You have a gift and a passion—whether selling widgets, sprucing up custom cars or advising people on what to do with their retirement savings—enough so that you've started a business around it. Want to get that business noticed? It's increasingly crucial that you have a presence on the Web, even if your primary target market is local. But businesses, especially bootstrapped ones, may not have the budget for hiring help when it comes to establishing a Web presence. And even if you can afford a Web wiz, you're the one that knows the nuts and bolts of your business, and you should be informed.
Never fear. Establishing a Web presence is fairly simple, and goes beyond having a Web site of your own (though that's an important part, too).
Get Your Biz Online
Your online presence doesn't have to be a traditional website—see below for some other options—but going through the process of registering a domain name will help ensure your online branding is what you want it to be. After that, you must get your domain hosted and then pick a method by which you will upload the content—a content management system (CMS) such as Wordpress, or perhaps SquareSpace, which hosts and functions as a CMS. If this sounds complicated or brand-new to you, you may consider registering and hosting through a smaller service than the industry giant GoDaddy.com. Little Marco Polo, for instance, is a Hispanic-owned small business out of Chicago that prides itself on being able to give customers a higher level of support.
Marco A. Rodriguez, founder and principal partner at Little Marco Polo LLC (www.LittleMarcoPolo.com) advises: "The best websites are ones that are designed in phases, keeping your content short and on point, and using key words to help you gain the Web presence you're looking for."
In other words, it's OK to build your website in stages, one step at a time. No reason to come out of the box with bells and whistles. You know your business; prioritize the most important information and functionality first.
You can use Flickr and YouTube to complement your own site, or even instead of if you truly need to take baby steps in establishing a Web presence. Flickr and YouTube are outlets with their own ecosystems and communities; you can cut through the "kitchen sink" of a general Web search by putting snappy photos or informative videos on these hugely used services.
For example: If you're customizing cars, throw some videos of your custom car in action, or photos of the final, cherry product on these sites. Then tag (that is, supply search terms) appropriately. A lot of eyeballs may be interested in the term "custom Porsche," and when they see the work you've done, you may get a new fan or customer. Make sure your business' contact information (including website address, if you have one) is available in the comments section of every photo, video and user profile, so these potential customers can find you after they've seen your fine work.
Another option is to simply start a blog, either through Blogger or a similar free service, or, if you've got your website up and running, dedicate a page to frequent writing and updates. There are few better ways for a potential client to get a sense of your sensibilities than to have your commentary and perspective on relevant events of the day, plain for all to see.
Put Yourself on the Map
With minimal hassle, your business can be put on Google Places, which will help people find you through Google local search and even Google Maps. It only involves filling out a form to register, then getting your business verified the old-fashioned way, through a phone call or snail mail. Yahoo similarly has Yahoo Local, and Bing has a similar service as well, both of which are even easier to sign up for.
Mr. Rodriguez offers further words of wisdom for those starting out: "Know what you want your website to do before you invest time and money into building it. Do your research. Find out how your competitors are getting results and look for ways to stand apart from them. Poll a few of your customers and ask what they want to see out of your site."
Once you've done that due diligence, dipping your toe in the Web waters will be easier—and more effective—than you think.
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