When you need a job done and you don't have a ‘go-to guy’, what do you do? You ask around – friends, family – but if they can't help, where do you look next? Online, of course. Whether you need an accountant, a lawyer, a plumber, a painter or a physiotherapist, chances are, you'll begin your search on the Internet.
So, knowing this, how can YOU maximize YOUR business potential online?
No matter how small your business is, a website is a no-brainer. It gives potential clients access to you, your products, and your services at any given time of day. If a customer can spend a couple of minutes browsing your website, rather than trying to find enough time in the day to make a call to get the same information from you over the 'phone, which do you think they'd prefer? That's right – browsing your website, which they can do from their desk or their cellphone. It also benefits you. Your website is online and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, selling your business to potential customers while you don't lift a finger!
It is important to remember, however, that your website says a lot about your business. Potential clients often make up their mind about a business within the first few seconds of looking at their website, in much the same way as employers make up their mind about a candidate in the first few seconds of a job interview. Make sure you are showcasing your business in the best possible light. Ensure your website is easy to navigate, has a clean, professional design, is regularly updated and is fully functional with no broken links or error pages.
Basic websites for small businesses are not expensive and you don't need to hire a specialist. There are numerous websites designed to enable you to set up your own website cheaply, with little-to-no technical experience. Take a look at Wordpress, Wix, Weebly and Squarespace to begin.
Once you have a website, ensure there is a section where customers or potential customers can sign up to your online mailing list. Then, take advantage of the direct access you have to these customers via their inboxes! Send emails at regular intervals, with updates of the services you provide, promotional offers and details of new products. You are essentially advertising your own business for free.
- Online Reviews
Create an entry for your business on a website like Google or Yelp (don't forget TripAdvisor if your business is an eatery or guesthouse). These websites are the 21st-century version of the Yellow Pages. Make sure you add your contact information, a link to your website and your business hours. Ask satisfied customers, ideally in person once you've provided the service, to leave a review. If they don’t, follow up a week later with a polite reminder email. For a potential customer making up their mind as to which business to go with, a few good testimonials can make all the difference.
- Social media – Facebook page
Depending on the nature of your business, you may wish to explore social media as a marketing tool. Most businesses today have at least a Facebook page, with details of services, business hours and contact information. It also enables customers to contact you directly and vice versa, by posting a comment or sending a private message. Most importantly, it operates in the same way as word-of-mouth. Friends, family and customers can ‘like’ your page and share it with others on Facebook.
Testimonials, word-of-mouth, business directories and advertising have all been around for decades. Using online tools to grow your business is simply taking tried-and-tested methods and repackaging them, and most of them don't cost a penny! Start exploring to maximize your business potential.