Published May. 9, 2013
The internet has become an essential part of everyday life—for work and play. As a result, there have never been more ways to get your business online. This Q&A provides some basic information that will help you decide what type of online presence is right for your business. The term “online presence” simply refers to the different ways you represent your business online – whether that is a website or a page on a social network like Facebook.
Q: WHY SHOULD I GET ONLINE?
A: Two words: growth and control.
1. Growth - The idea that an online presence will help grow your business is backed up by some pretty impressive statistics. A full 91% of customers look online for local goods and services.1 People’s preference is to find information quickly online using their computer or a mobile device. In today’s world it’s a simple fact—your business has to be online to be found online. Businesses that actively engage customers online can expect to grow 40% faster than they would without an online presence.2
2. Control - Most small business owners are independent, self-motivated, and take-charge people. Small businesses have always thrived by word of mouth and customer referrals, but if you don’t have control of your business’ online presence, others will. Online reviews and comments make it easy for a few unhappy customers to take over the story. When over 90% of the public are looking for you online, you want to have a say in what they find. Take charge of what is said about your business by building a strong, positive online presence. It’s easier than you think, and more valuable than you can imagine.
Q: HOW DO I GET ONLINE?
A: There are three basic options to get started: social networks and e-commerce sites, company-branded email, and/or a company website. We recommend that you eventually support all three in your online efforts – but getting started with at least one option is a step in the right direction.
1. Social Networks & E-Commerce - It’s hard to believe that just ten years ago, no one had really heard of Facebook or Twitter. Today over a billion people use these social networks as well as e-commerce sites like amazon.com, etsy.com, and Yelp.com. There are many positives: it’s very easy to set up a social network page, there’s a built-in base of potential customers, and it’s a great way to get started with a low-commitment online presence.
If you decide that your sole online presence will be on a Facebook-type site, 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 a company-branded email through the domain name.
2. Company-Branded Email -
Whether or not you choose to build your own website, we recommend that you secure a domain name and start using that name as your email address (e.g. email@example.com
). It can make a big difference to potential customers. In fact, a full 90% of people feel more comfortable as the customer of a small business with branded email versus those that use @aol.com, @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc3. Once you secure a domain name, you can set up multiple email addresses for different employees or departments for a consistent company impression (firstname.lastname@example.org
, etc.). You work hard to be professional with your services, equipment, and staff – that professionalism should extend to your email and give potential customers added confidence in your business.
3. Company Website - A website will offer you the most advantages in terms of flexibility and control—and it can be very, very simple. Think of a website as a 1-page flyer or an ad for your business. The first and most important step is getting your domain name which will be your virtual address 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 so it can be 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.
Q: HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
A: Not much. The key to any online presence will be your domain name—which 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 everything you need to build and maintain your website (domain names, hosting, and design templates) and can start from only 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.
The key point is that you do not have to pay much to have an effective online presence. The most important outcome is that your company is represented online in the way you want. You want the business that you’ve built to be represented online the same way you would describe it to a potential customer. Whether on Facebook, amazon, 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.