Armed with powerful (and often mobile) technologies, prospective buyers in the marketplace now have a trove of information about your business at their fingertips. With a simple web search, buyers and brokers can learn all kinds of things about your company -- and that means you'll need to proactively manage your online presence before you pull the trigger on selling your business.
Perception and consistency are the keys to creating a strong online profile prior to listing your business. The idea is to leverage your online presence to make your business appealing to buyers, but in a way that is consistent with the other materials and information that prospects will uncover during the buying process. Carefully evaluate the material that appears on the first several search results pages. In many cases, a quick search will reveal inaccurate, outdated or negative information. Make none of it appears in these core components of your online presence.
- Company Website. Your company website should appear at the top of the first search results page. If it doesn't, buyers may see it as a sign that your company's online presence isn't as strong as they would like it to be. In addition to updating your company website, you might need to consult with a natural search engine optimization (SEO) specialist to learn how to move your business closer to the top of the search results.
- Images. It's likely that a number of images related to your business appear online. Consider updating images that appear on digital properties you control, such as the company website, and social media profiles, to reflect your current business. Use high quality photography and flattering camera angles to portray your physical footprint in the best possible light.
- Social Media. Many small businesses have created pages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you haven't visited your social media pages in a while, invest time and energy to strengthen your social presence. By updating your profile and becoming more active, you can make your company more attractive to buyers. It may even be worthwhile to invest in strategies, such as social contests and giveaways to significantly increase your social following prior to listing.
- Reviews. Online reviews are extremely useful for acquiring new customers. They are also useful to prospective buyers because they offer an unfiltered gauge of the market's reaction to your company's products and services. There may be little you can do to remove negative customer comments from Yelp and other review sites. But rather than ignoring negative reviews, make an effort to respond to them and convert complaints into positive feedback about how your business goes the extra mile to satisfy its customers.
- Negative Content. Negative attention is an unfortunate reality for many business sellers, especially if it is highly visible online. Unfortunately, information about court proceedings, bankruptcies, police reports and other negative events can live online for years. Hopefully, however, you have long-since resolved these issues and you can be up-front with would-be buyers about what happened, how it was resolved and why it's no longer an issue. Additionally, the more positive content you create, the further this negative news will be pushed down in the online search, reducing its visibility.
When selling your business, it's important to understand that the development of a strong and consistent online presence takes time. While tasks like updating company photos can be accomplished relatively quickly, managing the impact of negative content or cultivating an active social media presence can take months. So, regardless of when you plan to sell your business, the time to start improving your company's online presence is now -- long before you're ready to introduce your business to buyers in the marketplace.