Throughout the last couple of years, the residents of Stratford-Upon-Avon have seen a number of shops and businesses come and go. These have included national, recognisable brands such as Monsoon, Woolworths and most recently, HMV. Instances such as these cast a very gloomy forecast for the future of businesses in the area. The question many people ask is: if large chains such as these are collapsing around us, then what hope is there for small independent companies? Fortunately, there are ways businesses can further their chances of surviving this difficult economic period, and the main thing which small business owners need to embrace is the internet. Now is undoubtedly the time for local companies to start creating solid plans which will give them a lasting presence both online and offline.
It is certainly an area which many people in the field need assistance in. A recent study has shown that over 60% of small business owners still don’t sell products online or even participate in social media. It appears that a lot of small, independent companies view their business in a more traditional marketing light, promoting through methods which once would have been successful but which in today’s climate are simply not enough. Companies need to recognise the many ways that a website and online marketing can increase sales locally, nationally, and even globally.
Creating an online presence for your business is important even if your company is one which delivers products or services which are not of a digital nature. Beauty clinics, local gyms, plumbers and builders may not think a website is relevant to them; however it is important to recognise that interacting with your customer base online can be one of the best ways to maintain a healthy relationship offline.
Many local companies may think that they lack the huge budget needed to launch a website and invest in online marketing, but this is a misconception. In fact, it can cost very little to implement these things, and using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter costs nothing at all. There are various online steps that you can take to ensure your business has the best chance of surviving 2013.
1. Be accessible and easy to contact
The ultimate rule for getting the most out of being online is making sure that your business is easy to contact and accessible to local shoppers. Social media is the ideal fit for this aspect of online marketing, as it gives your potential customers 24-hour access to you. Even when you are not around to receive calls and enquiries, customers can message you via social media. Don’t forget there are literally hundreds of social media and networking sites around, so be sure to conduct research and find the ones which suit your industry.
Of course, it is likely that you will need to have a basic website running, which contains important information about your services along with contact details. Depending on your budget, you could have your website designed and built to your specification by a local design company.
2. Focus your attention locally, not nationally
Online marketing activities can be very time consuming, and while you might want to get your business to a national level and see sales increases, this is not always immediately possible. Try to keep your business focus local to begin with, until you have found your feet. Remember, a lot of your customers will still be coming from the local areas, so it is still the ideal starting ground for attracting custom.
There are plenty of local reviews, map and directory sites available on the internet. Use these; they are the ideal platform for sharing your services and special offers with the customers who are actually close enough to make use of them.
Funnel your expertise and knowledge into creating fresh content for your blog, which will help your local business steadily get higher in Google rankings. The best way to do this is by starting a small online blog where you can talk about your services. One essential tip to remember: your customer wants information, not sales messages. Keep the content genuine, new and interesting enough for people to want to share with others. This is how you get much-needed traffic to your site and earn back-links which Google will love.
3. Think outside of the box
One of the most exciting things about having a web presence is that you can essentially do anything you want for your business. The more innovative your ideas, the more likely they are to get attention.
If you run a small gym, why not look at creating a range of short exercise videos to give people a taste of your classes? Run a beauty salon? Consider photographing your work and sharing the photos via sites such as Pinterest and Instagram. As the business owner, you have full control over just how creative you get with your business.
Before you jump in though, think about where your customers will likely be looking for you and your services. For example, visual sites such as Instagram work brilliantly for creative industries, and less so for others. Investing in the wrong channels could cost you a lot in time and even money.
4. Build a relationship with your loyal customers
Finally, find new ways that you can reward those loyal customers who are regularly helping your business – and also see if they can help you attract new custom. Social media has become the one-stop shop to find reviews and recommendations about a business; so why not encourage your loyal customers to recommend you via these sites? In turn, you can use Twitter and Facebook pages to contact regular customers and offer them exclusive offers and promotions.
The internet has completely changed the way we make purchasing decisions due to the ready availability of online reviews, so no matter what size business you run can’t neglect this medium. Interacting with your customers means that you have more control over your online reputation, and building relationships with regular shoppers helps create a positive image of your brand.
After reading this article, you now hopefully realise that you don’t need to spend big to make a local impact. Focus on developing a small hub online and build on this with interesting content and consistent updates and communication with your clients and customers. Your main goal is getting people to choose you over your other local competitors, and moving your business online is the most effective way to give yourself an advantage.
Article submitted by Kevin Wiles
Member since: 10th July 2012
We have a real passion for the Stratford area which we believe is superb and the businesses within it.
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