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Do’s & Don’ts Of Taking Your Offline Business Online

What’s your online strategy as a small and medium-size business? You have one in place, right? If not, you’re missing out on what can still be called the modern version of ‘the gold rush.’ There’s still time, don’t worry.

Everyone tells you that the Internet is the next great opportunity to take your business to the next level, but what they aren’t telling you is exactly how to do it, or more importantly, where to spend your limited budget to get the maximum return-on-investment.

Here are some “do’s and don’ts” on how to successfully navigate your online spending, plus some resources for how to get it done.

Do make sure you have a website.
This is a no-brainer, and I’m sure that most of you already have a website in place. But if you don’t, you’re failing your customers. There is now an expectation for your company to have a presence online, just as if they expect you to have a phone number.

Customers expect to be able to visit your website and find information about you whether it’s simply your contact information, or to even just gauge your professional image. Not having a website will put a big question mark into your potential customer’s brain.

Cost is no longer a factor; you can find highly professional templates to use for your business (TemplateMonster.com). Most cost only about $50. Not sure where to find a reliable developer to build your website or application? Try Rentacoder.com.

Don’t have a website that doesn’t work for you.
There are two ways to have a successful website that works for your business. You can either build a simple website that lists your primary information (contact info, products, services, about the company), or you can take it a step further and build a website that works to bring you sales and/or leads.

Once a customer visits your website, you need to convert them into a sale or a lead. To do that, you should invest in an e-mail sign up form that will allow them to give you their information for future contact. A good and inexpensive program for this cause can be found at Aweber.com, or ConstantContact.com.

Do search engine optimize your website.
Search engine optimize simply means you prepare your website to be easily found and picked up by search engines like Google. To do this, you need to understand a couple of basic facts.

  1. Guaranteed placements. No reputable firm can guarantee you anything. This is a HUGE warning sign, avoid these firms.
  2. Once the search engines have indexed your website, they rank it against other websites based upon a bunch of factors like relevancy, how many other sites link to you and how your site is constructed.

While deciding on a vendor to create your website, ask them specifically how they build websites that “help” the search engines. If they don’t have an answer for you, find another vendor.

Don’t discount hiring a firm to optimize your website.
Do you go to a plumber to fix your teeth? Of course not. So why do you think you can optimize your website better than an expert? You can’t.

The trick in hiring a vendor of such nature is to avoid the bad apples. Here’s what to look for from a bad SEO firm.

  1. Guaranteed placements. No reputable firm can guarantee you anything. This is a HUGE warning sign, avoid these firms.
  2. Avoid firms that don’t explain exactly how they work. Chances are they operate using “black hat” tactics that can get you short-term high rankings, but long-term get you banned.

Search engine optimization is hard work and takes time. Do not expect to get results overnight. For extra advice in choosing a firm, you can purchase MarketingSherpa’s Buyer’s Guides to SEO Firms & Paid Search. Visit MarketingSherpa.com.

Do consider setting up a blog.
A successful business blog can build long lasting relationships with your potential and existing customers, increase your search engine rankings and establish your company or executive team as experts in your industry.

Imagine being able to use your blog to talk “with” your customers, instead of “to” them. Imagine being able to establish your CEO as THE authority in your industry. Imagine being able to drive search engine traffic through your blog and over to your products or services for sale on your main website. All of this is possible with a business blog.

Besides those obvious benefits, a blog can also assist your public relations efforts by giving reporters and journalists, as well as other industry blogs, something to write about.

You can set up a blog for free at places like Blogger.com or Typepad.com.

Don’t setup a blog if you’re not going to commit to it.
The number one problem that faces business bloggers is that they don’t follow through with it. Writing a blog takes time, so consider working with a professional writer who can assist you in creating content for your blog.

Do believe that any business can find success online.
There is one common factor that every business has, online or offline, and that is… customers! Just as you would deal with customers over the phone or by direct mail, you can leverage your Internet presence to deal with them online, no matter what your business is.

Want some examples?
Retail Storefront – You don’t have to sell your products online if you don’t want to, but what about setting up a website that allows your customers to browse for coupons and specials? What if you could amass an e-mail list of thousands of customers and send them weekly e-mails of your specials, driving them back to your store?

Consultants – Use your website to deliver informational white papers for prospective customers to download showing you as experts in your industry, and in turn generating leads for your sales team. Or, let your customers interact with your team and project via a password-protected project management interface.

Service Firms – Set up a website that lets your customers schedule appointments online. Have live chat available to allow a customer to chat with a technician directly through your website.

Don’t think your competitors aren’t going to do it first and better.
They will do so if you don’t. If you’re waiting for a signal to get started online, this is it. The opportunity awaits your business.

How to get started? Do a search right now for a local web development firm in your area and ask them to answer this question for you. “How can you help make my business a success online?”

If they can’t answer that, call the next one on the list.