Internet is an open window to the world and whether you run a one-man firm or a hundred employee company, you want that window to be big and clean. However, web can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not that into it or you don’t have the resources dedicated to work with it.
Small businesses often struggle with building their presence online. Choosing the most efficient ways and tools can be hard, especially when there’s such a big supply. This is a short introduction to what you, as a small business owner, should consider when taking first steps online.
The overall nature of small businesses is intimate. Relationships with customers are built and maintained through a more personal approach – conversations, real life experiences, little gifts. When it comes to the web, a blog is the perfect tool to keep that level of intimacy.
Websites are generally static and say “hey, this is me, look at me!”. Blogs are more dynamic as they employ comments and even user submitted content. A blog invites you to interact and express opinion. Although it’s not a must to constantly blog (you can create static pages), if you do and do it wisely, your business can go beyond brand-consumer behavior and establish a well rounded community.
What’s more, most of the blogging platforms are free of charge and come off with beautiful template designs so you don’t need to hire a web designer. To go a bit closer to a website, you can invest a minuscule amount of money and have a self-hosted blog with a custom domain.
However, it is very important to choose a blogging platform wisely. The most popular WordPress or Blogger are not always what you need. Despite their popularity, they are often too complex for a simple user who just wants to post content. This is what John O’Nolan (former employee of WordPress, btw) noticed and decided to build Ghost.org, a platform for blogging, Only.
Of course, Ghost is not the only resource out there. Platforms like Tumblr, Medium, and Svbtle work great (Mashable has a fuller list of beautiful blogging platforms here).The key is to find a platform for YOUR business. Consider your needs and never agree to pay for something you don’t really want.
While blogs can be useful for people offering services, some crafty entrepreneurs might need to showcase and sell their products. Running your own eCommerce website can be a bit of a struggle, even with services like Shopify or BigCommerce. Although it kind of eliminates the need of technical knowledge and comes with a pretty easy management system, there are still flaws like the transaction fees or endless list of options.
If you are just starting/testing your business, one of the smartest ways to go would be enlisting to an eCommerce platform like Etsy.
The pros are clearly visible: it’s super fast to establish your online shop, you get to use pre-made layouts and don’t have to worry about design, the payment system is well organised. Plus, you get to expose your products to a broader audience. Etsy has a renowned visitor’s base so it’s really easier than driving traffic to your personal website.
However, you need to consider Etsy’s payment system as there are listing costs and revenue fees.
Still, I believe Etsy is a good starting point for online business with an inspiration platform on top of it. Small businesses and individuals get to belong to a like-minded community which can boost their motivation and confidence.
Now, I know I said you probably don’t need a website. But maybe you do. First and foremost reason is that a personal website makes your business look more serious. So if your company has grown a bit and you feel like taking the next step in building online presence, then a website is the right thing to do.
The beauty of a website is that you can integrate all of the latter, a blog and an online shop, into one. Also, you get more control over the design and SEO, you don’t have to share customer’s attention with other brands. More importantly, it’s easier to build contact lists which are vital in online marketing.
Still, one thing is super important when having a website – content management. As a small business owner who probably doesn’t know how to code, you are very likely to pay some extra money and have a developer/web designer do a website for you. The clash happens when the chosen CMS is too complex for you to work with.
As long as you plan to manage content yourself, you should look for some good alternatives that allow to build websites and focus on content management. Builders like Squarespace, Wix or Weebly are appealing but harder to crack for a non-tech savvy user. To get the best of both worlds (code and content management) you can go with systems like ImpressPages which offers a nice inline editing and drag&drop based interface that really focuses on content.
More and more studies show that email remains among the ultimate marketing tools for small businesses. It has a high ROI, bigger conversion and new customer acquisition rate, plus it is more measurable than social media advertising. Also, it still has this personal side to it and if you play the “80% relevant content and 20% sales pitch” card well, you will get a loyal group of customers and increase your brand’s credibility.
There are several leaders in the email marketing market. We all know MailChimp and Aweber who hold the front for more than 13 years now. But smaller companies like Cakemail, Emma, and Mailerlite are coming after them and the edge they have is not that weak.
Take Mailerlite, for example, which dedicates itself to small businesses only. Being an 8 employee company, it claims to understand the background of small business better than big corporations do. Thus, Mailerlite comes with only the most important and useful features for simple email marketing and extremely attractive pricing plans on top of that.
One of their leading features is the drag and drop interface which makes it really easy to create tidy and beautifully designed newsletters. For a more personal touch you can always use auto-responders. Mailerlite has a helpful blog with lots of information on email marketing in general, so even if you choose to use other software, you can always find good tips there.
The “big four”, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, comes almost by default in online business marketing. Pinterest is also getting there. It is recommended to cover at least two of these social networks but then the mess starts. Not only do you have to know the specifics of each (content, style, audience, etc.), you need to be able to measure and monitor it. Without this, your social media presence is worthless and you only drain your marketing budget. But that’s the beauty of the web – it gives you plenty of headache and then plenty of ways to reduce it.
Let’s start with Buffer. Announcing news on a number of social accounts eats time. With Buffer sharing is made easy as you can schedule and post to various timelines from one app. Plus, it comes with analytics on each post so you can see which performs the best.
Using social media right is not about saying, it’s about talking. Your brand has to engage with users and the best way to access them is by using tools like Mention or Colibri. These are so called growth hacking tools that allow you to engage with content based on keywords you wish to track. They collect mentions from around the web to your dashboard and with a simple click you can engage in the discussion or find interesting topics to talk about.
Say, you’re running an Italian family restaurant. Enter your brand name and some relevant keywords like “italian cuisine”, “italian recipes”, “mediterranean food” or such and you’ll be notified every time there’s a post, tweet, any sort of mention related to these topics.
Web is a huge place and it can be really overwhelming for a small business. Thus, careful planning and selection is crucial on the road to success. The tools mentioned here are by no means claimed to be the best. Yet, they come off as handy particularly for small business needs. Share your ideas and experiences of boosting small business’ presence online!
Featured image credit: Ghost Blogging platform!