Search online for any product/service and you will find a plethora of small businesses offering it for sale, either through their own virtual shop-fronts or other avenues such as eBay. These operators have flourished thanks to the low-cost of the internet as a sales channel. On the surface, many of them seem to follow the same basic rules for success. But as we know, some are gaining far greater ground than others.
When you really take a deep look there are significant differences between many of these apparently similar virtual stores. They are usually minor things that often take a long time to do. Here are seven key ingredients that contribute to successful online SMEs.
1. Make it easy to distinguish your company’s business.
When a potential customer lands on your page it should be quick and easy for them to see what your company does. Websites that are a cryptic designer’s creative dream might look funky but they are no good for online business. Also, delete that long winded mission statement from your front page and describe in two to three words only what your business does: For example, “Executive training”, “Natural therapy” or “Public Relations consulting”. Not only will this do wonders for your customers but also boost your natural search engine ranking. Search engines love seeing your main keyword on the page.
2. Secure top rankings in the search engines.
The best performing small businesses rank highly in the search engines for their main keywords. As this is the first reference tool for most prospective customers, it is highly valuable for small businesses to work hard at getting or buying their way into the search engines. It is so lucrative that many small businesses designate search engines as their single source of advertising and do really well.
3. Send out relationship-building emails.
Don’t just flood your customers with offers and discounts. Instead, give your potential and current customers valuable emails that help them with their business. For example: ‘5 ways to choose your perfect travel agent’ (travel agency), ‘4 things to be aware of when looking for a house’ (mortgage broker) or ‘Turn your garden into a sanctuary’ (landscape architect). These types of articles are valuable to your customers and make them feel that your company cares more about them than just making a profit. In return, they will be more inclined to consider you as a first place of purchase.
4. Answer enquiry forms promptly.
This is simple, but the best online businesses know that any customer that contacts them needs to be followed up quickly. This is the internet. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People visiting your website want to be answered quickly. Many leads go stale because they weren’t answered fast enough. Don’t let yours be one of them.
5. Make it easy to find your contact details.
Many small businesses that aren’t performing well on the internet may find that their contact details are impossible to find. Small business operators are often concerned that their privacy will be violated and they will get hundreds of customers calling to ask them questions. This is a tragedy. You must speak to your customers as they will spend money with you. Every single one of those telephone calls is a potential opportunity to make money. It’s also important to give your customers the peace of mind that they can just pick up the telephone and contact you.
6. Display proof of your credibility.
Build trust and credibility with potential customers visiting your website. Before committing to an online purchase, customers need to know that you are a real company and you are not going to take their credit card and engage in internet piracy. Put a photo of yourself on the ‘About us’ page. Add a real biography. Add
third-party logos that endorse your company. And clearly display your contact details.
7. Keep your content fresh.
If it’s December and you have a news item from March on your website homepage, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Successful small online businesses have always got something fresh on their site. Even if it’s just adding a Christmas hat to your logo for that period. The most successful sites change or modify their website every day or, at worse, every three days. I understand this is a lot of work and not really core business but if you can get a little news story up there every two weeks you will start to see the difference. If you implement these seven small changes to the way you do business online, you will reap significant rewards. They do take time and effort but it is well worth the commitment to stand above the crowd.
Fred Schebesta is director of Freestyle Media, which specialises in driving traffic to websites and converts online customers into purchasers of products and services. You can read his blog at www.OnlineMarketingSydney.com.au