Today is the first in a series of Ten Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make Preventing Web Profitability.
No matter how far you have gotten in developing your marketing strategy that includes using the internet as a sales and growth channel for your business, there is no excuse for not claiming your name. These are the 8 basic property categories I recommend every small business claim to begin the process of building a web presence. Almost all are currently free or very inexpensive and can be claimed with a few hours work.
1. Website: Believe it or not, I recently read that only 44% of small businesses have their own websites. Yet, recent studies indicate that between 65-80% of consumers use the internet to search for local businesses and over 2/3 of all consumers read ratings and reviews prior to making purchase decisions. At the very least, claim your unique name using an inexpensive service such as godaddy.com. Claim your personal name (if still available) and your business name.
2. Join several social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. There are very easy user interfaces which walk you through the sign-up process and you are certain to find many of your current contacts and friends already there populating an instant network for you. Currently, Facebook has over 150 million users and LinkedIn has 12 million. Growth in social networks has been off the charts across all demographic groups.
3. Get listed on the big search engine directories such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Yellow Pages, and AOL. It only takes a few minutes to claim and update your business listing (which may already be listed) and make sure it reflects your hours of service and a description of your business services.
4. Sign up for local community social networks such as MerchantCircle, Biznik and Konnects. This is a growing segment in the social networking landscape but one which holds benefit for small businesses targeting locals. Think of them as your virtual chamber of commerce. Speaking of the Chamber of Commerce, many local branches have business networks and directories on Facebook or Ning. Check your local newspapers, general as well as local business publications. Many of these media outlets are increasing their online presence with blogs, directory listings and message boards. In most cases, the basic fee to join these listings is free or minimal charge.
5. Business and Industry Verticals: Are there online directories specific to your industry? Many professional organizations and certification boards provide online directory listings: lawyers, doctors, dentists, real estate agents and other vertical industry boards allow you to post your profile and update it with your products, services, etc. Are there referral or certification boards in your field? Add your profile.
6. Rating Services: Ratings and ranking are already a part of some of the directories I have already mentioned (Yahoo and Google are notable) but there are new ones emerging every day. Check out Yelp and Citisearch to see if your type of business is listed there and claim your listing.
7. Microblogs: Twitter, Jaiku and Pluck are the companies in this space with Twitter currently leading the charge (over 1300% growth from Feb 2008 to 2009). Don’t be put off by the stream of consciousness of the worlds millions of Twitter users (see my post Twitterfied?). Remember when you had a chance to claim your own name in email 15 years ago and you did not and now you have an interesting email address like email@example.com? At the very minimum, claim your name and/or your business name. When you become more comfortable with the medium and begin to see just how beneficial this tool can be for your business, you will be glad you claimed your real estate. Combined with pervasive mobile communications, Microblogs hold tremendous promise for small business to target promotions.
8. Groups: I use Ning, Facebook, and LinkedIn and have begun to use Ryze for groups. Look for groups in your industry that are active and welcoming to new members. Look for groups where your customers hang out so you can begin forming relationships and getting to know their needs for your business. Create your own groups, fan pages on Facebook or in Ning and invite your followers to join. Start your own group under your company name.
Think of your web presence as if it is a big virtual game of monopoly. When you first start going around the game board, you buy all the property you can afford. Over time, you figure out which properties can be leveraged for the most profit. You build on the most profitable (just like adding hotels in monopoly) and you weed out the unprofitable properties.
I think it is very early in evolution of the social media game. Some social sites will emerge as clear winners and some will disappear. Some businesses will adopt early and succeed and some will crash and burn. Some late adopters will arise to wow and surprise the markets. The only mistake for your business is if you don’t get in the game – your customers are expecting it.