Promoting your small, local business ONLINE

It can be difficult as a small, local business owner, to figure out where best to utilize your limited resources (time/money/energy/creativity) to promote your business. It can also be stressful. In the past, the Yellow Pages was the go-to option. It cost a few hundred dollars to run a large ad for a month, but everyone had one at home and several at work. You only had to think about it once a year. But times have changed and they’ve changed quickly. To illustrate this point, one of our clients who tracks how all their new customers find them went from having ~20 new customers/month who heard of them through a Yellow Pages ad in 2007 to only ~1/month in 2013 (they quickly dropped the expensive Yellow Pages ad after that).  Small businesses are now scrambling to figure out social media strategies, which is hard because big businesses have been at it for a while and benefit greatly from Facebook and Twitter’s strategies to keep their sites free for individual users – they can spend the savings on paying a social media team. At this point, in order to stay effective, it’s going to cost you to have an effective online presence. This is why I believe that whatever social media outlets you choose to use, the corner stone of your online presence needs to be a website.

Self-Host (pay) Sites v. Free Hosted Sites

The easiest way for me to explain the difference is:

Self-Host = mydomainname.ca

Free Hosted Sites = mydomainname.wordpress.com or mydomainname.blogger.com

In my opinion, self-hosted sites are the way to go. They appear more professional, and you can get a great custom email address (eg. myname@mydomainname.ca), and the costs aren’t that high to maintain the site if you are using a self-hosted WordPress template.  The start-up costs can also be very low if you can set that site up yourself. Here is a WordPress set up tutorial that I actually used an older version of a few years back when we built our first websites. The guy who put this tutorial together pitches hard for Bluehost as a hosting service – I also love Bluehost and we use them for all the WordPress websites we’ve worked with. While you can find slightly lower prices from other hosting websites, you usually end up losing out on customer service which, if you don’t have your own IT department, you really need.

What do I put on my website?

The great news is, your website doesn’t have to be complicated in order to be valuable – actually, it shouldn’t be! Here are 5 things you MUST have on your website.

1. Location: If you are a brick and mortar business you need to have your address, a map, a list of the nearest transit stops, where parking is, anything that will help a new customer find you easier. People like easy.

2. Contact Info: Email/Telephone/Fax/Carrier Pigeon put them all up there, with one caveat – List all the ways you want your new and potential clients to contact you – and omit the ones you don’t. Only list methods of contact where you can guarantee prompt, professional attention will be given to a new/potential client – you only get one chance to make a first impression.

3. About Page: Now, your page doesn’t have to be called ‘About’ – it could just be on your home or landing page – but you do need to put up clear and concise information about who you are and what you do. For example, on the front page of CaulfieldWhite.com we have a short video reel that shows off some examples of video and film work we have done in the past. We also have an ‘About Us’ page that briefly introduces our company (what type of work we do, and what industries we focus on) and the two key members (Ryder and me), our backgrounds and what our roles are at the company. This helps prospective clients know who they should be talking to.

4. Products/Services Page: If you sell specific products or services, it is good to describe what they are in detail on your site – if you have an e-commerce site this would be your store, or, if you sell through an outside site like Amazon, Ebay, or Etsy you would link to those pages.

5. Social Media: Most wordpress templates have widgets which will allow people visiting your website to share it through their social media accounts, and/or to like/follow your social media presence. USE THEM.

Should I have a blog?

Blogs are everywhere these days. Do they help? Do they hurt? What should I do? The answer is YES. To all of it. Blogs can be useful to people in all industries, but they can also be unhelpful time-sucks, or worse. Here are three questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether or not a blog is for you:

1. Do you like to write? If you hate writing, or are a slow typist, writing a blog is going to be tedious. Alternatively, if you don’t like to write, you can have a blog by delegating the task to an employee or by using a ghost writer. If someone on your team or in your staff writes well and knows the business well enough to write regular, relevant blog posts (perhaps with some topics/themes provided by you), then you should use that person’s skill and spend your time on other tasks you excel at. If you don’t like writing and aren’t lucky enough to have someone on your team who can take over for you, you might want to consider hiring a ghost writer. With a ghost writer you will need to provide blog post topics and important points to make if not a full outline. It can be time consuming and expensive, though.

2. Do you have enough to write about? An easy test is to quickly write down as many blog post topics as you can think of in 5 minutes. Don’t go into details about the blog, just jot down a one sentence topic. If you are still writing when time is up, WOW! you have a lot of ideas and are well on your way to writing a consistent blog. I would say that if you can’t come up with at least 10 blog post topics off the top of your head in 5 minutes, you probably don’t have enough to write about. This is not necessarily a bad thing…it really depends on the business you’re in.

3. Do you have the time? The most important thing you can do to make your blog successful is to provide consistent content. Whether you post every day, or twice a month, keep the days and times of your posts consistent. This will make it easier for you to build a following.  Most small business owners don’t have enough time to post a blog every day – we put out our blogs once a week. Sometimes we write them week by week, sometimes we will feel inspired and write three blog posts in a day and schedule them for later. The point is that we found a frequency that works with our schedule. Remember, you need to write your post, have it reviewed/edited by someone, take your own images or find royalty free ones online, and assemble it all into a nice package – don’t forget to post it!  You should be spending about two hours a week on your blog, plus responding to any comments left there.

If you said no to any of the above questions, then right now is probably not the time for you to start a blog – reevaluate in another 6 months or a year when you may be in a better position to do so. Having a bad blog (poorly written, barely maintained) is worse than no blog at all – it makes it look like you don’t care about your website, and if you don’t care about your website will a potential client/customer really believe that you will care about them?