from these applications and your Web site through links, buttons and banners, instead of having to open up a new browser window or leave the site completely.
These applications also allow small business owners to easily send and maintain communication with customers. Remember when communicating with customers meant printing and mailing an advertisement or newsletter? Fewer and fewer do, thanks to services like Facebook, Twitter and the like. E-newsletters also have their role in this new technological environment, and an owner or staff member who utilizes one of the many e-marketing services can quickly create and send a professional-looking piece to its customers with a minimal amount of effort.
There was a time when many small businesses shied away from technology, believing they didn’t need it and that it was geared more toward bigger operations and industries. Not anymore. Today’s technology is generally affordable, easy to use, and simple to implement in any business setting. And it can give your business the edge in attracting and keeping customers. Your competitors are taking advantage of it, and so should you!