How to Build an Online Presence
Most business now have an online presence of some kind, but not all of them are making it pay. Here’s how the web can take your business onto the next level.
It’s 2019. The digital economy is in full swing and there’s almost no area of the business world which the internet hasn’t transformed. So it comes as something of a surprise to learn that, according to research from Clutch, a third of small business owners still do not have a website. Some feel they don’t need one, others lack the expertise to make it work, but in a digital world having an online presence is something very few businesses can do without.
That message is getting through. According to the same study, most of those businesses which do not have a web presence plan to build one soon. However, that is only part of the process. Getting onto the web is one thing; making it pay quite another.
Winning the online game
First of all, we need to understand what we mean by ‘web presence’. For many people this is simply having a website, but that only scratches the surface of what the web offers. Here are just some of options:
- A website: A digital home for your business.
- Social media: Sites such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook are ideal for engaging with customers, monitoring how your business is perceived and raising awareness.
- Mobile apps: A good way to engage with your customers while they are on the move whether that’s offering a new place to buy or another service.
- Email marketing: Building engagement with your customers and encouraging greater retention.
- Online advertising: A common tool to target your potential customers in the online world.
You won’t necessarily need to work across all of these channels, but each in its own way offers a chance to increase your engagement with customers, build your profile and increase sales. They will all require different approaches and their own strategies but should link back into your wider business plan and objectives.
Defining your goal
The next question is certainly the shortest, probably the most important, but is often overlooked. It consists of one word: why? Before you develop an online presence, you need to define your goal – what return do you hope to get? For example, are you simply looking to raise awareness – to tell people you exist and how to contact you? If that’s the case, the chances are all you need is a fairly basic website – something which looks nice, conveys information but does little else. You will track metrics by looking at how many visitor’s you’re receiving, if they clicked on the contact page and if you received more customer enquiries.
On the other hand, you might want a full online retail experience including social media, email marketing and a high functioning ecommerce site. This will obviously have many more metrics on which you’ll assess performance such as site visits, social media activity, how many people are clicking through from your email campaigns and, mostly importantly of all, sales figures from your website.
Building your website
Your goals will shape the level of infrastructure you have to put behind your site and that will also have a bearing on cost.
At the most basic level, getting online is relatively affordable. You can choose from a number of content management systems such as WordPress, Wix and Squarespace which help you create a simple and professional looking website at an affordable price. All in all, it might only cost a few hundred pounds in total.
At the other end of the scale, costs can run into the tens and even hundreds of thousands. A top of the range website will require designers, content writers, hosting, custom development licensing and ongoing maintenance. If you’re accepting payments, you’ll have to ensure all transactions are 100% secure and that any data you handle is processed in the right way.
Data management regulations have also become much stricter. The arrival of GDPR brings a host of additional requirements about how to manage and use data. You’ll have to gain specific and informed consent from customers for every specific use of their data. The rules can be complicated and penalties for non-compliance can be severe. A serious breach could see you fined up to €20 million or 4% of global turnover.
Return on investment
The web offers a world of opportunities for any enterprising business, but at the end of the day one thing matters more than anything else. Is it worth the investment and does it increase revenues?
Costs can easily overrun. It may be tempting to invest in additional functionality, but you need to keep track of your expenditure and measure your return. For this you need to maintain a good control of your finances to ensure your venture into the digital realm is financially sustainable. This is one reason why it may be a good idea to boost the capacity of your accounts functions. The more visibility you have over your finances, the easier it is to ensure that any investment you make is affordable and that you’re seeing a positive return.
With websites it is all too easy to follow the herd in a mass migration online, but you should approach developing a web presence in the same way you do every other part of your business. You need a clear idea of what you want to achieve, how much your chosen approach will cost and where you hope to gain your revenue. Get these questions right and the web can be the gateway to a fresh era for you and your business.