How to Expand Your Business Online
Looking to expand your company online? This is what small business owners need to know for successful digital marketing and cybersecurity strategies.
If you haven’t taken your business online yet, you’re likely missing out on leads. Today, only 24% of consumers spent time with offline media. In contrast, 82% are entirely online. And while brick-and-mortar businesses took a hit in 2020, online businesses grew sales by 15%.
But simply deciding to “go online” is easily overwhelming. After all, what does it even mean to have an online business? After all, an online business can mean marketing, social media, or an eCommerce store. It can also translate into cybersecurity and employee liabilities.
Think outside the box when expanding your business online
First, let’s go over what it means to expand your business online. Most business owners immediately think of an eCommerce site, selling products directly to the consumer. But that’s not the only option anymore.
For example, a small business owner can easily create a number of web-specific products to either grow brand awareness or supplement their physical store. Some ideas include:
- Creating a free or paid online course to attract clients
- Social media to amplify sales
- Selling ebooks through Amazon or another vendor to boost brand awareness and authority
- A customer support channel to help with logistics or customer complaints
- A website and Google presence to help offline customers find your physical store
Online marketing for small business 101
One of the most common reasons a local business decides to expand online is to reach its target market. But given the growth of the internet and online shopping, there are more services for business owners than ever.
If you choose Bluehost or HostGator, you can instantly install WordPress, which is easy to use for a starter site.
Here is the essential list to jump-start or refresh your online marketing efforts.
Setting up shop: Website providers for businesses
If you don’t have a website, this is the first step. Your website is the platform you will have complete control over, and it’s the 1st sign that your business is trustworthy for prospective customers.
First, you’ll need to choose a hosting provider. The most common are:
If you choose Bluehost or HostGator, you can instantly install WordPress, which is easy to use for a starter site. However, sites like Webflow tend to be more versatile in design and integrating with the essential software.
For small business owners who know they want an online shop from the get-go, they can use:
- WordPress with WooCommerce plugins
When you buy your hosting, you will also need to buy your domain name. This is your “www.yourbusiness.com” address. Domains usually go for around $7-12, and quality hosting is a range of $100-250 annually.
Getting along with Google when taking your business online
Once you have a website, you’ll want to link it to Google. Creating a “Google My Business” account allows you to take ownership of information relating to your physical store, as well as your online presence.
You can list your website, phone number, working hours, store address, social media profiles, and other critical information. Your customer base can also leave you reviews.
You will need to verify your physical address to fully take control of your Google presence. Google may offer various ways to do this, but the most common way is to send a postcard to your physical store.
You will then need to input a code from the postcard into the Google My Business verification screen. P.O. boxes are not eligible.
But there’s more to Google than your business page. You’ll also want to sign up for Google Analytics and add their code to your website. This will let you track how many people are coming to your website and where they are coming from.
There are other free Google products that offer value for business growth. These are:
- Google Ads — If you plan to run advertisements for sales, products, or even just to get traffic, you will need to sign up for a Google Ads account.
- Google Search Console — An online business that is likely to have multiple product pages or a blog should 100% sign up for this Google service. Search Console allows you to see how your page ranks. You will need to verify your web domain when signing up for the service, but it is an essential analytics tool to measure your online marketing strategy.
Figuring out social media when taking your business online
Once you’ve set up your website, it’s time to seek out new customers actively. Most businesses choose to do this through social media.
However, taking on too many platforms can become exhausting. In all likelihood, which platform you use for digital marketing is likely to differ based on your industry and service.
Here is our general breakdown:
Ideal for B2B marketing and service providers. LinkedIn offers a way to network with other professionals and small business owners actively looking for solutions.
You will want to manage a company page and a personal profile. Posts on LinkedIn often have a longer shelf life, so you may only need to post once or twice a week. However, you’ll want to focus on making connections with your personal profile.
If you love fast-paced conversations, Twitter is the place to be. While both B2B and B2C businesses can use Twitter to boost their online presence, the key to doing well is to engage with other users within your niche.
A small business owner looking to make a dent with Facebook should probably use its group features or its social media ads. If you have a specific sales campaign or event, especially for B2C prospective customers, this is the place to promote it. Organic engagement is difficult to stimulate.
Ideal for B2C companies selling visually appealing products, Instagram users expect flawless images and videos. However, this can also be a useful network for a local business, as you can connect with prospective customers through local hashtags.
Storytelling and authenticity are core considerations when creating interesting content on TikTok. Similar to Instagram, you’ll need to make short videos to connect with your target audience.
And while this is the newest social media platform out there, don’t feel pressured to join because it’s popular. Review current hashtags and videos to evaluate whether or not your target market is on this platform first.
Social media is a huge topic, but the good news is that you don’t need to be on every social media platform. Choose 1 to start with, and see what works for you.
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Should you blog as part of your small business content marketing strategy?
Business owners have a lot on their plate, but it’s obvious to see there’s an opportunity to create content. After all, 97% of businesses that blog have more inbound links, resulting in more traffic and customers. Small businesses that maintain a blog also experience 126% more growth than businesses that don’t.
The fact is, content marketing — creating blog posts and other written material online — is a great way to slowly build brand awareness and grow your business over time. However, it’s important to remember that blogging isn’t a quick win — it’s a long-term strategy. The more you write over time, the more likely it is that users will find you, and the more you will sell.
So, how many blog posts do you need? It often takes more than 20 high-quality blog posts to see a significant increase in traffic, and posting consistently matters.
But it’s also important that these blog posts are quality articles. Increasingly, more and more companies are investing in content writers who understand search engine optimization (SEO) best practices to keep Google happy and improve their website’s visibility.
Content marketing — creating blog posts and other written material online — is a great way to slowly build brand awareness and grow your business over time.
So as your business grows, you may want to invest in a writer or marketing agency that can provide high-quality, relevant content for your business.
Cybersecurity considerations for online businesses
One issue that can pop up if you expand your business online is cybersecurity. And hackers aren’t always your biggest threat. In fact, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error.
To reduce your potential risks, you can take the following steps:
- Use PCI-DSS-compliant payment gateways.
- Don’t store customer information on your own servers. If you have to store or transfer sensitive information, maintain PCI-DSS compliance.
- Use strong passwords that are longer than 11 characters, and use capitalization, punctuation, and numbers.
- Enable multi-factor authentication, such as receiving a text message on your phone and a confirmation email.
- Limit access to specific programs or networks. For example, only give key members of the accounting team access to payment information.
- Keep a list of recommendations for avoiding online scams and threats in your employee handbook.
- Invest in cyber liability insurance if you work with sensitive data.
Promote employee advocacy as part of your online strategy
Finally, you may want to include your employees in your online strategy guide. The best way to encourage your workers to post (and post favorably) about your company is to create a satisfying workplace. But even then, you may want to create a short guide with prompts and guidance about referring to the business.
For example, you may want to stress that employees should talk about their wins and challenges on LinkedIn, as this will increase their personal standing in the industry.
You may also want to let the team know when important articles or social media posts go out, so they can engage with them.
Save time with internal HR operations templates
Whether you have a complete online presence or just a website, it’s only a portion of your business. We know that business owners and their teams have hundreds of things to do and very little time.
To help you stay focused on what matters most — growing your business — we’ve created some internal templates for your HR operations: