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Running a Small Business in the Digital Age


A row of small businesses

Small businesses have been the life blood of towns and families for generations, and while one formula worked for decades that formula is rapidly becoming obsolete. Once upon a time as a small business you would gain new clients at your brick and mortar shop because they were local to your area. Whether you ran a flower shop or dentists office, your clientele was mostly made up of people who were in close proximity to your business. This formula, while far from extinct, is quickly evolving.


With every new adaption of technology our world grows smaller and smaller. While twenty years ago you could shop online it was often still more convenient to get in your car and go to the local store, but that isn't necessarily the case today. Almost every product and service can be bought online and arrive at your door in just a day or two, if not within a couple of hours. The vast adoption of this quick and easy access to goods and services has hit almost every industry and has fundamentally changed the way small business must operate to survive in the modern world.


So what changes do small businesses need to make? To put it simply, they need to have an online presence, the ability to quickly and cheaply ship products or be able to provide certain services remotely. Obviously which of those apply to your business depends on what your business provides, but having an online presence is crucial to business in todays world. Without it your business has a high chance of stagnation and ultimately being forced to close.


Online Presence


Showing up online is a must for any business these days and there are a ton of ways to get your name out there. Sure you could just make a Facebook page and call it a day but is that enough? While that may be enough at the very beginning you need to go farther. You need to have a twitter, Google business profile, website, LinkedIn, and depending on your business you may need to have profiles on sites like OpenTable or Upwork. The more you put your business out there the more people are bound to stumble across it, which will increase you chances of gaining new customers and grow your business.


As you can see the market for places to put your business online is extremely saturated, so how do you prioritize where to put your business online so you aren't spending all your time managing your online presence? Firstly, the big three social media platforms are a must regardless of industry. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a must for all businesses. Next find more niche sites that cater to your business type. If you run a restaurant look for sites that people frequent to make reservations and order food, if you are service business look at sites that cater to people searching for services like Angi's List or Upwork. If you need extra help you can hire a company or employee that specializes in ensuring your business is on the right sites to get you the right traffic.


Website


I can say it a thousand times and it will never be enough, your business needs a website. Having a website in the eyes of your customers is the difference between running a legitimate business and someone with a business name who may or may not be a real business. Unfortunately with all the scam artists and conmen online, if it doesn't look like you have a permanent website that you put some money into people are going to be very cautious about using your business. If you don't have your own domain for your website and email, or your website looks cheap or hastily built, people will assume you are a scammer trying to lure them in.


While there a plenty of sites that will host your page for free, often you have the downside of not having your own domain, and since they are free scammers frequently use these sites to make fake businesses to rip people off. A domain can be as cheap as $10 a year, and many people know this and assume if you aren't willing to spend that much on your business you are likely not worth dealing with. The same goes for your email address, sure Gmail is a common, decent quality, and free email provider, but scammers frequently use Gmail to set up there scams (see our Avoiding Phishing Emails course.) This is a prime example about how in the public eye one bad apple can ruin the bunch.


Being Active Online


So you have your website, domain, and social media set up so people can find you so you're done right? Wrong! If you want people to find you, you need to stay active. This not only keeps your business listings online closer to the top but lets people know that your actively working. There are plenty of abandoned websites and social media profiles out there, and most people will take one look at your last activity and if its more than a month ago will assume its abandoned and move on. You don't have to write a long thought out post ever week but having something simple pop up on your social media every week or two not only shows your active but reminds your customers your still there waiting to help them.


One tip that can help with this is using automation tools like WIX or Zapier so you can set up one post and blast it to all of your social media profiles saving you a ton of time. Utilizing automation and social media tools can save you tons of time as well as help you stay organized making your life easier while staying active online. The best part, depending on your needs there are a ton of inexpensive and even free tools that can help you do all of this.


Return on Investment


Part of running a business is spending money, its inevitable, but as a small business you likely need to be fairly tight on the purse strings. That being said, you need to look at your Return on Investment, and this comes in two parts. First is how much business will I not generate by not using a product or service? This is something many people don't think of, because sure not having a website is a line item that's not costing you money but on the flip side, how much money that would have come into the business went to someone else because you "saved money" on that item? While this is a somewhat speculative way of thinking you can easily find studies online that will give you a general idea how much income can be generated by simple things like websites, local advertising, and social media. Don't just take my word for it, Small Business Web explains why business cannot afford to skip the website bandwagon and expect to thrive. Even they say "Your small business website is your most cost-effective marketing tool. A customized, well-marketed, highly functional and responsive website increases your chances of making sales. Your consumers are online and they want businesses to be online as well."


The second aspect when considering ROI is the cost of the tool compared to what you get in return. Like we said you need a website, but you may not need an extremely complex site that costs you multiple thousands of dollars. You need to be on social media but you may not need to pay $100,000 a year for a full time social media manager. Don't just go with the biggest most well known companies, or the first tool you find, do some research on the products and services you will be using to make sure they are a good fit for you and your business. If you follow these two steps, you have a better chance at seeing your business thrive than if you stay stuck in an "old way" of thinking. Your digital presences is no longer a fad or accessory to your business, it is a critical part of your business infrastructure that could be the difference between thriving or becoming a small business statistic.


If you need help finding the right tools and services to get your small business online, let us know. Reach out at info@allamericancyber.com or give us a call at (719) 259-2259.


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