Should your business be online? Nine convincing reasons why it should, and how to get started

If you run a small business, you cannot afford to ignore digital. Here’s how to do it, including: know your strategy, learn how to get people to find you, and engage with social media

I hear people proclaiming, with some pride, “I’m such a technophobe – I don’t even have a mobile phone.” Well, if it’s Bill the brickie saying this over a pint in the Red Lion, it’s probably no big deal.

But if you run your own business and the topic of digital sees you running for the hills, a big red flag should be waving over your head.

If you think you can ignore digital, you’re going to be left behind in your competitors’ dust.

The good news is, there’s bags of help available. Here are nine convincing business reasons you need to be online, and what you should be doing to tackle each one.

1. Financial return

According to the government’s Digital Inclusion research, a third of SMEs don’t have a website. What’s more, experts believe digital improvements could unearth economic returns of £18.8 billion for our nation’s small businesses.

Action: Building a website doesn’t mean learning code or spending a fortune on web development. Take a look at WordPress, for example. You simply choose from a huge array of modern, well-designed templates, all with a simple interface that even the most technically inept can handle.

2. Get found by the right customers

start up way to give you company a digital makeover Flickr  Highways Agency 620The latest mobile report from Deloitte reveals that 35 million people in the UK own a smartphone, and one in six UK adults look at their mobile more than 50 times per day.

Online shopping from mobiles and tablets is driving growth in retail, and customers are using their phones to research every sector under the sun.

Action: Whatever web template you choose, it has to work brilliantly on mobile and tablet as well as on laptops and desktops. (The technical term for this that you’ll hear bandied around is ‘responsive’.)

3. Reach more potential customers

With 89 per cent of the UK population online, the internet is the ultimate audience-finding tool, boosting your chances of business success.

Action: Getting your small business to stand out above your online competitors means working on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). In other words, getting to the top of people’s search results on Google.

Kick off with keywords. Type into Google what you think would be a popular search, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see ‘Searches related to…’, which shows you similar phrases that people are looking for. Then put those popular terms in the page titles and the content of relevant pages on your website.

4. Information about your business

Your site should contain masses of helpful information about your business and its services. This supports potential customers in learning about you before they visit.

Action: In a world full of charlatans, trust is everything, so be sure to include customer reviews and testimonials. And get the basic right: you must have a map and easy-to-find contact details.

5. Use social media – and really engage

start up ways to give your business a digital makover flickr Roy Blumenthal 620Depending what services you provide, not all social media platforms will be relevant, so you don’t need to be on them all. But creating eye-catching posts that people share means your clients are then helping to do your marketing.

Action: Research social media and decide which channels right for you. Visual businesses such as hairdressers, florists or make-up artists do brilliantly on Instagram, for example, while professional services can use LinkedIn to build reputation.

6. Establish authority in your field with a blog

Blogs are brilliant business-boomers. A credible, resourceful and genuine blog builds your company’s reputation as a thought leader in your industry; and can quickly gain trust from customers and new prospects.

Action: Build a blog into your site. It not only gives your business personality, it can boost your SEO. Google’s latest algorithm values content highly, so if it sees lots of lively, relevant words, it will zoom you up its charts.

7. Get customers to send customers

Ask current customers to recommend you and link to you from their own websites.

Act: Don’t ask, don’t get. Backlinks are great for SEO, so ask other sites to link to you, and offer to do the same.

8. Attract the right kind of attention 

Today’s customers are more visual than ever before. Take a look around and you’ll see that the best websites are packed with high quality images. Take care not to have a website with dated or poorly taken, amateur looking photos.

Action: Choose an image-rich template for your site and invest in good photography, ideally getting a decent, professional photoshoot. If you can’t afford that (or call in a favour), choose carefully from the many image libraries of stock photographs. Avoid the cheesy, very generic ones. Here are some examples of sites that share quality – and in this case, free – photography.

9. Create a strategy and analyse what’s working

Decide exactly what you want each element of your digital business to achieve and know what your strategy is.

Action: Make friends with Google Analytics. It’s nowhere near as scary as it sounds and it will help you see what activity is working and what’s a waste of energy. Whatever you do online, don’t be a busy fool.

Matthew Moore is the hub lead at Johnston Press, which strengthens relationships with local businesses and offers tips, resources and inspiration to entrepreneurs (see its latest digital guide). Understand your entrepreneurial style and get the chance to win £5,000 of advertising through its Great British Business quiz