Websites. URLs. IP addresses. eMail marketing. Remarketing. Analytics.

It’s all gibberish to you, right? You run a small business and do fine. Your so-called online presence extends to the heady heights of an eMail address and yet your business just keeps on moving along. So why would you bother with all this fancy technology? What on earth could it do to help your well-run enterprise? And, anyway, isn’t the online world really just dominated by the big boys?

Well, no.

Truly, most of understand today that a website is an increasingly vital part of any business, no matter the size. The problem, though, is how to take your business from no presence to one that can not just represent you well, but be a true driving force behind continued growth.

Today, tens of millions of small businesses in the US alone have their own web site. They showcase their company and attract business through their web site. They have a growing number of engaged customers on their eMail list. They can reach their target audience quickly and at a cost that is dramatically below paper ads. They understand their customer too – their ages, where they live, how they use the Internet and much more.

These businesses are not the exception. They are the norm. If you are not growing your own online business too then there’s every chance that you will be left behind.

Want to at least learn a little more? Read on…

Stepping beyond “I need a website”

SiteBagel helps small business establish a powerful, highly-effective online presence. We offer a wide range of services, built around establishing a beautiful web site, but going well beyond. The extent of these services is for another time, but why this blog?

It’s easy to find information about establishing an online presence. But what isn’t quite so easy is finding the essential information you need, presented in a way that makes sense and keeps your business goals in mind. That’s what our blog is all about.

Starting with this first post, we explain the value of being online – and how to get it done – in so-called layman’s terms.

  • Why bother being online anyway? We’ll explain.
  • What exactly IS a web site and how do set one up? We’ll explain.
  • What is eMail marketing? And why is it important? We’ll explain.
  • What are “analytics” and how can they help you improve your business? We’ll explain.Why do you need to care about “social” and why are Facebook, Twitter and other important? We’ll explain?
  • And how much work is involved in getting all this set up and what are the costs? We’ll explain.

These are just a few of the topics we will cover in our blog series. So, let’s start with the high-level question – why bother establishing your online presence in the first place?

Reasons To Say No

For many small businesses without the luxury of big budgets and technical expertise on staff, it’s easy to focus purely on “core competencies”, putting an online presence aside for “one day” – or maybe never.

Indeed, there are many reasons a small business owner may not consider an active online presence to be necessary or justified. Here are a few common ones we hear.

  • I am not technical – at all!
  • Why bother? All my business is local
  • My customers are not online
  • All my business is word-of-mouth
  • I simply don’t have the time

We get it! These are not uncommon concerns about the online world. Indeed, all of them have at least some sense of reality to them.

But when we drill down and take a close look, it turns out many opinions are founded on invalid concerns or misleading information. But probably the most common factor is that it can all just seem so overwhelming, especially to the business owner with little or no technical expertise. It’s so easy to just pass on by!

But a little insight can go a long way and when we look at each of these questions with an open mind, our attitude towards the big, bad online world can change.┬áSo let’s do just that.

I am not technical – at all!

Consider this. There are over 20 million small businesses in the US alone. Do you think every one of them has deep technical skills and can talk about IP address, DNS and http? No, of course not.

Instead, successful small businesses treat technology merely as a means to an end. The majority of people wouldn’t put a new roof on their house by learning how to do just that. Instead, they do their research, ask around and find a trusted roofer to take care of the technology.

Getting online can and should be like that. When contacting companies offering online services, don’t let them confuse or mislead you. If they talk their language (“technospeak”) at the expense of yours, look elsewhere.

A reliable and effective technical partner for your business will focus on YOUR needs and YOUR business. Indeed, the initial discussions you have with such a company won’t discuss technology at all. Instead, you should be prepared to answer questions about your business, because technology is merely a means to an end.

If you find the right company, they form a nice interaction between the realities of your business and the use of technology for productive purposes.

Why bother? All my business is local

Yes, it’s the World Wide Web, but your neat little catchment area is part of that world! As are the folks in your area – your potential customers. The Internet has evolved to the point where it’s unambiguously the favored way to research quickly and efficiently, when used correctly.

Whether you are seeking a worldwide cruise or a trip to the local pet store, people start with the Internet.

All of which means that if your business is “non-discoverable” then you’ve missed a huge opportunity. There are many ways to get noticed online. Technically, these benefit from fancy things like search engine optimization, retargeting, banner ads and more. These are just technologies and concepts. Without a clear and effective Internet presence you are utterly invisible – including to that prime customer two blocks away.

And that’s not a great way for customers to find you!

My customers are not online

Yes they are! From very young to very old, virtually everyone is online today. While the ways in which the Internet is used may differ wildly between age groups, almost everyone communicates now through eMail and browses the web.

It’s just a reality nowadays and the sooner you can accept that even your most staid of customers is likely to have a smarttphone and an Internet connection, then the earlier you can reach that customer when he or she goes-a-searching.

All my business is word-of-mouth

Business by referral and by word of mouth is as effective today as it has always been. But the Internet ads a new dimension.

Consider the traditional way in which word of your business spreads. Aside from the direct marketing you might undertake, you hope that your excellent service to Bob might one day be passed on informally to Pete. And that remains an important part of the business world today.

But things have moved on and now your potential customers consider review and feedback – or even the inability to locate it – as important in their decision-making.

I simply don’t have the time

Time is money. We get it! And it truly is an important consideration for any small business. Many business owners are worried that while the benefits of an online presence might be clear, the time taken to establish and maintain that presence outweighs them.

