How many times have you searched for a small business or organization and found that they do not have a website? Or if they do have an online presence, it exists in very limited form, with little information about them or what they provide. Finding simple information such as hours of operation for a brick-and-mortar shop, location information, or even a phone number can be like pulling teeth. But, it doesn't have to be that way, right?
Small businesses arrive in as many shapes, sizes, flavors, and purposes as their title, and while their main objective is to provide a product or service, their approaches to an online presence are probably as varied as their business names and individual objectives. So how does one develop a strategy for an online presence for new and existing small businesses?
A one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to succeed; there will always be a certain strategy that works well for some but not for others. Strategies can be tailored to fit a business to business (B2B) approach, a single or small restaurant chain, or a mom-and-pop retail store. Other differentiators will be founded on legal status, company size, location, and whether the business exists as a physical storefront or only online.
This two part piece will distill several strategies that might be considered for these three types of small businesses:
- Local restaurant
- Small retailer
Each type can have overlapping strategies, and some will include specific strategies suited to their type of business. The second part wraps up with a list of resources for further study on the subjects of small business online strategies.
Business To Business (B2B)
One of the hurdles of establishing a B2B business model is gaining the trust of other businesses to work with you, especially since much of the commerce is conducted by interstate and foreign transactions; therefore, it's hard to authenticate the validity of an organization without some form of online presence.
At a bare minimum, you would want to include your physical office location, including directions along major routes and local landmarks to let your visitors know where you are on the map. Then you need to have some contact information such as your main business phone number and fax number(s), and email addresses for the main points of communication into your company.
Next, you would want to include intermediate content that helps to describe your business. A separate web page document, tab, or section should offer more details about the services and products you offer. Another section could contain a history and background of your company and list any awards or major projects that you want to highlight. Also, provide links to mentions in the press, customer testimonials, or other information that helps to promote the business.
Going a step further, another valuable tool for your B2B is an email newsletter campaign with a regular publishing schedule, be it weekly, monthly, or on a quarterly basis. Many email marketing services provide automated newsletter services, or you can manually run the newsletter process through your own resources. Consider your social media options with the creation of a business Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest, and so forth. (For more great tips, see TechRepublic's Social Media in the Enterprise blog.)
And finally, consider a blog which can help your business to engage your clients on topics that pertain to your specific niche or areas of interest. WordPress and Drupal are two of the top-ranked blog engines in use today, and the best part is that both are free and open source applications. In addition, both of these blog applications have evolved more into Content Management Systems (CMS) that can power an entire website, not just the blog portion. For instance this article I wrote in 2011 describes how WordPress can power your website's CMS. And this article from 2012 describes using the Drupal CMS in a cloud implementation. Also, to give you an idea of the versatile nature of the Drupal CMS, this gallery highlights 15 Drupal CMS-Powered websites.
Next time, we'll look at small business strategies for the local restaurant and the local small retailer business models as examples, and we'll wrap up with a list of resources for further study.
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 government.