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Taking Your Business Online… Kick Ass Doing It!

Are you running a brick and mortar business? Are your clients local?

If you are, you might be hearing all this hoopla about “going online” not just for “presence”, but to actually get clients outside your local area.

And why not?

It’s a fantastic opportunity made uniquely available thanks to the wonderful world wide web.

Need some convincing? Here are 9 reasons to be taking your business online and 4 ways to make sure you kill it as a new semi-local businessperson.

Reason #1: Expand Your Market Reach

There is a finite audience of ideal clients in your local area.

Even if everyone hasn’t heard your message yet, why not expand your reach to other areas? Many businesses are no longer constrained by geography – some or all of their offerings can be delivered from a distance.

Which of the products or services you offer could be offered in the regional, national or even international arena?

Information, software, consulting and training are all products and services that travel well over large distances. These days, pretty much anything can be shipped, as well.

A wellness school I have the pleasure of working with is currently investigating how to provide certifications in various natural health fields nationally (ironically, their constraint isn’t related to technology, just government policies).

Reason #2: Diversify Your Revenue Sources

Adding a new source of revenue by taking your business online accomplishes something important: it diversifies your revenue.

This isn‘t just good because it adds to your top line – even more importantly, it reduces business risk. The more different sources of revenue you have, the better you’ll weather any economic ups and downs.

Diversified revenue can come in the form of offering new products or services that “carry” well over a distance – that can either be downloaded digitally (e.g. information in e-book form) or shipped easily (e.g. MP3 players – we get the ones that we give our Mirasee program students in bulk from a non-local distributor).

Reason #3: Reach Different Customers, More Effectively

Like it or not, this is the new economy.

Your customers are increasingly using the Internet to do product research, evaluate alternatives and of course, to buy. This is even more pronounced in the younger generations. They don’t crack open the Yellow Pages. In the time it takes to dig that brick out of the closet, they’ve looked the product up on their iDevice, compared choices, and mapped the address to the nearest supplier.

You can’t afford to ignore this crowd. And for these netziens whether young or old, your presence online is the first test of credibility. Not only should you have a site – it better be a decent one.

To capitalize fully, you also should investigate how this market would look you up online. You need to take the necessary SEO steps (link to SEO post) to show up in a “local search”, for example “graphic design [YourTown] [YourState].”

Finally, to make it a slam dunk and win the business, take a minute to think about what this visitor would need to see to be convinced that you are the right choice. It helps if you start by thinking about what they are typically worried about when they purchase “your kind of thing”. We call these “customer anxieties” and the more you address, the smoother the path to a sale.

Reason #4: Free Your Customers to Consume Information at Their Own Pace

You know when you walk into a retail store and a sales associate immediately approaches you? Don’t you hate that?

Yeah, we all do.

That’s one of the many reasons why some people like using the Internet to evaluate their options. They can do it in peace, at their own pace, without the annoying buzz of a commissioned salesperson in their ear.

You see, the buying process has many steps, “evaluation” being but one. During this step, consumers want information, they want the time to weight them and analyze their options and they *don’t* want a sales pitch while this is happening.

The takeaway for you? Give them information they need for their evaluation.

Reason #5: Increase Credibility and Get More Sales

Something funny happens when you go online in the quest to become semi-local: You get more local clients!

It makes sense doesn’t it? To go semi-local, you probably put more than a bit thought and effort into both your online presence and your online strategy. You now come off looking more professional and better put together – a recipe for success in both local and non-local markets.

Neat how that works, huh?

Reason #6: Give People Information They Desire, For Free, 24/7/365

A website is a fantastic place to put all the information people are looking for – information that would otherwise tie up your phone lines and staff:

“Where are you located?”

“How do I get there?”

“What are your hours of operations?”

“Are you open this Thanksgiving day?”

etc. etc.

These are all questions your customers probably ask over and over again. Pull out a notebook and jot them down – all of them – as they come in. Then, compose answers and put them all on your website or give them away as a way in the form of a handout.

Case in point and a lesson in what NOT to do: In case you haven’t noticed from my vowel-saturated last name, I’m Greek in origin, and love a good souvlaki. I love ordering from one particular place, and I nearly had a marketing consulting fit when I went onto their website and noticed that their delivery phone number isn’t front and center on the home page. Great Zeus, what a sin! How is that even possible? I went on a tzatziki rampage trying to track down the owner to give him my two cents about it! 😉

Reason #7: Market Directly to Your Audience

Don’t stop at frequently asked questions. Your online presence is a selling tool.

