Having been born and raised in the midwest, I've done my fair share of chores around the barn, some fun, some not so much. My family raised a small herd of dairy cows when I was a kid, and as most of you from that upbringing know, some of the cows would allow themselves to be milked by machine (the preferred method), and some would not. Not wanting the milk from those "rebels" to escape the production cycle, we milked those individuals by hand. One necessary item to complete this feat was the ol' milking stool. Now to be honest with you it was a complex contraption made by nailing two boards together in the shape of a T, but that tried and true design does not do anything to further the real point of this article, so you'll see my stool has three legs. Yes; now you can say you actually know a programmer / web-developer that can milk a cow and ride a horse, just in case the internet ever goes away!
One of the most common questions we receive from our small business customers is, "Do I need a Facebook account?" As with just about everything in the technical world, the true answer is, "That depends." I do believe there are some common sense steps to follow regarding a company's desire to incorporate social media into their marketing and sales efforts.
Many small business owners secretly feel they are being left in the proverbial dust of larger companies that are wrapping technology into their overall plans at a "break neck" pace. This can, and often does, lead to phone exchanges sounding much like, "We need Facebook, Twitter, and anything else you can think of. We want it all." It is good to see small business coming to the realization they must learn to compete in this arena to continue being successful. Yet; the next comment, if not spoken at least thought, is, "I have no idea what to do with any of it." This is the answer I will try to wrap a little clarity around. To execute an effective multi-channel marketing and sales effort via the internet takes quite a bit of work. As I like to say, "Quite a bit of care and feeding." Do not let yourself fall into the erroneous belief if I build it they will come. That strategy was never true, but at the dawn of the internet, it was just a little more true than it is now. Without the necessary attention, care and feeding, a much more accurate thought now would be, "If I build it, no one will care, unless I cause them to care."
How do I decide what I need?
First, you must ask yourself at least the following questions.
1. What do I want to accomplish with my website?
This likely seems like a very basic "no brainer" question, but you'd be surprised at how many folks have not given this sufficient thought. Some valid answers are: I want to sell product, I want to sell services, I want to communicate with my customers. The more specific you are with your answer, the more successful your web presence will be in promoting your business.
2. How much time and resources do I have to devote to my website?
The answer to this one cannot be, "Not much!" I describe the responsibility of running / owning a website like that of being in the newspaper business. You need to allocate time to feed the beast. You wouldn't spend much time reading a newspaper that printed the same information everyday. A website is no different. A website needs to be "attractive and interesting." In the "interesting" sense, I am not referring to visual content. I am talking about having content on your site that draws people to it. They want to visit your site to see what's new, not what happened last week. That is not to say it will become your fulltime job, because you have your business to run. However, your response to this really ties back to the fact, you have always, if you think about it, used various techniques to grow your business. A website is just one tool to add to your approach, and it does take some level of attention.
3. Where will the money come from?
Think of the dollars spent on a website as an investment, not an expense. The most obvious place to find money to spent is to use a part of your advertising budget. Investing to create a professional web presence does not have to increase your budget. Take a look at your traditional expenses along this line like TV, print, direct mail etc. How long has it been since you had time to take a look at your ROI on the various channels?
Now that you have your hands around what it is you want to create, how you want to use it to grow your business, and how to feed the beast both financially and time wise, you are ready to decide how many legs to build on your milking stool. It makes a clear picture to envision your internet marketing plan as a three legged stool. All legs need to exist, or it falls over - right? That translates to: company website, social media, and non-electronic channels.
Depending on whose statistics you read, over 80% of small businesses do not have a website. With younger consumers, not having a website is just like saying I'm running my business without a telephone, or email capabilities (at least proper email capabilities.) When is the last time a vendor of yours gave you an email address that was a hotmail or gmail account? Not only does using a free email service look unprofessional, it reflects poorly on your business overall. What thoughts would cross your mind, if your banker provided you a yahoo email address to contact him / her with. Leave free email accounts for what they were intended, personnal use only.
1. Register a company internet domain.
Be creative, but not too much so. If possible, register a domain name that relates to your business. This will be used for your website, as well as your email. Domain names that are too long are easily mistyped, forgotten, and general cumbersome. One final word on this point, leave the cute and catchy domain names to the folks with multi-million dollar advertising budgets.
2. Find yourself a professional web development company
Using a "get web site quick" tool is fine, but realize it will not differenciate your site from that of millions of others. The capability and look of your site will rank along side of Grandma Betty's trip to Europe. The old dusty expression, "You get what you pay for" is true. It is entirely possible to contract with a professional web development company to build (and support) what you need without breaking the bank - think about it.
3. My perfect website will do what?
Be specific. Each type of site has by nature a very different focus and design. Communicate this with your developer. You will be happy you did.
Social media tools can and probably should in many cases form the second leg of your stool. Techniques exist to post updates you make on your website to various social media sites. This is a great approach. It eliminates the need to write and post updates to multiple sites, and you can be assured that you said the same thing in all places. Consistency is critical. Social media, however, is not an end in itself. You can't sell on a social media site, and your end goal is to sell stuff - right? Use it as a tool to direct folks to your website. Once they are there, you have a opportunity to showcase your products and services. Secondly, social media sites are super for creating and fostering a feeling of community between and for your customers. Research shows that is what web surfers of any age crave a sense of community. Plus, it gives your company an opportunity to interact with both customers and potential customers in your area of expertise. Become their uncle in the business so to speak.
The immediacy of social media is also a hugh advantage. If you need to get the word out quickly and to a large audience, social media is your man. You can also direct people to your social media sites from your website for great advice, information sharing, and so forth. Again, envision the information flowing between all your channels as your most effective approach.
Print, TV, and other historic forms of awareness building for your business is NOT without a place. Some advertising guru decades ago said, "Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them." It is still true. Your customers will respond better to repetative, consistent messages from various channels of communication. If nothing else, think of it as the "Déjà vu" effect. The message will stick in their mind, and it will become integrated into memory. That is what you want. The chances of a single and / or inconsistent message migrating into long-term memory are very limited.
So, there you have it, your three legged stool of marketing. All legs support and feed one another. Without all of them, the process fails. Remember where your company bread and butter is made. Happy milking, and don't let the cows step on you ...