Venturing into the online world is crucial for any business today. Gone are the days when posters, fliers, leaflets and tarpaulins are distributed in crowded places. Gone are the days when startup micro businesses have no fighting chance against large corporations who monopolize TV, radio and newspaper ad spaces.
The Internet has leveled the playing field, and anyone and everyone can come in and penetrate the huge market of Internet users.
The first step, though, is to let everyone know, [drumroll] “Here comes a new challengerrrr!”. Read: Let your target customers know you exist. Claim your online spaces.
Establishing your company’s online presence is a MUST and a continuous, long term process. But first things first, let's focus on the foundational step of this very long journey: setting it all up.
1. Claim Your Cyber Real Estate
Everything starts with a working email address, and the rest is just about filling up registration forms and being consistent in all your online spaces. Think of your website as your business address. If you want your business to be found, your address has to be visible in the world wide web.
Register your Domain Name
I mean, if you haven't yet.
Choose a good domain registrar company and buy the domain name/s that will best represent your business. It is also recommended that you purchase all domain variations like .net, .org, .biz, etc. to prevent cybersquatting.
Subscribe to a good hosting plan and set up your website. If you don’t know how to do this, there are many website developers that offer packages that may suit your budget well. Make sure your website has the basic pages: homepage, company profile, products/service and contact information. Publish the most informative content as possible to let first-time visitors know who you are.
Set up a Blog
We, at Spiralytics, are advocates of blogging as a tool for marketing and trust-building. If your website is your home, your blog is your living room. This is where you receive your visitors, and potential clients get a glimpse of who you are.
Fortune 500 companies have each of their own company blogs, even smallest home-based businesses that are built overnight. In a nutshell, companies with blogs tend to exude a more credible, trustworthy and authoritative reputation in their respective industries. Now, it must be filled with fresh, new content on a regular basis.
Create an Email Address with Your Domain
Try to veer away from using free email addresses (@gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail). Having your domain name in your email address (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org) gives the impression that you mean business.
IMPORTANT: Choose a Unique Handle
This is not always possible but we highly recommend having a unique handle that you can use for all of your online "properties". What do I mean by this? It means, choosing a social media handle that's consistent with, say, your URL or your company name.
There are several reasons why you want to do this. First, it avoids confusion. Visitors can easily find you without confusing you with other similarly named brands. This is also handy for people who like cross-posting across several social media channels. Ex: tagging you @mybrand on instagram will automatically tag you @mybrand on Twitter should you want to reshare your content.
Which brings us to establishing your social presence.
2. Get to Know the People in Your Neighborhood
You don’t have to be in all social networks, know which ones you want to prioritize. Sure, if you have the resources and the budget to be in every social network, well and good. But if you can’t maintain all of them, then don’t.
The only thing worse than not establishing your presence in social media is having a social media account that is not being updated.
Be purposeful in choosing which social network to set up camp in:
Google Places & Google Plus
Begin with Google Plus and Google Places (then Google Local to exist in Google maps). Being present in these services is the easiest way to be found in the biggest search engine in the www. Be thorough in filling up these accounts.
Facebook is the top social networking site to date, with 1.11 billion users as of May 2013. More than your website and Google pages, a Facebook page lets you build a more personal relationship with your client, and hence it’s the cheapest and easiest way to grow your community.
Signup with a Facebook personal profile, and create a Facebook page under a specific category. Like your website’s domain name, choose a Facebook page name that best represents your business. Upload your logo and complete the basic information needed. Start posting content that you would like your community to see.
Twitter is an excellent tool to build a community. It is a microblogging tool that allows you to receive and send messages up to 140 characters long
Choose your Twitter username, complete the profile information fields, and start following people and business entities that you would want to be associated with. Follow your customers, business partners, suppliers, contractors, vendors, your competitors and peers. Start tweeting information, links, photos, videos that you think may be around your community’s areas of interest.
LinkedIn Company Profile
LinkedIn, with over 200 million users, is the site where people interact in a professional and corporate environment. Having a LinkedIn presence lets your constituents know you are a legitimate entity that have professional networks, employees and linkages.
Profile pages serve as online resumes. Likewise, LinkedIn company profiles showcases your company’s story, products and services, as well as the types of industries and professionals your company is associated with. To setup a LinkedIn company page, however, requires you to have your company email address for example, email@example.com.
Pinterest and Instagram
If your business is related to fashion, lifestyle, and photography, I suggest you establish presence in Pinterest and Instagram. These social networks are known for being very visual in nature, which is beneficial for specific niches.
Like I said earlier, you don’t need to be in all social networks but you have to know where to set up camp, or where your target market is. Some social channels work particularly well for specific niches. (Other samples: Pinterest for Interior Design, Architecture, Fashion; LinkedIn for Businesses and Human Resources, Linkedin for Businesses and Startups; Twitter for B2B, Customer Service, IT, etc.)
3. Engage, Interact, and Nurture Relationships
The next phase of establishing and maintaining your online presence requires you to have a full-time online marketing person because you need to engage, interact, monitor and update all activities within your online spaces.
In brief, you need to always send out fresh content, connect with existing client base, interact with them, expand those communities, and receive feedback. It’s all about letting your customers know that your business exists, cares and listens.
4. Capture Leads
Every business needs to sell.
Startups need support to generate leads fast and gain and grow their customer base. This is where all online marketing campaigns come in. Leveling up your online presence means reaching out and raking in. It is not enough that your business exists online. The most important thing is to capture leads and eventually convert them to paying customers.
While taking the first steps are usually the hardest ones to make, establishing continuity is where you start winning and making business. And this involves an intentional strategy that aims to sell. Which brings us to the next step.
5. Optimize Your Website Pages
You have to make sure that your website is optimized to gain traffic, sales and leads, otherwise, you're just like standing in a crowded location handing out fliers.
Knowing your business goals is one thing, making sure that your website pages reflect those goals is another. To know more about how to set up your website for success, here's an ebook, 25 Website Must Haves for Driving Traffic, Sales & Leads, that you can download for free. You're welcome. :)