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A Guide to Going Digital for Small Business Owners

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It's 2018, but many small businesses around the US are operating as though it was 1998. Without an online presence, brick and mortar retail stores are only accessing customers who can come into their store. Restaurants are requiring customers to call their front desk to inquire about opening times and reservations. All of this creates inefficiencies and limits the number of customers who can easily access your offerings.  

So, it's time to go digital. But if your small business doesn't have an online presence already, the task of building one can seem monumental. Depending on your previous experience with websites, social media, and marketing, your transition into the digital arena could range from time-consuming to mind-bending.  

Luckily, you don't need a degree in computer science to create a thriving digital presence for your small business. With the help of modern website builders, social media platforms, and helpful blogs, you'll be up and running in no time. These are the first five elements you should focus on for your company:  

A Website: 

Websites serve different purposes depending on the type of business you run. For retail stores, a website may help sell products online to access customers outside of your physical location. For coffee shops, you may post a menu on your site to entice customers to come into your store. For barber shops, a scheduling feature along with shop hours will be crucial elements for your site. Regardless of which type of company you run, websites allow customers to easily find you when they're looking, instead of your competitors.  

Tips for Creating a Small Business Website: 

  • Use a website builder instead of a developer so that you can make updates to your site regularly  
  • Choose your domain name carefully, and make it easy to tell people  
  • Make a mobile-friendly site that customers can access when they're on the go 

Understand SEO Basics:  

While you're working on your website, it's important to understand the basics of search engine optimization, or the practices that will help your website show up in the right Google (and other search engine) searches. SEO is a constantly changing field, and people make entire careers out of understanding the best practices that help websites gain the benefits of major search trends. Don't try to become a master right away. Instead, find out what your potential customers are Googling, and do a little bit of keyword research around the terms.  

Low-Effort Tips for Maximizing Your SEO: 

  • Use important keywords throughout your site, but only where they make the most sense 
  • Add a clear page title and page description to every page on your site 
  • If applicable, use links to major publications or online magazines  

Create and Update Social Media Profiles:  

Depending on your business, the different social media channels you should be using may differ. For a B2B company, LinkedIn and Twitter could be key to your success. For marketing to millennials, you may consider a snapchat or Instagram account. The key to every social media platform is to maintain a consistent presence; you should focus on posting regularly and with a similar tone.  

How Small Businesses Can Create a Social Media Presence:  

  • Choose the right channel; if you're running a highly visual company, Twitter probably isn't for you 
  • Use marketing automation software to help schedule posts ahead of time 
  • Interact with other users; like and share their updates  
  • Post your promotions and sales on social media anytime you're offering one  
  • Use paid advertising wisely, and only with your best content  

Join Online Directories:

Online directories are a crucial part of how customers will find you, so make sure you have a presence on key resources in your industry and you keep it updated! For most businesses, a Google company listing is a good place to start: information like your open hours and website will be much easier to find once you have created on. Yelp and OpenTable are other great resources for many businesses to earn customer reviews that boost your online reputation.  

Best Ways to Manage Your Directory Listings:  

  • Create listings on at least 2 platforms  
  • Ask customers to review their experience with your business 
  • Keep your location, website, and open hours updated  
  • If applicable, post your menu on these directories 

Build an Email List 

Email is an often-overlooked way to keep your customers up-to-date on what's happening with your company. By signing up for an email list, customers are giving you a direct route to let them know about new offerings, promotions, or upcoming events, all while keeping your workload lower. Small business owners who are short on time can use email marketing services with pre-built templates to fire off hundreds (or thousands) of emails every week, or you can work with a freelancer to create something more customized to your company.  

A Few Ways You Can Leverage Email Marketing:  

  • Keep an email sign-up form next to your register and on your site  
  • Use a consistent theme and layout to minimize the time spent on drafting your emails  
  • Send all promotions, events, etc., to customers who have signed up through your newsletter  
  • Use your email to offer helpful tips and tricks to your customers, including how to get the most out of your offerings  
  • If possible, segment your email list based on what they are most interested in  

The possibilities of the digital world are endless. With these five foundations in place, your small business will be poised to make the most of emerging trends in marketing, and your customers will know much more about how they can be part of your business. 

 

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