At SiteBagel we follow the mantra that simple, iterative steps can guide you towards that effective online presence with limited risk. We know that small businesses can’t shoot for the stars from Day 1. It’s a gradual, gentle movement towards an effective online presence, accepting the reality of other priorities and a fluctuating budget.

Thankfully, the evolution of a well-rounded online presence can be done over time and by spreading the cost.

How Can An Online Presence Help My Business?

There are many ways in which your small business can benefit from a well-planned online presence. These include:

  • Brand Awareness
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Understanding Your Customers
  • Partnerships
  • Credibility

Each of these is ripe with opportunity and the online world explodes this in ways never before seen. In future posts we will look at each of these but, for now, let’s look at some very practical ways you can leverage the online world.

Key Ways To Establish An Online Presence

eMail Marketing

Let’s start with the obvious and easy one, namely the ability for your customers – or potential customers – to reach you through eMail. You no doubt already have an eMail address.

Many small business owners just use their own, personal eMail. But it’s much more professional to use an eMail address that is directly associated with your business, than simply using a personal eMail address. That’s the difference between steve@seattle-plumbing.com vs. steve-rocks@gmail.com!

But using a professional eMail address is just a start. Building and leveraging an active list of eMails of your customers is one of THE most cost effective ways to engage and retain those customers. eMail marketing is a significant part of any effective online presence.

One important point here – eMail marketing is NOT the same as “spam”. By way of example, SiteBagel is 100%, completely and ambiguously opposed to spam. Thankfully, there are well-established rules-of-the-road as to how to use eMail in a way that is both effective and far from the definition of spam. We’ll look at those – and how to build an effective eMail marketing platform – in subsequent blog posts.

Web Site

We’ve reached the stage where a business without a web site is often considered more of a hobby than a professional business. Fairly or not, many of your customers will make a snap judgement when you tell them you don’t yet have a web site.

Fair or not, many of your customers will make a snap judgement when you tell them you don’t yet have a web site.

Aside from the huge opportunity cost of not having a web site, there’s an important message here around the message you want to relay. Part of the reason for this is that creating and establishing at least a simple web site is simple and low cost.

But it goes a little beyond the simple consideration of whether you actually have a web site. Today, your customers will make a very quick assessment – consciously or otherwise – about your business, when they first see your web site. In fact, that initial judgement is often made in the first 3-5 seconds of calling up a web page.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. First click here and then here. Do you make that judgement? Do you have a sense of which one is likely to be better positioned to serve you? Are you drawn into one over the other? We’ll let you decide but, rest assured, your customers make important and immediate decisions when they see your web site.

SiteBagel understands the value of an effective and attractive web site. We deliver high-quality and competitively priced designs

Social

When people refer to “social” in relation to an online presence, they are referring to social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. The boundary between business and personal have become ever more blurred. While Facebook was originally focused completely on communication between friends and family, today every credible business has a Facebook page or group (yes, there are some key differences between those and we’ll be covering those in a separate post).

Why does your business need a social presence?

Advertising

Back in the day, print media – newspapers, magazines and so on – were the main way to reach your customers. Indeed, the Yellow Pages was an essential channel for any small business to be visible to potential customers. But it all cost money and print advertising is not always the most targeted of ways to reach your customers. That often means you have to have a large advertising budget to reach a small number of people who may be interested in what your business has to offer.

The world has changed. Radically!

Today it is really quite straightforward to create an ad on Facebook that will be seen only by folks who happen to be in Washington state. Or even just Seattle. Or, yes, down to a specific zip code.

But it gets better. There are many ways to advertise on the Internet. But if you are a plumber in Seattle just think of how powerful is to be able to place YOUR ad in front of customers who search Google for “Seattle plumbers” or “plumbers in Seattle” – or even “plumber in Seattle who can fix my leaky sink”.

These are just examples of the extremely granular targeting that is feasible on the Internet. And it’s outrageously powerful, once you take advantage!

But the examples above are just a start. Consider a concept called “remarketing”. One way in which this can be used is to target a specific ad to only those who have visited your web site but didn’t become customers. For example, your marketing brain should be jumping for joy at the thought of showing an ad to visitors of your web site with the message “Come on back for a 10% discount”.

Conclusions

An effective and appealing web presence is an important – some would say essential – element of any business, small or large. While the Internet has been around for decades now, many of the barriers of entry for creating a strong online presence have been reduced or removed altogether over the last few years.

Today many people, perhaps including your potential customers, will make a snap judgement when they hear you have no web site, as one small example. Even if you do, the next stage in their acceptance of your business is the judgement they will make when they see your web site.

But the opportunities available through your online presence go well beyond the somewhat defensive ambition of “creating a good looking web site”. A web site will be the face of your business online, but if you stop there you really are missing some of the most valuable benefits. By fully leveraging eMail marketing, targeted advertising, social media and more, you can dramatically increase the efficiency and credibility of your business.

SiteBagel’s mission is focused on helping small business take full advantage of the opportunities. In subsequent posts here, we will be drilling down on each of the areas we have covered to help you better understand how your business can benefit.

So, if you are past the “I need a website” stage, we’re here to help.If you have questions or would like to discuss how SiteBagel can launch your business into this bright new world of opportunity then feel free to get in touch via our Contact Page. We’d love to hear from you!

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