An online presence is vital for business growth, those who attended an Ai Group webinar about ‘going digital’ heard last week.
Business Recovery Advisers Tony Barrett and Millie Wall, who are working with flood-affected businesses across Victoria, said every business, regardless of size, location or type, needed to be online.
“It's where your customers are,” Mr Barrett said
“Ninety-seven per cent of people search online for local businesses, so if you're not there or if you don't have a good presence online, you're missing out on potential business.
“It also broadens your reach; anyone who has access to the Internet is a potential customer. People expect to be able to find you online.”
Creating an online presence can be done quickly, easily and inexpensively.
“A website adds credibility and professionalism to your business,” Mr Barrett said.
“It’s an essential step in the customer journey and because you own it, you can tell your story and promote your business in the way you want.
“If you can give potential customers a positive experience on your website, that leads them to the next step and so on — and that's growth for your business.
“People expect you to have a website to the point that not having one can be a huge disadvantage.”
“It's yours while you own it; nobody else can take it.
Choose a domain name that ends in dot au (.au) or dot com dot au (.com.au) since this feature is exclusive to businesses physically located in Australia.
“This can make your business seem more trustworthy and reliable because your customers will know you have to adhere to Australian standards,” Ms Wall said.
“Don’t ever let your domain name lapse,” Ms Wall said.
“Turn on auto renewal because if your domain name lapses, someone else might grab it.”
“Every business should have a website, but how sophisticated does it need to be?” Mr Barrett said.
“Can you create a simple one yourself that does the job, or do you need more sophisticated functionality, in which case outsourcing might make more sense?”
Shopify, meanwhile, is a quick and easy way to set up an online store.
To determine which platform to use, consider these questions:
Is it to give information? Is it to be an online shop? Do you want people to contact you or book online?
Be clear about your goals to determine which features and functions you need.
Many platforms will have a free trial, so explore each one to decide what's right for you.
Most allow you to create your website for free but require a subscription when you publish it and when people transact on your site.
Prices might range from $180-$650, depending on the features and functions you choose.
“The more features built into it and the more automated the website, the more expensive it will be,” Ms Wall said.
You might need just a simple site with the following sections on a single page:
However, multi-page websites are more common.
These feature a homepage, where people land when they go to your website, along with other pages they can navigate to from the homepage.
Depending on the type of your business, you may add sections such as:
“People go to your website because they want to learn more about your business,” Ms Wall said.
“They might be ready to buy, so make sure they've got all the information they need to transact with you or to contact you.”
Analytics, built into most websites, will provide insight into who's landing on your website which may influence your marketing strategy.
Establish your branding — fonts, imagery style and colours — before you set up your website.
SEO — search engine optimisation — is the art of getting found in online searches.
“People search online because they are aware of a problem and are looking for a solution,” Mr Barrett said.
“They might be looking for a plumber, wedding photographer or bakery.
“If you’re that type of business, you want to be found online, high up in the search, where most people look.
“Google Business Profiles usually appear at the top of searches.”
This is an important online tool separate from your website.
Google your business name and location to check if your business already has a Google Business Profile.
“Google creates your Google Business Profile often before you realise it,” Mr Barrett said.
“If that happens, use the link provided to claim and optimise it.”
You can build one from scratch here.
Google Business Profiles provide an overview of your business, along with reviews and photos.
“Crucially, a Google Business Profile allows you to show up in Google Maps, so if people are searching Google Maps for a business in their area, you will show up,” Mr Barrett said.
Social media is also a powerful business tool.
“Latest statistics show there are 4.89 billion social media users, so it's an incredible way to reach potential customers,” Mr Barrett said.
“If you’re not on social media and your competitors are, they are very likely connecting with your target audience while you're not. You could be missing that market share, or you might actually be losing customers.”
Social media users don't like a ‘hard sell’.
“They’re there to enjoy themselves, so give them a reason to follow you and engage with your brand,” Mr Barrett said.
“You can still have calls to action, but your followers are not yet aware of their ‘problem’.
“You're there to make them aware: ‘Here's my business; here's a problem you might be having; here's why we should connect'."
Facebook is a good place to start.
It has a wide audience with 3 billion monthly active users.
Many locals go to Facebook and its community pages for information.
You can join these pages and post within them to raise awareness of your business.
Be clear about your target audience. Ask yourself: “Who are my customers?”
“If you are a clothing shop and sell to teenagers, it would be more strategic to focus on short-video platform TikTok or photo-sharing app, Instagram, than Facebook,” Mr Barrett said.
“On the other hand, if you're a local plumber or butcher wanting to share your specials, Facebook is more suitable.”
Social media might seem overwhelming at first, so take it slow as you start.
Consider posting once a week and build it up from there.
“It’s all about creating value for your followers,” Ms Wall said.
“Ask yourself: ‘What would my customers like to hear from me?’
“Don't feel like you need to keep up with the activity of large businesses.”
If social media really isn’t in your skillset, you can always outsource it.
Unlike your website, you don’t own your Facebook page — or any other social media account.
“This means you are subject to the whims of social media platforms,” Mr Barrett said.
“I've had conversations with multiple business owners who have been shut down on Facebook which cost them a lot of business.
“Secondly, Facebook is limited from a search perspective. People can find you if they're already on Facebook and know your business name, but outside of that, it's more difficult to be found.
“Finally, people tend to scroll past a lot of things on Facebook as they look for friends or funny videos. It can be easy for potential customers to miss you.
“A website, on the other hand, provides more of a contained and focused custom experience for your customers, and in that way, it can be a powerful tool.”
Embrace all three elements of going digital:
Decide what’s most important to your business to determine how much time and money to spend on each element.
“Be honest about your capability,” Mr Barrett said.
“If you struggle to buy something off eBay or Amazon, building a website may not be realistic.
“Think not just about the price it might cost someone else to build your website or manage your social media, think about the time you could be saving to focus on other aspects of growing your business.”
Don’t miss the next FREE webinar, Fundamentals of Financial Management for Business Owners, next Thursday, October 26. Register here.
Wendy Larter is Ai Group's Communications Manager. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.