How to establish your business online
If you are promoting your business with an AOL email address or apologizing for not having your website completed, here is some tough love: most people who are serious about their businesses will not take you seriously. Not having those basic business tools screams "amateur"!
Need more incentive? Many people go online first when searching for a product or service. Guess who they are finding. Your competitors. Your business is losing clients -- and money -- by not having an online presence.
Follow this guide to establish your business online.
Stuff you gotta do
Purchase a domain for your website. You can get one for $10 at Namecheap. For best results, pick your business name or a phrase that describes your services or benefit. Try to keep it fairly short -- less than 12 characters. You will need the space if and when you start marketing online.
Sign up with a website creation and blogging service. Establishing a website used to cost thousands of dollars, but website creation and blogging platforms can help you get started for anywhere from free to a small monthly subscription. Here are a few that I have tried:
- Wordpress. Wordpress is the industry standard in blog hosting services. Set up can be very technical, but the platform is easy to maintain once you are established. Wordpress has two platforms. Wordpress.com is a free hosted service. On wordpress.org, you would need to purchase a template (although some basic ones are free) and pay for web hosting. Although it is an open platform, you should be able to easily find support from independent developers.
- Squarespace. You are reading this post on a Squarespace platform. I use this service because it is super easy to set up, customize and maintain. I love their sleek template designs. Unlike Wordpress, there is always someone available to provide customer support. That was important to me. Service starts from $8/month.
- Weebly. Weebly has features that are intuitive and easy to use. Did I mention they are free? There is a Pro version that offers more features and the ability to delete the Weebly logo. It is worth it to upgrade to the paid version, but you should be able to do everything you need in a free version.
- Blogger. This Google-based service is widely used for blogs. You can add other pages -- like you would on a business site -- but I find that part of their service clunky. Blogger has a fair number of templates, plus you can customize them. Free.
Create email subscription channel. This will allow you to collect information from people who want to subscribe to your updates. I've found email marketing to be one of the more effective tools for the investment.
You want to be able to initiate conversation, nurture the relationship, and alert customers to new promotions. Most businesses collect information with the "ethical bribe" -- providing an offer in exchange for their information.
Popular options are:
Most will let you get started for free, but expect to pay between $20 to $30 per month until your list grows.
Stuff you ought-a do
Set up Twitter account. You can use a handle for your name or your blog title. This is where you will meet influencers, customers, and maybe strategic partners. Use it to also broadcast your updates and blog posts.
Set up Hootsuite account. This is a platform that will allow you to schedule your Facebook and Twitter posts. There are several different services that will provide this capability. I like this one because it is simple to use, and it is free. I also use Buffer app. It allows you to post links into a queue while you are reading online. It then posts them throughout the day at different intervals.
Create an online form account. Wufoo is the best form creation tool on the web IMHO. It's incredibly easy to create a form and embed it on your site. You can create simple forms that just collect info or even payments. I use it for my "How did we do" surveys. You can get a free account that will give you up to three forms -- two more than you need, for now.
Create a Google Analytics account. This will help us measure traffic to your blog and website. It is a free service.
Create a Youtube channel. This is where you will post your videos. You also want them on Youtube because that is the second most used search engine. Creating a channel will also allow people to follow and subscribe to your feed from within Youtube.
Alternatively you can use Vimeo. This is my personal favorite because I can control more of the user experience with my videos. I probably don't get the Google search engine help that I could for using Youtube, however. Everything is a trade off.
Create Google Alerts. Using alerts for key terms and people in your industry allows you to stay current and feeds potential blogging topics when they are timely.
Create Slide Share account. This will allow you to share presentations online.
Photo hosting for business
Naturally, I think this is important.
Create a Flickr account. This was originally for the community of photographers, but more brands and bloggers use it these days to distribute photos or find images to illustrate blog posts. You can also use Flickr to store and distribute photos from your events. Because it is searchable, it could lead to more exposure.
Creating an online presence is easier and less expensive than you think. The benefits will far outweigh the investment.