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Guest Article: Cheap and commonsense steps to promote your small business online

Guest Article: Cheap and commonsense steps to promote your small business online

Author | Justin Rabindra | Wednesday, Jul 21,2010 8:45 AM

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Guest Article:  Cheap and commonsense steps to promote your small business online

If you are a small business owner there’s not been a better time to be alive. The Internet is the dream come true for you. In India though, the power of the net has not been grasped yet. I spoke with five small business owners to find out how they were promoting their businesses and here’s what I found. They requested that they remain anonymous.

The businesses included a medium sized real estate agent, a flower vendor with outlets across Delhi, a wedding planner cum organizer who does on average of three weddings a month, a medium sized placement consultant and a specialty Italian restaurant.

The real estate agent advertised in local colony publications and in classified columns of the local dailies. A Google search for ‘Delhi real estate agents’ threw up more yellow page listings than dedicated websites. The agents who did have their own websites mostly had text based designs that looked like online brochures while many had outdated contact information. A similar search on Facebook tossed up some pages that appear to have been started enthusiastically and then abandoned.

The flower vendor had a website that, though not visually impressive, fulfilled its purpose of showcasing their offering including features for online order taking and payment. It however did not come up when I Googled it.

The owner informed me that despite that, almost all his business came from online sources, from all over India and even from abroad. He was doing something right.

The wedding planner used a list of former clients and referrals to get new business. Her only online activity was the active use of Gmail.

The placement consultant had an impressive looking website and had all the elements of a professional jobsite, but for some reason it did not generate the traffic and registrations that you’d expect from a site like that. A little probing showed that he did not do any marketing of the website at all. He believed that ‘if you build they will come.’ The only traffic that he did get was from people who stumbled upon it, and not all of them were necessarily his target audience.

The Italian restaurant, unlike all the others was the most impressive. They had a website which was well designed, up-to-date and reader friendly. And their strategy to promote the restaurant was simple and effective. On typing the restaurant’s name in Google you found it listed prominently, well above its competitors’. You could make reservations online, and they reverted within minutes. And they claimed to know quite accurately how much business was contributed to by online visitors.

If this sounds like what you are doing and experiencing as a small business owner, you are missing out on the power of the Internet and the consequent revenues that just a few smart moves could generate for you.

Here are some ideas to market your small business, whatever business you are in. In fact make the next six months “The Half Year to Truly Establish my Business on the Internet.’

Create a simple, hard working website

You don’t need to hire an expensive web designer to create a professional looking website. There are several web templates (just Google it), including sophisticated flash based ones that anyone with a basic sense of design can use to create an effective website. Many even offer search engine optimization and marketing for a nominal fee.

The best of websites are simple in design, have answers to most customer queries, are easy to navigate, and have an easy to locate ‘Contact Us’ button. These days, any good web designer (and there are many around) will be able to advice you on how to get your website high on the search results page. This involves taking many steps including adding key words and terms in your code. Also, Google is at getting smarter and smarter at being able to identify and list websites that are truly user for the searcher. The first step therefore is to ensure useful and unique content. Think about the service you offer to prospects, how your product is presented, how the leads that you generate are handled. That’s what’s going to sell your product, and not the bells and whistles you add on. How quickly do you revert to customer queries? The sexiest website design won’t salvage a customer turned off by shoddy service.

Write a Blog, anyone can be a writer (well, almost anyone)

Demonstrate that you are an expert in your field, or at least an enthusiast. As a placement consultant write about how to give an interview, how to apply for a scholarship, how to identify the best management schools, which are the best industries to join. Before long you’ll get a dedicated following. You’d be surprised how many people will follow you and even comment, all of which helps towards building your community of prospects. Include pictures and links back to your website.

Smile, you’re on YouTube

YouTube excels at show-and tell. If you’re a restaurant owner you could take your viewer on a guided tour of your restaurant. Talk about your wines and special dishes. Even introduce your chef as he churns up a dish with a flourish in the kitchen. Interview a couple of customers and let them talk about how much they love the fare and experience. Whatever your business, there’s something you could do on YouTube. At almost no cost.

Send out your YouTube link in your emails, post it on your website and encourage your friends to send it to their friends (this is called a viral and it happens naturally if the video is interesting enough.)

Facebook?

There are almost 500 million people on Facebook. Chances are, a large chunk of your prospects are here. By investing a little time and energy on Facebook you can build your brand, engage with customers, and direct relevant traffic to your website, if not to your doorstep. Creating a business page on Facebook allows you to showcase your product and service to all your friends, who in turn can share your page on their personal pages. They become ‘fans’ of your company and this allows you to keep in touch with them. Resist the temptation to spam them with irrelevant information. This is the surest way to lose your friends and be blocked.

You may ask why you need a Facebook page when you already have a website. It’s about being where your customers are. Look at building rapport with prospects, and connecting with them, adding value and sharing information. Once you’ve got your Facebook page ready, you can then promote it through your email, blog and website. Importantly, keep it up-to-date and relevant.

Get Tweeting

What earthly use can an Internet tool that offers 140 character bursts be to a marketer? You’d be surprised. While the majority of people use it to broadcast what they had for breakfast or what a terrible hangover they’re suffering from, smart marketers are using the 140 characters to inform their customers of new launches, to be a listening post for customer service, provide a link to their website, keep track of the buzz in their industry, and network with like-minded people.

As a restaurant owner you can tweet daily specials. A real estate company might tweet new projects on the anvil. A placement agency could announce new jobs that have come up – a glance through the job classifieds will tell you that this feature is an opportunity waiting to be exploited. A flower vendor might tweet special offers on occasions like Valentine’s Day with links to Twitpics and the website.

I’ve just scratched the surface of all that’s possible using tools available on the Internet to promote small (and large) businesses. The idea is to experiment, find out what works for you and get cracking. Having said that, remember that whatever the medium you use, treat your customers with respect, send only relevant messages, don’t spam them, respond promptly to queries. Done consistently, you would be surprised at the kind of results you could get. As David Ogilvy once said, “Raise your sights! Blaze new trails! Compete with the immortal!”

(The author, Justin Rabindra is VP - Training & Knowledge Management at OgilvyOne India. He welcomes feedback at
justin.rabindra@ogilvy.com.)

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