Market Your Small Business Online: 12 Tips
If you've started a new business and are ready to begin marketing it online, I highly recommend Annie Tsai's new book "The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook." Here are some pointers based on the book, along with my own observations:
1. Don't panic. The whole idea of online marketing can seem daunting and unfamiliar at first, but in fact it's really pretty simple. Look, you've already done the difficult part: leaping into the unknown by starting or acquiring a business. This stuff will be easy by comparison.
2. Commit some time. This is actually the hardest part of online marketing, especially for super-busy entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, you'll need to spend some time on this, but not as much as you might thing. I recommend between about 2 to 4 hours a week. Schedule it!
3. Fix the skeletons. Even if you've only been in business for a while, some online business directories (like Google) have probably pulled your physical address and other info into a "skeleton profile." Join those directories, "claim" the pages, and make corrections, as necessary.
4. Buy a URL. This part is simple. Get on one of the numerous services and purchase an online name that fits with your business. In most cases, you'll need to personalize it in some way (like "JoesGreenPlumbing.com") because all the easy URLs ("GreatPlumbing.com) are already owned.
5. Decide what technology to use. There are two ways to go. You can build a traditional website using a website editing tool or a blog-style website using a blogging tool (like WordPress). IMHO, the blog-style is the way to go until you can hire a professional.
6. Set up a simple storefront. When you're just starting out, take a minimalistic approach. Don't try to cram the site with everything you might someday want. Just make certain that the site is professional, accurate, has the "tone" of how you want your business to be perceived.
7. Insert significant keywords. Your customers will be better able to find your site if the pages contain the right keywords. For example, if you own a heating and cooling repair company, sprinkle words and phrases like 'central heating,' 'A/C repair,' 'HVAC,' 'broken heater,' etc.
8. Put yourself on the map. Now that you've your website up, go back to online business directories and add material that matches whatever you put on the website. Add photos and a business description that tells a story to potential buyers. And a link to your site, of course.
9. Monitor your online image. Use Google Alerts to track when your business name, your name, or any other relevant search term is found on the web. That way you'll know whenever somebody is either praising or dissing you.
10. Handle bad reviews professionally. If you run across a bad review of your company, above all do NOT respond in anger, even if it's entirely unfair. In whatever forum is available explain what you've done to address the problem.
11. Build a "social" presence. Use social media sites to present a more personal side to potential customers and create more awareness for your company. Do NOT attempt to write a content-rich blog, though. If you do, you'll peter out after a few posts.
12. When you grow, hire a pro. All of the above is fine when you're starting out. However, when your business grows, you'll probably want to hire somebody to take over your online marketing (and the rest of it, too.)
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.