8 Steps to Take Your Brick and Mortar Business Online

The Internet is here to stay, no doubt about it. Still, many small businesses haven’t moved online. Some may not feel the need yet. Others may be scared because the territory is unfamiliar. Whatever the case may be, below are some simple steps you can take to move your brick-and-mortar business online—something you must do if you want to be able to compete in the long run. Your customers are online. Your competitors are online or moving there soon. Don’t get left behind.

online business

1. Get found.

Many businesses invest money in building a website in order to have an online presence and then stop there. In the offline world if you put up a business in a well-trafficked area of town, you’ll get visitors. They see the building and stop by. On the Internet, it’s a different story. Once your site is built, you still need to put significant effort into getting found.

Get listed on Google Places. Get listed in local directories. Get listed in industry directories. Learn the basics of search engine optimization or hire someone to do that work for you.

2. Get leads, not just traffic.

Another area where many people goof up online is in lead generation. After you build your website and start driving traffic, your job is to turn that traffic into leads. Ideally most pages of your website should have a lead capture mechanism. You need to offer something of value to your visitors in exchange for their email address or other contact information. If you don’t, you’ll lose a lot of your traffic. You need to develop a list-building mentality. Build a list of leads with every activity you engage in. Then, follow up with that list. Email marketing systems can help you do this in systematic ways.

3. Use email marketing to tell people about your business.

Recently, proponents of new marketing techniques have bashed email marketing, claiming that the medium is dying. This is far from the truth. Research firm ForeSee Results published a study early this year that was conducted during the 2010 holiday shopping season. They asked people who made purchases online about what influenced their visit to ecommerce sites.

As you can see in the study, the overwhelming majority (64 percent) stated that they prefer to hear about sales and promotions through emails. When engaging in email marketing, make sure you follow  best practices and provide value to your leads instead of bugging them with sales messages all the time. Use email to build real relationships with your leads, not bother them.

4. Know that text messaging is not just for teenagers.

Many brick-and-mortar businesses are successfully using SMS marketing (text message marketing) to capture leads and follow up. You can have your store visitors opt into text message promotions by texting a keyword to an SMS short code. You can follow up with these people in the same way you do with email. You can even use text messaging to capture email addresses.

The world is going mobile—don’t miss out on these emerging opportunities.

5. Use QR codes in fun and creative ways.

You have offline customers. Eventually, you want to be able to communicate with them online as well. QR codes are barcodes that can be scanned with a cell phone to send people to a particular website. QR codes on direct mail pieces, your store window, your checkout desk and other strategic areas can give you an opportunity to move offline traffic online.

Keep in mind that QR codes are used by cell phone users. So drive them to mobile-friendly pages where you offer something in order to capture their contact information.

6. Use online partners–they can be huge assets.

You may have been slow to get your business online, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer forever. Most likely you know other local business owners who made the transition earlier. They may already be getting significant amounts of traffic. Hunt down the people who are doing well online and set up a way for them to drive traffic to you and you to them.

Complementary businesses can set up referral or affiliate programs to drive traffic to each other at appropriate points in the sales cycle. Using partners can jumpstart your online business significantly.

7. Give your customers an online account portal.

We’re all getting used to managing our accounts online. We can do this with our banks, our cell phone accounts, our utilities, etc. But do you offer a way for your customers to manage their accounts with you online? For those of you who provide recurring services (pool cleaning, landscaping, legal retainer, etc.), providing a portal where customers can manage their accounts online makes working with you more convenient for them.

That’s really what the Internet is all about – convenience. The more of it you give, the more your customers will love you.

8. Get social, maybe.

Social media is a booming arena for online marketing.  If used correctly, it can provide a great stream of online traffic for your business. It also is a great way to listen and engage with customers. But I say “maybe” here because I see many small businesses wasting way too much time trying to figure out how to make social media work. The truth is, it’s not for everybody.

If your target audience is social, then you do need to figure it out. If you want to get into social media, I suggest you read my Small Business Trends post on The Social Media Money Formula.  It will show you how to actually tie social media efforts to increased sales, instead of wasting time getting “friends” and “followers.”

