Here's an operational guide to building and sustaining an online presence.
Anyone following my recent string of articles may have noted that I frequently write on subjects like e-commerce, m-commerce and digital enablement. This is because I feel businesses globally need to act quickly to establish themselves on the internet or face mass extinction.
Many of the most valuable brands are either dot-com or technology companies. That says a lot about where we are today. Our once-disconnected global community is increasingly finding and establishing borderless communications and business channels.
Some of the readers and businesses I advise have reached out to me and asked something along these lines: "I understand that you've been voicing your opinions about going digital, and I'm sold to a certain extent, but I'm lost when it comes to the operational leg of this journey. How do I get my preferred domain? What is hosting, and why do I need it? Who designs my website? I have a basic brick-and-mortar business and don't know the first thing about taking my business digital – how can I make sure that I am building a future-proof e-commerce setup that won't disrupt my existing business?"
To answer all these and other questions, here is the step-by-step journey to take your brand digital.
1. Research, research ... and research.
The first thing to do when starting any new business is to understand your target audience. This is something I religiously follow for one simple reason: You need to know who you're selling to.
A good targeting strategy to facilitate your online sales and marketing process will almost certainly ensure that the right audience lands on your platform, whether that's your e-commerce website or your social media pages. It's simple – you need to be where your customers are and have what they want. Because the digital market is borderless, you can use tools like Google Trends to review what global or local trends are being extensively searched over a period of time. This gives you good preliminary data to break down your product's popular regions and optimize your digital marketing strategy (including budgets, digital channels and vehicles).
2. Establish your digital channels.
A lot of people ask me if a website is the only sales and marketing channel you need to set up your digital storefront. The answer isn't always simple. While I am a strong advocate for building and managing a digital presence through your website, I have to be honest – a lot of small businesses (such as home-based food and clothing sellers) operate just fine without websites, relying on social media to push their products. While a lot of them see organic results, many put money into promoting their brands online.
Obviously, I endorse the need to create, manage and maintain your social media presence, but to all those businesses looking to grow and establish themselves online, I'll tell you that a website is a pivotal investment. This investment includes all of these components:
The myth that building and maintaining a website is a costly affair should no longer apply in this day and age. The first thing you need to know when building a website for your business is that there are now multiple extensions you can purchase online.
Once you've locked in a name for your website, it's important to understand what sort of domain hosting works for you. Simply put, your hosting is the space you require to keep your website up and online. A lot of things can damage your digital brand, and bad hosting decisions are one of them. Whenever I am choosing a hosting plan for any one of my digital assets, I rely a lot on research. Websites like Hosting Facts benchmark 30-plus hosting companies. This sort of information lets users understand the kind of hosting option that would facilitate their web traffic, as well as the costs and included support features. [Read related article: The Best Web and Cloud Hosting Services of 2019]
Building your website nowadays isn't about knowing programming languages, nor is it a costly affair for which you have to hire a customized development team or an agency. That's an option if you're looking to do groundbreaking stuff that requires a customized solution, but for your standard SMB, blog or services brand, you need to consider site builders that can quickly deploy a functional website at a fraction of the cost a normal developer might charge. Again, it is very important to compare website builders to decide which is best for you. According to a recent Hosting Facts study, 2 out of 10 website-building projects fail. This might be due to a lack of research and need analysis – I make it a point to first establish that the service I will use can scale with my business.
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3. Focus on building winning content.
The next step after you've identified your target audience, market and digital channels is to write strong content. Some people say that this step should precede establishing your digital channels, but I feel one should focus on the tasks and not the order, and this approach has helped me focus the bulk of my time on developing content.
This process involves all your online and offline assets; a key to understanding your content strategy is to build an omnichannel experience. These are the foundations of writing and publishing powerful content:
- It should be focused on sales and conversions but should not oversell.
- It should flow naturally and be accurate and engaging.
- You should follow a content schedule using a calendar. Small businesses can use services like Canva to create regular social media posts, web banners, etc.
- You should update your website content regularly. You can use tools like Crazy Egg to set up heat maps that will audit your customer journeys and see which content works for you and which doesn't.
- If your product is technical, you should offer educational materials for it, such as a FAQs page or YouTube explainer videos.
These three steps are what will get you in shape online. They serve as broad guidelines of what you should do as an offline brand or even as an online brand struggling to complete its transition. These tools and techniques are not absolute, but they are solutions I use to keep my digital brands relevant.
The internet has opened up huge potential to build future-proof digital businesses. This is the right time to do your research and take your brand online.