In 2013, as many as half of all small business still do not have a website. As more and more consumers move to searching for services and making purchases with their mobile devices, it’s time for many business to make a move toward online before they get left behind.
If you’ve resolved to improve your web or mobile presence in 2014, congratulations. Now, do you know where to start?
If you’re unfamiliar with the many options and the technical lingo, figuring out what you want and how to ask for it can be a major challenge, says Michael LaVista, founder and CEO of Caxy Interactive.
LaVista’s Chicago-based company offers custom web development and expertise in content management, e-commerce, Flash development, database development, and custom web applications. He recommends starting out by asking yourself a few questions about your current online presence:
- Do you have a clear brand strategy for executing across different platforms and media? Will customers experience your brand online in a way that is consistent with all your other touch points? LaVista says many companies leap into digital and leave their brand behind. Customers who visit you from their desktop at work, their iPad at home, and their handheld mobile device while walking to your store should have a seamless experience.
- Do you have what it takes to give it a fighting chance? Digital requires cultivation and curation—in other words, time, money, and persistence, LaVista says. A lot of small businesses jump online with enthusiasm, only to find six months later that their blog is out of date and they haven’t updated their Facebook page since the last holiday season. Be sure you’ve got the person or people in place to maintain your efforts, lest you waste your investment and confuse customers with outdated content.
- Will customers care if you build this? LaVista says that if you believe they will, then figure out how can you best serve them. Ask your customers directly how you could serve them better with online features. Or check out what your competitors are providing online that you’re not. And, LaVista says, if you conclude that your customers won’t care, you should still explore how an expanded web presence could help you grow your business in other directions.
- “What else will customers see in your market? Are you a first mover or tenth? A ‘me too’?” LaVista asks. Instead of copying your competitors, work with a developer to come up with innovative online and mobile offerings that improve on them.
- What will you do with what you learn as customers use your new app, site, or social media page? Your online interactions with customers can provide a treasure trove of data and marketing intelligence. Many companies are making smart use of what they learn from their customers’ online browsing, app usages, and social comments. Don’t miss the opportunity to leverage all that you will be learning.
- How will you measure the success of your efforts? Too many small business owners have stayed off the web too long because they don’t understand the value, or can’t translate clicks into meaningful data. Figure out how you want your efforts to pay off—more returning customers, increased revenues, more information about customers, great reviews—and design your efforts to achieve those goals.
- What would happen if you didn't do it? LaVista asks, “Would you pale against the competition, or make better use of your time and financial resources?” To be sure, even in 2014, there might still be reasons to invest your time and resources someplace else.
“Take some time to research your options, decide what you’re looking for, and what is feasible,” LaVista says. Observe what others in your market are doing, note what is useful, what you like and don’t like, and speak with your customers about their needs. “Then gather a team and commit to achieving your goals,” he says. “In time, you will be able to better serve customers and improve your business.”