There's no question it's a tough time for small businesses. The government openly recognizes the importance of this group to the economy, although little is done to support them. Small business owners have had to become more resourceful but many lack the knowledge and time to research and implement even the most basic internet strategy. Here are my top tips to make the web work for your business:
1) A web presence that works for you - this might sound obvious and in many ways it is, but there are web-sites and then there are web-sites that work. There's little point in having a web-site if it doesn't reflect well on your business - pay attention to design, content and drawing customers through the site to make a sale. This needn't cost the earth, find a local freelance web designer and you can build a basic site for around £500, less than that if you use online web builder packages which build the site for you based on a number of templates. Finally consider how people will find the site - include your URL on all marketing materials, email footers, social media and consider investing in SEO or pay per click to improve your site's ranking on the big search engines.
2) Social media - there's no question the world has been gripped by social media fever and many businesses feel they should have a strategy now too. In many ways you can't afford not to and the rewards can be great. A word of caution though, not all businesses need all forms of social media. Facebook can be a great medium for some businesses and a total waste of time (even dangerous) for others. Also consider the long term impact of setting something up. There's no point having a Twitter page if you don't invest the time regularly to make it work for your business by posting updates, offers and communicating with your current and future customers. Consider www.twitter.com, www.facebook.com www.linkedin.com
3) Group buying for business - a relatively new phenomenon but one which will no doubt take the business world by storm. You might be familiar with consumer group buying sites like Groupon. The model for SMEs works in much the same way, but with some added advantages. Every week these websites offer a deal from one of their suppliers. As these suppliers know they'll get exclusive access to large numbers of SMEs, they are able to offer exceptional deals, safe in the knowledge that they will cover their costs whilst acquiring a raft of new customers to build a long term profitable relationship with. Connecting a community of small businesses buyers together gives each one the purchasing power of a much larger company. This economy of scale provides the opportunity for members to try new products and services, which help a small company expand their business - from online marketing expertise to advertising in the national media. From a supplier perspective they have a no risk way of marketing their business, whilst making sales and new contacts. Try www.BusinessCrayon.com
Follow Alex Harrington-Griffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BusinessCrayon