When you first think of getting online with your business, what comes to mind? Probably a website.
But not all small business owners are sure they are ready for a website just yet. Maybe that describes you. Maybe you’re interested in a website, but you haven’t quite figured out what you want your website to do yet. Maybe you don’t know if you will have enough time to devote to setting up a full-blown website. Or maybe your business is young and you’re not sure a website will bring enough business at this early stage.
Luckily today there are several ways to have an “online presence” for your business. Not all of them involve a website. In fact, social media and ecommerce platforms can serve as stand-ins for a website until you are ready. Here are some things to consider, according to the tech experts at Verisign:
Compelling Benefits to Getting Online
Even if you run a local business getting customers from within a 50-mile radius, there are two important benefits to getting online: growth and control.
1. Growth – An online presence grows your business. According to a 2013 Verisign survey, 91% of customers look online for local goods and services. People go online or pull out their smartphones when they need information. If your business isn’t online, it won’t be found when they go looking. Businesses that actively engage customers online can expect to grow 40% faster than they would without an online presence, according to a BCG report called The Connected World (PDF).
2. Control – Word of mouth and customer referrals are really important to small businesses — but we need ones that are positive. Online reviews and comments make it easy for a few unhappy customers to take over the story. If you don’t have control of your business’ online presence, it leaves the door open for others to take control. A strong, positive online presence puts you in charge of how people see your business online.
Ways to Have an Online Presence
There are three basic options to get started online: a profile or page on a social network or e-commerce site; and email address using your company’s domain name in it; and a website. Eventually you are going to want all three included in your online efforts. But start with at least one of these three options. Here they are in detail:
1. Social Networks and E-Commerce
It’s hard to believe, but Facebook is just 10 years old and Twitter is eight years old. Yet today over a billion people use these social networks as well as e-commerce sites like Amazon.com and Etsy.com. There are positives to having a business presence on sites like these. For one thing, it’s easy to set up a social media profile. There’s a built-in base of potential customers. And if you’re just easing your way into an online presence, social media profiles create an easy low-labor presence.
If you decide that your sole online presence will be on a Facebook-type site, such as setting up a Facebook business page, you should still buy your own domain name and have it “point” to your social network or e-commerce page. That way, you will have a single “address” on the web no matter which social network you use — even if you change networks or move to your own company website. You will also get the benefit of an easily-remembered address to use for marketing, as well as email addresses using your own domain name.
2. Company-Branded Email
Secure a domain name and start using that name for your email addresses. Example: email@example.com. Ninety percent of consumers feel more comfortable as the customer of a small business with branded email versus those that use @aol.com, @yahoo.com, or @gmail.com, according to one survey. Be sure to set up email addresses for different employees or departments in order to give a professional impression at every level. It makes your business look like it’s here to stay, and gives potential customers added confidence in your business.
3. Company Website
A website gives you flexibility and control — and it can be very, very simple, such as a 1-page flyer or online brochure for your business.
The first and most important step is getting your domain name on the Web. Try to come up with a domain name that represents your business name and choose a domain extension that is highly recognized and credible such as .com, .net, or .org.
The key is to keep your domain name simple and make it easily found on search engines like Google or Bing. There are many companies that offer domain name registrations and can help you build a simple (and often free) website that will get your business online. This chart summarizes the pros and cons of each method:
Costs of an Online Presence
Creating an online presence needn’t cost much. Your domain name usually costs less than most lunches. Many of the companies that offer domain name registration also offer low-cost monthly services for company-branded email, web forwarding to a social network or e-commerce site, and all-in-one bundles. These bundles can provide what you need to build and maintain your website (domain names, hosting, and design templates). Prices start at a few dollars a month.
Research your options because some companies do not charge a fee when you buy your domain name from them, while others charge a nominal fee. If you do not have an internet connection, you will need to set that up as well. You do not have to pay much to have an effective online presence.
In the end, you want your business to be represented online the same way you would describe it to a potential customer. Whether a Facebook page, an Etsy store, or a website, an online presence with your own domain name means your business can be found, will be positively represented, and customers can easily get in touch with you.
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