A secretary, a tireless advocate, or an albatross.
Your provisions are low, your knowledge of the terrain is limited, and you have no time to spare. If you waste your resources, or make a wrong turn, your expedition may end in tragedy. What you need is new customers, with whom to trade, and present customers to buy more from you.
Every other small business owner is trying to do the same, just as you, to get more sales. How do you stand out? Do you jump on the bandwagon? Do you wave a chicken at the problem because you think you should? Luckily for you, you don’t need a huge advertising budget, your competition may not be who–or what–you imagine, and you don’t need to know every territory through which you travel. However, you may need an expedition guide.
Websites are your representatives, your champions who don’t sleep, don’t eat, and they’ll take your messages, perhaps even be your salespeople. They are the first stop for many of your customers and the last for some. They are your voice and the most visible extension of your brand, besides, perhaps, you and your brick & mortar.
You often have three seconds to demonstrate that you have what your potential buyer needs, the character of your business, and the quality of your wares. You wear your brand like you wear clothes. We’re all naked underneath, but we broadcast how we keep ourselves and what we prefer by our dress. Your potential customers won’t find out what you’re really like, if their first impression of your appearance doesn’t invite them.
Your market is a big party, but you need your customers to come talk to you. If you strike up a conversation with an ad, it can be costly, but it has potential if your branding is good. The guy wearing the Dr. Who T-shirt probably likes Dr. Who. If you’re into Firefly, you might like to speak with him. The guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and old sandals–has no idea where he is. Your website can be the best suit in the room, demonstrating your professionalism, or you could be showing up to a wedding in flip-flops, old shorts, and a stained, white undershirt.
It’s taken for granted, today, that businesses have a website. It’s so expected that when there isn’t one, many assume the company has gone out of business. Its centrality to communications makes it practically pivotal and, by extension of it’s perceived importance, front and center for your brand. From the point of view of your customers, how you invest in your website says a lot about the effort you put into your products and services.
There are fables of a time, when people read advertisements in newspapers and, informed by demonstrative graphics and superlatives, bought goods and services to satisfy their needs. Some say it’s just myth. Some say it once was, but was spoiled by snake oil salesmen and since then, the public mistrusts what businesses say about themselves, judging instead, first from their appearance, then the quality of their wares.
Today, the flow has nearly reversed from the old days of consumers informed by advertising, if there ever were such days. Where businesses could only inform customers of their existence by shouting louder than the next, with obnoxious ads and constant bellowing as street-corner hucksters; now customers find the businesses they want. They use crowd-sourced reviews to judge by digital reputation, they search on their phones on the way somewhere, they click the first few results of a Google search.
This has leveled the playing field between many small businesses, with small marketing budgets, and their larger rivals. It has also decimated those who don’t invest with the changing market. Even the smallest mom-and-pop can look great and get better visibility than some of their fiercest competitors, with good web presence.
Web presence is more than a website, though. Search engine optimization, SEO, can get you high in the search engine results page. You’re customers won’t find you on the second page. Being where your customers are demands digital diversity. They may be searching Google Maps, on their phone, for restaurants nearby. If you’re not in that search, you just lost, and they never went to your website. If your customers are on Facebook and they like your page, they will never return to it again. If your content is worthwhile, they’ll interact and you may show up on their News Feed.
If you sell the best pies in the world, they could be very lonely pies, if your customers don’t know you exist or think your cookie-cutter website, which took too long to load and doesn’t follow modern design practices, is representative of your craftsmanship. Don’t panic. You can tell more people about your pies than ever before on a small marketing budget, spent wisely and strategically. While it can be a burden around your neck, your web presence doesn’t have to be. It can be your best tool in this journey, with a good guide and a compass.
We’ll need to gather some supplies before we leave the port. This next journey is sure to find treasures, but we’ll be going through swindler territory, so mind the traps.
Coming up: SEO, the importance of branding, web presence on a tiny budget, cookie-cutter websites, content management systems, when and how to get a designer, phantom competition, what web presence costs and should cost, posting social, and responsive design.