Put up the biggest piece of information of all: how you solve the customer’s problem better than anyone else! This should be front and center on your website, as the main headline. Look at what you’ve got right now. Is it customer-centric, meaning talking from the position of the customer and not from yours?

Here is what I mean:

“Leader in transportation for 20 years” is me-centric. I’m busy talking about how great I am.

“On time and error-free, guaranteed” is customer-centric. It talks about stuff they care about.

Reason #8. Engage Your Customers

An online presence is a great way to engage your customers – and thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever.

What you can cheaply communicate to hundreds of people would take incredible amounts of time and money with traditional methods (advertising, calls, direct mail, etc.).

Since it’s easier, you can afford a higher level of interaction, which will in turn create a greater affinity and loyalty towards your business.

If you are interested to learn more about building an engaged audience, you are in luck. My partner Danny is coming out with a book about it that he co-authored with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, Mitch Joel, and a bunch of other people that you’d probably recognize. Keep an eye out for it, very soon!

Reason #9: Your Customers Will Self-Select

The great benefit of this type of marketing is that your customers do all the researching, choosing and deciding – It’s not taking up your or your sales people’s time. No one cold called anyone. Instead they found you. This is difference between outbound and inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is the future. If you do everything I’ve explained here so far, and do it right, your customers will be half-way sold by the time they call you. How wonderful is it when you do all the above correctly and your customer calls you, practically convinced, that you are the right choice for them? Pretty darn fantastic, is what.

Now that you are (hopefully) sold on why it a great idea, here are four things you must do to succeed:

1. Don’t Neglect Lead Generation

It’s darn stupid to invest all this time and effort to go online, only to neglect generating traffic and leads.

You are leaving your new web presence for no one to find. Part of your overall strategy and budget must include getting eyeballs. This needs a combination of driven traffic (it’s time to put your website URL on everything you print or publish), and inbound traffic.

Spend some time making sure people can find you on Internet search engines using the language they use when they are searching for your type of thing.

2. Capture Those Leads, and Follow-Up Religiously

What’s worse than not investing in lead generation?

Investing that money and then not capturing the lead!

If you’ve spent $500 on generating traffic and you’ve got nothing to show for it, you might as well have lit that money on fire with a match, because you are quite literally burning your cash if you don’t have a mechanism to capture your visitor’s information, at least a name and email address.

If a bunch of people find your site and you don’t capture their info, how can you invite them back to engage them, deepen the interaction and eventually sell them? You can’t count on them coming back on their own – If you do, trust me you’ll be disappointed! People lead very busy lives and you are not always terribly important to them. Sorry, but it’s true.

3. Create a Process for EVERYTHING

Plan out your interaction steps after they engage with you.

How will you follow-up? What information do they need to see to take the next step with you? How can you invite them back, alleviate a purchase anxiety, or communicate your differentiation strategy?

Map out the steps in this interaction, pre-write all the communication, figure out the contents of any information kits – in short, have all your ducks in a row, so that you are ready to execute when you go live.

4. Automate & Delegate the Crap Out of It All

Most small businesses don’t have the people-power to scale all this up significantly.

If you have less than 10 employees, you probably rely on yourself plus one or two trusted employees to handle incoming opportunities. And if the business is you and only you, well… the buck stops at your desk, doesn’t it?

It’s very possible that going semi-local could increase the number of leads you get beyond your current capacity and you could get overwhelmed. If you are using a manual follow-up system, you are vulnerable.

It sounds like a nice problem to have, but it isn’t.

The solution? Automate, automate and automate. There are tools and technology out there that can automate most steps in your follow up process. Everything else can be outsourced (assuming you’ve done #2 correctly).

There you go – 9 reasons to be taking your business online and 4 ways to succeed. If you’re interesting in going semi-local stay tuned to the Mirasee blog. We just completed a survey about semi-local businesses just a couple of days ago and are poring over the results. We’ll publish our findings shortly!

Until then, what attracted (or attracts) you to the idea of becoming semi-local? Was it the diversification? Or something else? Leave your comment below!

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, teaches marketing that works at Mirasee. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on building engaged audiences from scratch (available on Amazon, or as a free download).

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