Despite the ever-increasing importance of an online presence for businesses of all sizes and descriptions, many smaller businesses are not adjusting their strategy accordingly. In fact, according to a recent research report, a massive 60% of small businesses in the UK still have no online presence at all.
But why is this significant? Does it even matter?
Many small business owners view their business as a totally offline entity, pursuing traditional means to promote themselves and win new customers. However, regarding any business (from the largest enterprise to the sole trader, or anything in between) as purely offline is a risky strategy to take when your customers are spending more and more of their time online.
Harnessing the web as a business tool is important, even for businesses that may consider themselves as primarily offline. Beauty businesses, fitness businesses, plumbers, driving instructors and any number of other service businesses ultimately all measure success by their ability to build offline relationships – and the web can play a huge part in that. So no matter how established your businesses is offline, it’s crucial to get the basics of online in place.
As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll have big budgets, staff or free personnel hours to invest in a complex online strategy, but there are certainly some simple steps you can take to start reaping the rewards that the web can bring.
1. Be accessible
The key to making the most of the web is making your business as accessible as possible, letting people interact with you in a way that suits them, whenever they want to. Your customers are online 24/7, and as such they expect to be able to interact with businesses and organisations whenever and wherever they are online. Of course, that doesn’t mean having to have a presence on every single online channel; it means being clever about selecting the ones that are most important to your audience.
At the most fundamental level, this means a basic, professional looking website with easy to find, relevant information about your business. At a more advanced level, that could be a fully-blown booking tool that lets customers schedule their own appointment or booking with you, essentially giving your businesses a 24/7 receptionist.
2) Think local before you think big
Making the most of online tools doesn’t necessarily mean trying to go global, quite the opposite in fact. It can be a very successful route to building relationships at a local level, which is crucial to the success of so many small businesses. Focusing on your online touchpoints means building relationships with customers and potential customers, and turning that online connection into offline custom: loyal, engaged customers who come back time and again. Think also about local listings sites, online networking groups and building partnerships with other local business.
3) Think multi-channel – but focus on the ones that really matter
One of the first things to consider is through which online channels to make your business visible. Yes, your website is your flagship, but you need to get your brand to where your potential customers are. As a small business, you likely don’t have either the time or resources to do everything, and investing in a fruitless channel can end up being a costly mistake. Think hard about where your customers are spending their time online, and focus your efforts accordingly.
4) Nurture your loyal customers – turn them into advocates
Finally, think about how you can use your most loyal customers to do your online marketing for you. Social media has changed the way people make recommendations and share their experiences. Weary of the constant bombardment of marketing messages – and with a whole internet of opinions, rants (and even occasionally praise!) at our fingertips – we now just have to turn to Facebook or Twitter for advice. A business can be made or broken in minutes. The mass adoption of online social networks has changed the way we make purchasing decisions. Businesses of all sizes, no matter how small, can capitalise on that. Best of all, these social recommendations are super-targeted, personal and free.
To sum up, big impact doesn’t have to mean big budget when it comes to the web. It’s all about being relevant, consistent and accessible online. Keep these three things in mind and you’ll be well on the way to succeeding in using the web to create a slick, professional window display for your offline business.
Glenn Shoosmith is founder and chief executive of BookingBug
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