We’re forever hearing about the death of the high street and how small business is being beaten by emerging internet giants. In many cases this has proven to be indisputably true; shops have closed; service providers have folded; their online counterparts have flourished. The true beauty of the most recently emerged digital tech however, is that it is genuinely universal.
If you have a computer, or even just a smartphone, there are innumerable ways in which you can enhance your business. The true fact of the matter is that these days you can no longer blame the internet for destroying small business; you need to adjust the focus so that you’re scrutinising closer to home and ask yourself why it is that you’ve not been using all of the tools available to you.
So, here is how PeoplePerhour’s small businesses make the most of digital, to drive real sales.
1. Find the tools relevant to you. One of the major reasons behind failed digital campaigns is that companies spread themselves too thinly. In trying to get a finger in every pie they fail to make an impact on any of them, so it pays to take some time to research what tools/platforms are available and select just a couple that are relevant to you. From there, you can plan your online marketing structure around them. This way you’ll leave that hit-or-miss scattergun effect behind and stand a real chance of hitting your target.
2. Make the most of social media. Social media can seem like a bit of a pointless quagmire, but the numbers really speak for themselves. There are more than 1 billion Facebook users, 305 million active Twitter users, and 300 million Instagram users. Admittedly, they’re not all going to be shopping in your town, but some of them will be and social media is a great way to reach them. For some brands going social is just about promotions, for others it can be a great live customer service feed, so keep on top of your social accounts and keep your customers happy.
3. Use your reviews. While we’re talking about customer feedback, make sure that you maximise positive interaction. If someone sends you a positive tweet, retweet it, so that everyone can see it. If someone leaves a glowing review on TripAdvisor, add that to your social pages, and go one step further – print it out and put it on display on your business’ noticeboard. Equally, if you receive a negative review, deal with it graciously; show that you’re willing to correct mistakes. Petulance is rarely profitable, but grace under fire can win you friends.
4. Make yourself visible. Whether you’re a retailer or a service provider, your customers – and more importantly, your potential customers – need to be able to find you. While a well maintained frontage and signage used to be enough, these days you need to be seen online as the majority of people will research before they commit to a physical visit. A quick, easy, and surprisingly free way to get yourself seen is to list your company on Google Maps. Visit Google My Business and follow the prompts. If you want a prime, prominent listing there is a pricing structure, but all you really need is to get your business seen, and once you’re registered you will literally be putting your business on the map. If yours is a destination business – café/restaurant/club/hotel – you can do the same on TripAdvisor.
5. Keep your online content fresh. If you have a website make sure that it represents who you are and what you do. If you want to attract customers you wouldn’t presumably allow your company façade to slip, with peeling paint, poor displays and out of date products on the shelves. A website needs equal care and attention. You don’t need to revamp it every five minutes, but you do need to ensure that any information is kept up to date. If you have something new for customers to keep coming back to – reviews, competitions, new products/services to see, newsletters – then you’ll remain on their active radar.
6. Make the most of your digital data. One of the most difficult aspects of online business is working out what’s working for you, so use data tracking software – something like Google Analytics – to find out where your online customers are coming from, and what they’re looking at on your website. If something is going well, replicate it. If something is receiving no hits at all, you have an instant area of improvement to work upon. There are a number of free-to-use analytics programmes available online, so check out the reviews, then check out your traffic.
7. Make your business tech-friendly. If yours is a business which welcomes customers onto the premises, allow them to use your wi-fi and you’ll have friends for life. For cafes, bars and restaurants, free wi-fi can be a pure honeypot, attracting both locals and tourists. In retail, wi-fi makes it easier for customers to research their purchases before committing to a sale with you – if you offer price-matching, this can be a particular boon. As a service provider, free wi-fi can be a gesture of goodwill. The internet is such an integral part of all of our lives now, so even just having the ability to check our email at someone else’s expense, can create a good impression.
It’s easy to look at digital technology as some sort of devouring beast, created to lay-waste to small, independent businesses. However, with a little know-how, research and effort, it can become your greatest champion. Like every other tool, it’s simply a case of knowing how to wield it, so don’t sit back and let yourself be overpowered; get up; take control; and make technology work for you.