One last point to consider is that there is a lot of hype on the Internet. Like most things, Internet hype is usually based on some amount of truth. The key is to decipher the hype about the latest trends. Adopt only the trends that make sense for your business, and make sure the tactics you use make a difference to the bottom line. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Of course there are many other things to consider when getting started online, but these steps will help you get started in a meaningful way.


Tyler Garns Tyler Garns, Business & Marketing Strategist at Tyler Garns Marketing LLC, has over 10 years of experience in the field and is a recognized expert in Internet marketing. Tyler specializes in building "done-for-you" campaigns. You can follow him on the Tyler Garns Blog.

9 Reactions
  1. Very informative article. One question: how do I get the QR code and how difficult is it to set up?

  2. Thank You so much for the links you have submitted. This is exactly what we are doing, and selling to our clients. We are a social media suburb directory, where we narrow business exposure to the individual suburbs within the city. You choose the city followed by whichever suburb you wish to gaze through. Scrolling down the list businesses automatically receive impressions and of course their social media links are also there for people to view. We encourage the businesses to make use of the social media links on their profiles, at the same time we share their info to as many of our social links benefiting them as much as ours. I wish more people could understand how simple and effective this is, and it really works. You plant a seed and get to watch it grow – Paul

  3. Jim,

    Great question. There are many services out there that will generate QR codes. If you want to play with them a bit, I’d recommend a free service called bit.ly. You can go to http://bit.ly to enter a URL and it will generate a QR code. You can then print that QR code on your direct mail or outdoor advertising to drive offline traffic to your site.

  4. These are great ideas. In my consulting business, while I don’t need to generate much website traffic, I do need to make sure that I can be found within my niche.

    There are lots of great ways to promote yourself and your business–even if you’re a solo entrepreneur. The trick is to use marketing tactics that leverage your time, and for those marketing activities that require personal attention, make sure you’re focusing on pre-qualified prospects (i.e., “warm” calls instead of cold calls).

    However, there are ways to promote your business for free or very cheaply. I’ve listed several tactics on a recent blog post; among them are:

    –commenting on forums
    –contributing content in your niche
    –free giveaways (not just physical product-type giveaways, but giving away content or knowledge)

    Those marketing tactics may lend themselves more to freelancers/consultants, but they can also apply to virtually any business. The point is: there are plenty of free and low-cost ways to promote your business; sometimes it takes a bit more creativity and/or research to find cheap and effective ways to market yourself, but it’s certainly possible.

    I recently wrote an article on FreeLanceSwitch.com on how my relatively minimal SEO efforts generated over $80k in new business. In my consulting niche–as with any business niche–promotion is the key to leveraging your marketing/sales efforts. After all, it’s a lot easier to have customers find you than it is to make cold calls (besides, I hate making cold calls…). SEO is a great way to automate your lead generation, and have customers come to you.

    I’ve also found that very few of my competitors are using any SEO or other promotion to automate their marketing. As a result, when prospects are looking for a service provider in my niche, I’m the one they find–not my competitors. That means a bigger slice of the market goes to me, just for the price of my time invested in online promotion/SEO. It’s paid huge benefits.

    I’ve built a marketing pipeline based on some of the tactics I outline on my blog, and over the past 12 months, have had to do very little cold calling. I’ve found that I get most of my new clients finding me and asking me to scope projects, rather than me having to seek out new clients.

    Greg Miliates

  5. These are great ideas. They are especially important to already have in mind before you set out and build your business website. Too many businesses pick a platform for their business website just because others tell them it is “the best”.
    Identify what services you need and pick a solution that has built-in support for your needs.

    While you can always extend your website with third-party services, that usually means additional registrations, set-up, time invested and, possibly, additional fees. All that can be avoided by selecting the right solution to build your website on; one that supports your current needs and leaves room for you to grow.

  6. Thanks on info for QRcode. For me, I think the best marketing strategy, even online is still a joint venture program.

  7. I totally agree with Step 2 and would recommend step 8.
    To many old and bold business owners do not use social media marketing, no facebook page, twitter account, linkedin profiles etc.
    If used correctly promotes your business to 100’s of potential customers you might not of targeted before.

    Step 2, leads not traffic. Looks great on traffic stats 100/1k users per month using what ever techniques and solutions on the internet, however if your marketing and advertising was optimized then your conversions would be increased. SEO and SEM needs not be taken for granted.

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