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With everything that’s happened to the world in 2020, it’s fair to say that it’s never been more important to have an online presence than it is now.
Even if your new business is one that relies on a physical premises, having an online presence is crucial to ensure that potential new customers can find you, learn about you and get in touch with you.
Here’s some useful advice on how to take your business online – the good news is that it really is easier than you might think.
Setting up your own website
First things first, you’ll be needing a website. This is like your virtual shop window and brochure combined into one, giving your business a home online.
To begin with, you’ll need to get yourself a domain name. Ideally, this should be your business name, but you’ll find lots more advice in this article on how to choose the perfect domain name. When you’re ready, you can buy a domain.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a website developer or pay a fortune to a website designer to get your new website up and running. Sites such as Wix, WordPress and Squarespace make the design element easy, allowing you to choose from thousands of (often free) ‘themes’ – templates you can populate with your own information without needing to know the first thing about how to build a website. That means that all you’ll really need to think about is the structure of your site, and the words and images you’ll put on it.
As a minimum, you’ll need a homepage giving an introduction to your business and services and a way for customers to get in touch with you. While a simple one-page site may suffice depending on the nature of your business, you could start to build it out into a more comprehensive site by adding extra pages, such as:
- An ‘About’ page – outlining what your business does, your experience, history and any interesting facts about you and/or your business
- Services pages – either one page summarising the services you offer, or individual pages for each service (or both, with the latter linked to from the former)
- A contact page – a dedicated page where customers can fill in a form to contact you by email, with other contact details also included, such as your business address and phone numbers
- A ‘Meet the Team’ page – where you can put faces to your business name by introducing your team members
- A blog or news page – for sharing your company news, insights and expertise
If you sell products, you may also want to consider adding an e-commerce function to your website. This would give you an online, 24/7 shop in which customers could order from you without ever having to visit your physical premises.
The benefit of this is that you can hugely widen your customer base, but you’ll need the logistics in place to make sure you can fulfil online orders before you enable this functionality.
Getting onto social media
Establishing your presence online isn’t just about having your own website, though that’s an important starting point. In order to expand your business, you’ll need ways for customers to interact with you and for potential new customers to find you online.
As just about everyone spends an inordinate amount of time on social media, it stands to reason that if your business wants to reach out to and interact with both existing and new customers, social media is a great way to do it.
It’s important to remember that not every social media platform will suit every business – and when you’re a startup and pressed for time, you won’t have much time to devote to managing your social channels.
For these reasons, it’s important to choose your social media channel wisely before building a presence on it. For example:
- If you have a visual business – you’re an illustrator, for instance, or you create beautiful products – then the image-based platform Instagram will suit you down to the ground
- If you deal B2B, you’ll want to connect with an audience of professionals – so LinkedIn is the place to be
- If your customers are mainly local, a Facebook page would be a great way for people to find you and read or leave reviews
You can read more on this in this article on which social media platform is right for my startup.
Once you’ve picked the right platform and built your new profile, you’ll need to post regularly, engage with other accounts and be ready to reply to any comments you receive – the more you put into social media, the more you get from it.
Read more about using social media to grow your business in this guide to social media strategy for small businesses, and find out how to grow your social media following and strengthen your brand online.
Once you’re on a social media platform, if you have the budget, you’ll also be able to use social media ads to advertise your business to a highly targeted audience that you can narrow down to location, demographic, interests and more.
Facebook’s ads are among the most comprehensive offering available in this regard – take a look at this video on four effective Facebook ad types for SMEs to find out more.
Social media isn’t the only form of marketing open to you once you’ve established an online presence. Another way to grow your business is through email marketing, which is still one of the most popular forms of online marketing.
It works by creating mailing lists of customers and sending them regular emails with content they might find useful and/or products they might be interested in.
Due to recent GDPR legislation, you’ll need your customers’ express permission before adding them to a mailing list, but you could add a form to your website encouraging people to sign up for emails, or ask customers to sign up in store if you have a physical premises.
You can read more about planning email content and how to get started with building a mailing list in this guide to email marketing for small businesses.
Promoting your online presence
Once you’ve got your online presence up and running, you’ll want to make the most of it by promoting it – in particular, your website. There are numerous ways of doing this, and one of the most effective is search engine optimisation, or SEO.
This is the practice of optimising your website so that it starts to appear higher up in search engine rankings, such as Google. Higher rankings usually result in more traffic to your website, so they’re much sought-after. This is typically divided into two strands:
On-site optimisation, which involves tweaking your website so that search engines can better understand it and using keywords to increase the relevance of your site to searches you want to appear for
Off-site optimisation, which involves building links from other websites to yours, as these are seen as an endorsement by search engines
For lots of tips on getting your new website ranking, have a read of these SEO tips for new websites.
Another strategy for promoting your presence online is to try content marketing. The idea of this is to produce valuable content that people find useful, the aim being to establish new relationships with people who will then remember your expertise when they need your business for something.
For example, if your business is selling curtains, your content marketing might revolve around writing articles about interior design subjects. Browse these articles on content marketing for lots of advice on using this strategy to grow your business.
Things to keep in mind when you’re taking your business online
The success of your online presence depends on the thought you put into it, so here are some things to bear in mind as you launch your own corner of the internet:
- Be clear about your target audience – ultimately, your online presence is there to serve your customers and attract new ones, so make sure it’s designed with them in mind. That means making sure the look and feel of your online presence, the language you use and the content you include are tailored to the people you want to buy from you.
- Think about branding – make sure your online presence is consistent with any offline branding you’ve developed, such as logos, fonts and tone of voice. This is something you might want to think about while you’re putting together your new website, as website design and branding go hand in hand.
- Make sure you’re mobile-friendly – bear in mind that people will often be visiting your online presence from a mobile phone, so make sure your site works equally well on the small screen of a mobile as well as on a desktop or laptop computer. Read more about why you need a mobile-friendly website.
- Consider user experience – never lose sight of the visitor’s experience of using your website (or engaging with you elsewhere online). If your site is hard to use, the chances are they’ll go to a competitor instead, so put plenty of thought into making sure your website is straightforward to navigate with intuitive functionality. Here’s how to deliver great user experience on a budget.
It may seem a lot to take in, but by taking one step at a time, you’ll find it surprisingly straightforward to establish an online presence for your new business and you can gradually expand your online activities from there. For even more tips to get your business online, download this guide to why your business needs a website and how to get started.