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The way that some people go on about the internet, it is as if everything you ever knew about business has to be thrown out of the kitchen window. There’s a whole class of people out there who like to talk about ‘new paradigms’ or ‘Web 2.0’ or any one of a dozen hot buzz words. Actually, even though we might all be using websites instead of billboards and brochures these days, nothing has changed that much at all.
Think about the methods you use to build your business offline. You can still use all of those techniques online.
Ever been to a business breakfast? Or a seminar? You probably only go in case you bump into someone who needs your service, or someone offering a service you need yourself (unless you just really like bacon.) You’re also there to pick up some tips from other people, find out what’s happening in your particular sphere and maybe learn from one or two highly successful people.
Nothing’s changed! Online forums, blogs and messageboards serve exactly the same purpose. It’s just people meeting people, and find that they share some interests and goals. Think of any field you like, and chances are that a leading figure in that field is either blogging or contributing to a forum somewhere. But, if you’ve got enough knowledge (and a smattering of writing talent) then there’s no reason why you can’t become the expert. Making your website the place where people go to network can build your brand, raise your search engine profile and enhance your credibility tenfold.
So once you used to pay a couple of hundred pounds to go in the Yellow pages, just on the off chance that a few people might ring up an enquire? Maybe you put your logo on the side of your vans to heighten brand recognition among motorway drivers? If you’re sufficiently big, you might have paid for TV or radio coverage, brochure-drops, leafleting and any number of whizz-bang promotional exercises.
Nothing’s changed! You can still advertise. Find other websites where you think your customers might be. If you sell shoes, there are sites dedicated to the history of shoes&ldots; sites for shoe-fetishists&ldots; blogs of shoe-addicts&ldots; forums where hundreds of people dissect the latest shoe styles. Finding ways to reach those audiences is no different to your traditional marketing activity.
#3 Customer service
No-one ever made a success of their business by treating their customers badly. People like to moan – it makes for an interesting story. The old statistic about every person with complaint telling 10 people is true. Online – that number can be frighteningly more than 10. In recent years, companies have been driven to the wall through a single influential person complaining about lousy customer service on their website.
Nothing’s changed! If you don’t answer your emails or have a usable website, then that can be that, and no amount of marketing can fix it. If you have a 7 day delivery deadline – stick to it. If something does go wrong with your delivery, go whatever distance you have to in order to sort it out to the customer’s satisfaction. The web is humming with review sites, where a good or bad experience can be shared with millions at the click of a mouse button.
Do you know a business you use because you just like the guy behind the counter? They might not even have the best product or prices but you’re always recognised and you can chew the cud about football results, the weather, your family and last night’s TV. They’ve got your loyalty precisely because you can pick them out in a faceless world. Huge chains like Starbucks can build consistency into their user experience, but tiny coffee shops can still thrive alongside them wherever they offer something different.
Nothing’s changed! Give your website a bit of personality. Use everyday language – greet your visitors, be topical, maybe even crack a joke. They’ll love you for it. Too often, people are afraid of causing offence. The greater crime, for your business, is creating inoffense – a simple lack of reaction at all.
So there we have it. The means of doing business might have changed – but the rules remain the same. Your online business must offer good service and a unique presence. By networking and advertising, you can draw people in to experience those qualities. From there, the message should sell itself. If that doesn’t sound familiar, then whether you work online or offline you’re probably going nowhere.