Harnessing the web as a business tool is important, even for businesses that may consider themselves as primarily offline. Plumbers, electricians, mom & pop shops, preschools and many other businesses ultimately all measure success by their ability to build offline relationships – and the web can play a huge part in that.
As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll have big budgets, staff or free personnel hours to invest in a complex online strategy, but there are certainly some simple steps you can take to start reaping the rewards that the an online presence can bring. I’m here to help you.
1. Be accessible
The key to making the most of the web is making your business as accessible as possible, letting people interact with you in a way that suits them, whenever they want to. Your customers are online 24/7, and as such they expect to be able to interact with businesses and organisations whenever and wherever they are online. Of course, that doesn’t mean having to have a presence on every single online channel; it means being clever about selecting the ones that are most important to your audience.
At the most fundamental level, this means a basic, professional looking website with easy to find, relevant information about your business. At a more advanced level, that could be a fully-blown booking tool that lets customers schedule their own appointment or booking with you, essentially giving your businesses a 24/7 receptionist.
2. Think local before you think big
Making the most of online tools doesn’t necessarily mean trying to go global, quite the opposite in fact. It can be a very successful route to building relationships at a local level, which is crucial to the success of so many small businesses. Focusing on your online touchpoints means building relationships with customers and potential customers, and turning that online connection into offline custom: loyal, engaged customers who come back time and again. Think also about local listings sites, online networking groups and building partnerships with other local business.
3. Nurture your loyal customers
Finally, think about how you can use your most loyal customers to do your online marketing for you. Social media has changed the way people make recommendations and share their experiences. Weary of the constant bombardment of marketing messages – and with a whole internet of opinions, rants (and even occasionally praise!) at our fingertips – we now just have to turn to Facebook or Twitter for advice. A business can be made or broken in minutes. The mass adoption of online social networks has changed the way we make purchasing decisions. Businesses of all sizes, no matter how small, can capitalize on that. Best of all, these social recommendations are super-targeted, personal and free.