One thing I’m looking forward to with this month’s theme is hearing about the things that business owners struggle with. I’m not a masochist, I just find it fascinating to see how others handle the same challenges I’ve faced and I love being able to offer help when I’m able. I was reading the comments on Jess’ post introducing the theme and was immediately struck by this one:
It’s a little insane how many different ways there are to answer Natalie’s question, from a variety of different lenses (product development, branding, marketing, etc.). For now I’m going to give you a pretty general answer from my experiences as a web designer and person-generally-interested-in-small-businesses.
The short answer is: You’ve got to compete by also being online.
Yep, even if you aren’t actively selling online you’ve got to have an online presence, as that’s how people will find you in addition to (or, ideally, instead of) your online-only competition. I’ve listed the seven things that I think are most important for building a strong online presence for a local business. I would start at the top of this list and work your way through – you don’t necessarily have to go in order, and perhaps some of our marketing experts can add some commentary as to which they’d prioritize. I’ve put them roughly in order from most to least important, according to my non-scientific opinion and my experience as a designer and an avid shopper.
1. WEBSITE. You may not be selling online but I can assure you people are looking for info on your business online. Even if they aren’t looking for your specific business, they’re probably searching online for your product or service. Make it easy for them to find you, know what you offer, and know how to get it. For bricks and mortar stores, this means address, directions, phone number, and hours of operation, at the very very minimum. Put that info (as text, please don’t put it in an image) on a simple, classy site with a nice photo of your shop or your work (no stock photography, please) with your own domain and you’re already way ahead of lots of other businesses.
2. REVIEW SITES. I regularly check Yelp for local businesses to try. Even if there aren’t reviews, I want to see a page with some basic information (and a link to a website, preferably). More info about your business on sites that are seen as legit makes your business seem more legitimate as well. For Yelp in particular, you can create a free business account here.
3. GOOGLE PLACES. There are lots of benefits to registering with Google Places (it’s free), such as having your business show up on Google Maps and in first page local search results. It’s probably worth the time to create a robust profile – the way I see it, the more information I can give Google about my business, the better the chances people will find me using their search.
4. BRANDING. Develop a visual brand identity (a logo, at least) and use it everywhere you can. Not to pick on Natalie, but her comment is a great example of a missed opportunity – that blank box at the right is where her avatar would be if she had one tied to her email using Gravatar.com (yes, another free service). That could be a photo of herself, making her feel more relatable as a person to other viewers, or it could be a logo, reinforcing her brand.
5. LINKING. Natalie filled in the Website/ URL field in the comment form, which is key because it links her name back to her website making it easy for me to find her. She did not add an entire signature to her comment with her website name, URL, blog URL, and 5 ways to contact her. That would be spammy. Keep it to the URL field, but don’t neglect to help people find you by linking to your site.
6. FACEBOOK. I dislike Facebook (I’ll spare you the long and uninteresting explanation), but a lot of people love it and it’s a great way to connect with customers and spread your reach through word of (digital) mouth. Some people will tell you not to have a page that’s not very active but I am of the opinion that it’s better to stake out your space and be clear on the page about your activity level (a nice, “I’m not here much so also find me on/by…” message would be perfect, plus occasional updates and promos). However, do be sure to monitor posts to your page so that you can respond right away if anyone contacts you via Facebook – you never want to leave someone hanging.
7. THINK LOCAL. This is getting to be out of my areas of experience, but it only makes sense that if you are a primarily local business, you should be focusing your marketing and advertising where local customers will see it. It makes a lot of sense to consider ads or PR pitches to local periodicals and media outlets. It doesn’t make much sense to advertise on a really cool but non-local blog.
Wondering about a specific platform I left off? Want to argue that one of these isn’t that important or you’d prioritize differently? I’d love to hear it in the comments. (And by the way, I love Twitter but I think it’s not particularly useful for local businesses working to build a client base so it didn’t make the list. Please, feel free to disagree if you know otherwise!)