Being a small business upstart often means also having a small marketing budget. As such, many small business owners find themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing their own marketing strategy – online or otherwise. The rise of Internet marketing has opened an enormous window of opportunity for new businesses to introduce themselves to the world…if you know how to take advantage of it.
For a small business owner that is solely responsible for his or her own marketing, this technology-based world in which we live has created the need to develop a whole new set of skills that often have nothing to do with the small business’ focus. While most small business owners understand the need for a website and driving visitors to it, that’s typically where their understanding of process ends.
Why Social Networking Is Important
The phrases “building an Internet presence” and “developing an online reputation” are often approached with a great deal of ambivalence, as well as a simple lack of experience marketing a business online. Building a reputation today is no less important than before the advent of the Internet, but the manner by which small business owners can accomplish that goal has changed enormously.
The term “word of mouth advertising” used to apply primarily to the people with whom your customers interact with personally every day. Now, a customer can publish his or her experiences with little more than a few keystrokes…and unlike having to repeatedly share their experience, it is now in print for the entire world to read – like word of mouth advertising that never shuts up.
Building A Reputation Isn’t What It Used To Be
The means by which a business builds rapport with potential customers has changed. Making sales in today’s digital world is no longer about face-to-face or telephone sales pitches…at least not initially. Your business may still ultimately require a face-to-face or telephone meeting to “close the deal”, but your online reputation will often determine whether or not they’re even willing to give you that opportunity. In this technology-based market, it is essential that at least some attention be focused on building your online reputation.
Don’t get me wrong, building a reputation in your local community is no less important than before – but even your local clientele is likely to do research on the Internet long before ever considering with whom to do business. So…what does that mean for small business owners? It means get in the game! There are a number of things you can do to begin cultivating an online reputation. The most important thing is to get involved in the online community that is your target market…and the easiest way to do that is through blogs.
“Blogs…I own a small business. I don’t know anything about blogs…”
That’s okay. Regardless of whether you’re selling women’s shoes, office supplies or cupcakes, there is probably already a community of like-minded people discussing the topics that apply to your business. If you expect consumers to see your small business as a relevant resource in your industry, you have to share what you know online. The first step in building an online reputation is to get yourself in front of your target audience – and that’s by communicating with them. By participating in existing blogs, discussions and forums you introduce yourself to a large number of potential visitors that might never know you exist otherwise.
You may be shocked to find out just how many blogs likely already exist that apply to what you do – and equally shocked at the number of visitors that some of them receive. Never forget that search engines love information…and information is the essence of a blog. If I were selling office supplies for instance, I would likely start my search for blogs by going to Google and inputting “office supplies blog”, and go from there. While a site might really struggle to achieve a good ranking in Google for the term “copiers”, participating in a blog discussion about copiers can expose it to an entire community of people already discussing copiers.
Don’t Be A Jackass
If the extent of your participation in an online discussion is dropping links to your site and mentioning new products you’re trying to peddle, you’ll quickly be labeled a spammer and you’ll have ruined your reputation before you’ve even had the chance to build it. What you contribute to a discussion should be worthwhile, relevant and useful information based on your experience. The same rules of selling apply today in the online world as in the days of door-to-door sales – the more people like you, the more likely they are to buy from you.
The difference today is that you can participate in a discussion that could include people from your town, your state and the entire country – or even around the world. If you hope to attract business from a national or international customer base, carrying on online conversations is often your only chance to build a rapport with potential clients you will never have the opportunity to meet personally. Dip a toe in the social networking pool – your effort will be rewarded if you take the time to become a part of the community you hope to service!