All Businesses Need An Online Presence.
There’s no escaping the digital revolution.
It’s almost impossible to run a modern business without a computer and an Internet connection, and most of us have an Internet-connected device on us 24/7.[source: Forbes] You’ve undoubtedly seen and heard stories about entrepreneurs who built their businesses online, from scratch, with startlingly complex Websites, daily blogs and videos, and a social media presence that seemingly defies the practical limits of human effort.
Is this what you need to be a successful business? Do you have to abandon everything you know in favor of this new, revolutionary approach to business?
Of course not. But there may be a significant opportunity loss by failing to do so.
“My Business Is Doing Fine”
If you’re running a traditional or established business, perhaps your business has been around for decades, and your industry hasn’t changed much with the onset of digital media. Steel is still steel, plastic is still plastic, and your client base is likely made up of similarly traditional businesses. You’ve survived fine thus far without a digital presence, and you’re not especially interested in adopting one (and with half of all small businesses without a Website, you’re certainly not alone).
There’s the possibility that your business has declined sharply in the past few years—but it’s more likely that you’re running stable or very slowly declining. You might not have a pressing fear, but consider this: don’t you want to be doing just a little bit better? Getting a few more clients? Making your customers just a bit happier? Improving the image and modernity of your brand just slightly?
Contrary to the common misconception, you don’t need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a robust digital presence to accomplish these goals, but you will need to dip your toes in. Let’s start by taking a look at the basics.
What Makes a Digital Presence “Necessary”?
First, let’s explore what I mean by “necessary,” as some entrepreneurs used to doing business in person or over the phone may already be combating my points.
People use the Internet whether you do or not. That means potential customers may be searching for you (and able to find nothing). It means current customers could think negatively of you after comparing you to an online competitor. Ultimately, the necessities will cover the following basic tenets of digital availability:
- Ensuring your brand is found when people search for it. Think of this as making sure you’re listed in the phone book—otherwise, people won’t know how to reach you.
- Displaying your modernity. Like it or not, being uninvolved in the digital realm will harm your reputation; it will make you seem behind the times and unwilling to change (even in a traditional industry, this is a bad thing).
- Picking up outside opportunities. Not everyone prefers meeting in person or talking over the phone—in some cases, it may not even be possible. Your digital presence will give an alternative contact method for these situations, preventing you from losing opportunities.
With that out of the way, let’s tour the real basics.
Basic One: A Website
A Website should be your first priority. Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be; yes, a pleasingly designed site will do you more good than a shoddy one, but you don’t need a million-dollar marketing agency or advanced coding skills to build one. There are dozens of businesses dedicated to helping other businesses build sites free (or cheap), quickly, and easily (WordPress is my personal favorite here).
A Website will touch on all three “necessary” points as I listed them above—it will serve as an entry for your business (like a phone book), show that you’re willing to adapt to the new times, and give an alternative contact method (an online contact form) to those who can’t visit you or find you in person. I won’t get into the specifics of building a Website here, but if you choose a template site, the steps are very approachable, even for newcomers.
Basic Two: Social Media
You don’t need to download dozens of new apps, and you don’t need to post all the time. You do need to claim your business’s social profiles, however, and fill out your profiles completely—at least on the major players (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Youtube). Think of these as billboards for your company, telling people a little about yourself when they find you and providing a reliable means of contact.
Plus, filling out your information completely and accurately will help ensure the accuracy of your business listing in third party directories (which in turn can help your search rankings, but I won’t get into that here).
It’s completely free to do—in fact, it will probably take you a few hours or less to get your brand set up on all relevant platforms.
Basic Three: Content
Finally, you need a contextual anchor for your business online—otherwise, your Website will be just an empty shell. Well-written content (preferably ongoing via a blog, as part of a robust content strategy, but at a minimum on the core pages of your site) will serve several functions. It will tell users more about your brand, do some selling on your behalf, and help your site get indexed and ranked for relevant terms in Google searches.
The more detailed you can be here, the better—and if you’re going for the bare minimum, you only have to do it once.
That’s all up to you. The three basics covered above will serve most of your “essential” needs—making sure you don’t miss out on any potential opportunities without requiring a huge investment. Beyond that, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend, and what your goals are.
For example, if you’re interested in getting more visibility and authority for your brand, you can:
- Step up your content marketing strategy.
- Post on social media and start building an audience relevant to your demographics.
- Guest post on relevant industry publications.
- Improve the aesthetic design of your site.
If you’re interested in getting more leads and traffic, you can:
- Do any of the steps listed above.
- Pursue an SEO or “inbound marketing” strategy.
- Work on an email marketing campaign.
- Seek paid advertising on search or social media.
If you’re interested in improving your existing customer relationships, you can:
- Create an eCommerce platform for online sales.
- Create an FAQ, forum, or other interactive resource for existing customers.
- Develop a mobile app.
These are just some ideas to get you started—the digital world is ripe with opportunities for business development, and there are strategies available for any niche and any budget. Focus on establishing your “basic” foundation first; you’ll cover all your essential needs for a minimal investment, and you’ll leave plenty of room for potential expansion later.