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Strategies for a small business online presence, part 2

Ryan Boudreaux shares more tips for creating an online presence for local restaurants and retailers. Here are the fundamentals that you need to consider.

Continuing with the second segment of this two part series on small business online strategies, I will review the business models for local restaurants and for small retailer shops. If you missed the first part, I covered B2B strategies.

Allow me to restate that the strategies I provide here are not a one-size fits-all approach, even for similar businesses, such as restaurants and retail, but it should give you some basic pointers that you can customize for your individual business.

Local restaurant

It still amazes me how many local restaurants do not have an online presence, not even a simple Facebook page, and perchance only a listing in the online yellow pages or local Yelp, or Urbanspoon. While limiting your online presence to these listings and reviews that others post about your restaurant might be all you need to keep your business running, it helps if you have control over your own online presence too.

For the absolute basics, you will want to include the same content set as the B2B business, including the restaurant location, directions, main phone number, fax number, and email contact. In addition, you will want to include your hours of operation for each meal time, including separate dining and lounge service periods if applicable.

Your next step would be to include an online version of your complete menu including food and beverages and any special menus such as brunch, buffets, or holiday and event menus. A section about the restaurant, your type of cuisine or style of cooking, a bio on the chef, and any other fascinating content you can provide will help attract potential patrons. Maybe your restaurant is located inside a National Historic Landmark; therefore, you would want to emphasize that fact and use it as a promotional tool. If you have any published reviews from local or national press you would want to link to their online versions, or put a section of block quotes with excerpts that highlight the finer points of your establishment. Has your restaurant won any James Beard Awards? You most certainly want to promote and spotlight any awards that the restaurant has won as another marketing tool to attract customers. Showing that you are rated highly among your peers helps to generate trust and credibility with potential and existing customers, but they won't know anything about your restaurant if you don't promote it through your online strategy.

If you are looking to progress toward a forward-thinking strategy then you might want to "kick it up a notch", and incorporate an online reservations system. OpenTable is one such method that assists thousands of restaurants nationwide with seating more than 12 million diners per month via online bookings. Are you building up a customer list of your regular guests? Start up a regular email newsletter campaign including dining coupons based on certain purchase levels, for instance offer $5.00 off a check total of $25 or more, and $10 off of $50. Of course Groupon is another option, but some restaurants are unable to handle the volumes that these promotions can generate, so you have to be careful when starting out with a coupon campaign. Of course, a blog and active social media presence would round out your enhanced online presence.

And don't forget about the blog as a tool to market your recipes, events, and other content to get your customers engaged with the pulse of your hospitality industry business. Foodies and their blogs have exploded in numbers over the last 10 years or so, and getting them involved with your blog is a great way to spread the word of mouth marketing for your restaurant.

Small retailer

Most retailers exist as brick and mortar locations, and some exist as virtual only ventures, and being able to compete against them can be a huge battle for the traditional retailer business model especially if there is no online presence. The physical mall is being eroded more as virtual online establishments continue to add eCommerce to their portfolio of tools that attract more customers away from shopping centers and strip malls.

At a bare minimum you need to have all the similar strategies as the other business models described here, a store location with directions, hours of operation, phone and fax numbers, and a contact email address.

Additionally, and for added value, you would want to incorporate a list of your product lines and brand names. A short history of the business, or an About page would be helpful. Maybe your store has been in business for generations; you should promote any aspects that are unique to your business. Promote sales and offer coupons online that would attract more customers to your physical location.

Venturing into uncharted territory might mean that you need to add in an eCommerce feature that enables you to sell your product line using an online ordering process. There are many products that can help with online sales, for instance, Dydacomp offers the Multichannel Order Manager (MOM) that is built for eCommerce, multi-channel and distribution businesses. Again, just like advanced strategies for B2Bs and restaurants businesses a blog that captures online interest and customer involvement along with social media interaction and a regular email newsletter campaign are additional tools that help to further an online presence for retail businesses.

Resources

This is a short list of resources for further reading on small business online strategies, including the Entrepreneur article which reviews how a small perfume retailer went from a brick and mortar business model to a pure virtual online business. Colm McGill provides a series of articles on content marketing strategies for small business, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) has a vast list of resources for growing an online business including a partnership with Google tools for online success.

    About

    Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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