Growing a Business #1: Online

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Successful businesses are ones that grow – so with a focus on what’s on offer to help around our Wandsworth store – we’re taking a look at how you might expand  your customer base in three different ways – virtually, physically and through diversification.

Ultimately businesses grow by getting more customers and/or selling more products or services to their existing customer base.  So we’re kicking off with online, and the suite of cross-platform resources at your disposal to grow your business through the internet. It’s a sensible place to start if you think about it. You’re reading this, and it is online…

Love it or loathe it, being online is a fundamental part of being in business these days. Whether it is simply a place to promote your business and get people booked in to your services (such as a restaurant or hair dressing salon) or more complicated logistics of taking online payment and shipping stuff, presenting the products or services that you offer to encourage people to come to you, or even using the internet to talk directly with customers.

Gone are the days when simply having a website was all you needed. The past 15 years have seen rapid development of the technology – both in the hardware and software – that we all use. But you need to approach it systematically before you can even thinking about Growing your business through the internet. You need to be sure that your online presence hits the mark with you customers and gives them the right call to action. So here are some top tips for growing your business online.

How fit for purpose is your website?

First off, modern websites have to work on smartphones, tablets, monitors and even interactive TVs. The basic technology is called ‘responsive’ as it adjusts the content of your website to fit the screen it is being shown on. If you’ve got the nouse to develop websites yourself – or are using a template based system all websites (including some ‘templates’ sites) do this particularly well. So make sure you test any platform that you are thinking of using extensively on a range of devices before committing to it.

Better still – budget well for a decent website – and find a good, well established web developer to help you get to grips with. If your business is one that involves national or international shipping, then you might well want to look at a site that integrates the whole customer experience – from initial interest, right through to fulfilment.

How do you promote your website?

At the basic level, making sure you’re properly listed (Free) on the major search engines will help your visibility when potential customers search up your particular product or service. Your web developer will be able to advise how to do this, as well as some additional things that will help your listing – such as sitemaps, clear categorisation and relevant blog content.

Paid advertising

One option for getting yourself seen online is paid advertising. You put funds on account with the major search engines and define the parameters for keyword search terms that will result in your advert being displayed. Those keywords are critical here – as you (along with all your competitors) are effectively bidding for the terms that you want your advert displayed for. What’s handy here is that the likes of Google and Bing allow you to set limits as to how much you spend, and also have some tools to help you define your search terms.  If that all sounds rather complicated, there are specialists – people whose job it is to know this stuff inside out – who are able to help you run and administer any paid advertising you choose to do online.

Search Optimisation

Search optimisation is the counterfoil to paid advertising. Effectively it’s about making sure your website is really clear – and current – in the way it tells your customers about what you do. Search engines check this periodically and your listing can go up or down in the search ranking. The objective is to get as close to the top in your area of business as you possibly can.

E-marketing

Email marketing – or e-marketing – sending newsletters and offers to people’s inboxes are a great way to build and track interested customers. You should use a remailer service – popular ones include MailChimp or Constant Contact, as these enable customers to opt-in and out of your email subscriptions service according to data protection laws.

Are you making Special offers?

Ultimately, selling online comes down to how competitive your prices are and offering great value through your service. That can be challenging as the availability of Internet platforms and competition squeezes margins to the max. Whatever your business there will be an angle on an offer – business might be seasonal – maybe you’re a fashion outlet that deals in the next season’s styles, or a sports equipment retailer that does more business in the spring as everyone is gearing up for their hobbies. Special offers such as bundles, discounts, 2 for 1 or Free Shipping – can all make the difference in helping potential customer to buy from you. Ultimately though, the service you offer will be what your business trades on. Customers won’t come back if they have a bad experience – and with Internet reviews it’s easy for customers to report on the experience they’ve had.

Reviews

The internet is great for freedom of speech, and review sites are a great platform for customers to share their experience. Encourage your customers to share their good experience is essential. But you might also don’t be afraid to offer your perspective if you feel that comments are unfair – or even contact the review site dispute procedure if you feel they are malicious.

How do you use Social Media?

Depending on what your business does, social media can be a great platform for promoting sales, expanding your customer base and raising awareness about your product or service offering. But you need to use the available platforms well and – even more crucially – consistently. Keep it relevant – there’s not much worse than a Twitter or Facebook business account, where the owner raves, shares or retweets about something like what they had for lunch. Unless they’re a Café or Restaurant of course – where Lunch is what they’re selling!

Training in Social Media is widely available these days. In Wandsworth Council and the Chamber of Commerce regularly hold (and sometimes even fund) Business Training and Development for local businesses. Keep an eye on this page to see what’s coming up in April and May.

 

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