Taking My Business Online, Part One - What Do I Need?

Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm taking my business online, but how do I know what I need?

If your business plan identifies that your market is online (trust me, it will do), an online strategy needs to be developed. This usually forms part of your business and marketing plan. In fact, going online should be addressed in your business plan. 


What do I need on my website?

A company website needs to do at least one of these things, usually several of the following things. Which ones apply will depend on your business, your customers and, your business and marketing plan.


  1. I need to educate my customers

Do you need to explain your company to your customers? This may include a description of what it does, the industry it operates in, what services it offers, what products it sells? A website should have the content and information that customers can use to discover what your business does and the products on offer.

The answer should be yes.

One way for a business to provide information to its customers is by keeping the website information up to date. To do this, your website should have a CMS (Content Management System). This is the ‘backend’ to your website where content can be added, changed and deleted without having to know how to code.

You will also need to develop a plan around what content is needed to educate your customers about your business. You may need written content (website copy, articles, white papers), videos (informational, support, explanatory), visuals (images, photos, diagrams, maps, infographics, cartoons) or other content (podcasts, audio files etc).

Think about what you need to tell your customers; knowing who they are, what’s the best way to communicate this information, too? Then, work out what content you already have that can be used or adapted, and what remains that you need to create.

There are content specialists who can assist with all aspects of content creation. If you can afford it, this can be a wise investment. Why?

Two reasons. Firstly, search engines exist to find information customers want and need. If you have that content, then a search engine will show your site to those customers. Content specialists are experts in creating content that customers want to read and that search engines take notice of.

Secondly, the content on your site is often the first impression a customer may have of your business. If it is not professional or appealing, you will have lost a potential customer you didn’t know you ever had.


  1. I need to answer my customers’ questions

Think about every question you get asked by your customers. Some are simple and easy. Others are much more complex.

Your website may be there to provide information to your customers about your products and services. Perhaps there are frequently asked questions (FAQs) that you can make available so that customers can quickly help themselves.

Perhaps you need to offer more specific support. You may need a chat service that alerts your support team when someone is on the website looking for help.

Knowing what questions your customers regularly ask will help a web developer or a digital marketing consultant work out the best ways to deliver that information.


  1. I need to sell products

Selling products online requires a few specific online tools – an inventory system, a catalogue to display products to customers and a shopping cart with secure payment options. This makes up what is commonly referred to as an eCommerce solution.

All good web developers have experience in eCommerce and can implement sophisticated online shopping systems. There are also off the shelf solutions that someone with no technical knowledge can set up instantly. BigCommerce is one of the biggest providers of simple, easy to build and operate online stores. Setting up an online store can take minutes and requires no technical knowledge.

If you are planning to sell your products online, ensure you have your returns policy, customer service process, and inquiry systems set up before you start selling. Poor customer service can ruin an eCommerce store.


Other considerations


Do I need to consider mobile internet users?

Yes. It’s a simple as that. Most people have smartphones and are accessing the internet from them daily. Your website, regardless of its function needs to be accessible and workable from a smart phone and tablet device.


Do I need an app?

It depends. An app is a piece of software that is downloaded onto a computer or smart device. This means you have to keep that piece of software up to date all the time. It also means that you have to pay a developer to create and maintain the app.

Depending on the purpose and model of your business, an app may be applicable. But, in many instances a mobile friendly website can suffice. Discuss this with your developer, marketing team, or marketing consultant.


Do I need social media?

Yes. But, which social platforms are relevant to your business will vary. Understanding what platforms exist and if your customers are on them is essential.

Know that operating a proper, successful social media marketing channel takes time and dedication.

A good place to understand what may work best for your business is to investigate what your competitors or others in similar industries are doing. But that doesn’t meant they are doing it correctly. Once you have an understanding of what’s happening, have a discussion with your web developer. They may refer you to a social media or marketing expert who can help you decide what social media activities your business should undertake as a part of its marketing.


Do I need a blog?

A blog is a way of publishing short pieces of content, like articles or ideas. It can be a great way to provide regular, thoughtful pieces of information about your business to the market.

But it’s also a commitment. A blog needs regular, relevant content, so consider what content you want to talk about and share with your customers, and then, if such a commitment is the best way to do it.


Do I need search marketing?

Search marketing refers to the ads that appear in search engines. Often, when you do a search, results at the top of the page and on the right hand side appear, different from normal or ‘organic’ search results. These are ads.

The ads have paid to be shown based on particular words or phrases. So, when someone who uses those words or phrases performs a search, the ads are displayed.

Depending on your business, search marketing may be a consideration. It is best to discuss your business, its services and your ideal customer with a search marketing expert to determine if it is a worthwhile investment.


Do I need SEO?

SEO  - or Search Engine Optimisation – is a practice designed to ensure your website and its content is returned at a decent position in search results. That is, that your content is the best fit for the search question that has been asked.

There are a great many ways to influence where your site appears in search engines, but no one company has the answer. Pay for advice but the key is to have good content – the content that your customers are looking for.


Do I need email marketing?

Yes. Once you have customers then you can communicate with them directly via email. This may be in the form of a regular newsletter, or it may be something like an email sales catalogue.

If you need to capture email addresses on your website, you will need to use an email marketing tool. MailChimp and Aweber are just two of the many options out there. A widget from the email tool can be embedded into your website to capture the email address of customers who sign up to your newsletter or catalogue.

Make sure you understand the SPAM Act 2003, before your begin email marketing. If you are unsure, talk to an online savvy lawyer before hitting send, as penalties are steep!


What do my competitors have?

When you‘re planning your online strategy, always investigate what your competitors are doing and what’s happening in your industry. This way you’ll have a good understanding of what customers are used to from businesses like yours. Once you’ve established what the minimum is they expect, you can then explore how your business could do things better online and exceed their expectations.


There is a lot to know about going online, but here’s my final tip: you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches if you accept that building an online presence is never finished. There is always something new happening, technology and customer expectations will change – your business will have to change online too.


Know that going online is an important but ever-changing investment in your business. And, as with all aspects of business, finding the right partners and arming yourself with the knowledge to make informed decisions is vital to success. Coming up in part two, what to look for and ask web developers when taking your small business online.