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January 26, 2024

How to Grow Your Business Online

With the increasing penetration of the internet and digital devices, the way businesses operate has drastically changed over the years. From conducting transactions to customer service, everything has shifted to the online platform. This shift is not limited to large enterprises; many small and medium-sized businesses have also moved online to meet the changing needs and preferences of their customers. If you are a business owner, you might be wondering how to grow your business online and keep up with this ever-evolving landscape.

The good news is that taking your business online is not as daunting as it may sound. With the right strategies and tools, you can effectively establish and expand your digital presence, reaching a wider audience and converting more leads into customers. In this article, we'll guide you through the steps to grow your business online successfully, bolstering your bottom line in the process.

Steps to Grow Your Business Online

1. Identify Your Business Objectives

The first step in your online growth journey is to clearly define your business goals. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by going digital. Do you want to expand your customer base, enhance brand visibility, boost sales, or improve customer engagement? It's okay if you have multiple objectives; just prioritize them. Identifying these targets helps shape the rest of your strategy, allowing you to focus on actions that drive meaningful results.

2. Create an Integrated Digital Strategy

Develop a comprehensive plan that aligns your online activities with your broader business objectives. Your digital strategy should encompass all aspects of your business, from marketing and sales to product delivery and customer service. Consider the following as you craft your strategy:

  • Target Audience: Identify and understand the online behavior of your target audience. This includes not only demographics but also the digital platforms they use, the devices they prefer, and the challenges they face. You can start by examining the characteristics of your current offline customers and then expanding to new audiences that may be reachable online.

  • Customer Journey Mapping: Outline the steps a potential customer might take to interact with your business online, from the first Google search to their post-purchase experience. This exercise can help identify touchpoints where you can influence and improve the user experience.

  • Online Positioning: Determine how you want to be perceived in the digital space. This involves not only your branding but also the unique values you offer to customers, which can help you stand out from the competition. For example, you may want to be known for swift delivery, eco-friendly products, or top-notch customer care.

  • Distribution Channels: Strategically select the platforms where you will have a presence. This can include social media, search engines, e-commerce sites, and third-party marketplaces. The selection should be based on where your target audience is most active. We'll delve deeper into this in a later section.

  • Operational Impact: Assess the changes required in your internal processes. For example, you may need to invest in new systems for online accounting, inventory management, or customer relationship management. Look for opportunities to automate tasks, freeing up your team to focus on more critical endeavors.

  • Resource Allocation: Outline the human and financial resources needed to execute your digital strategy. This could range from team training and hiring to setting advertising budgets and investing in new software. It's essential to be as detailed as possible to gain buy-in from stakeholders and ensure a smooth implementation.

By thinking through these components, you're essentially bridging the gap between your business goals and the tactics needed to achieve them. Many businesses make the mistake of diving straight into the "doing" stage (e.g., setting up a website or social media accounts) without a clear strategy, which can lead to inefficiencies and misdirection. A well-thought-out strategy sets the framework for later action, ensuring that everything you do online contributes to your business's bottom line.

3. Build a High-Quality Online Presence

Your next step is to establish a robust, compelling online presence that resonates with your target audience. The specifics of this step will depend on your business structure, product or service offering, and target customers. Below are some general best practices that apply to any business. We'll also cover platform-specific tips in the subsequent sections.

Offer a Clear Value Proposition

Start with a powerful message that communicates the benefits of your product or service. Why should customers choose you over the competition? What problem do you solve for them? It's essential to articulate this not just on your website but across all online channels. Depending on your business, you may need to craft separate value propositions for different customer segments, which you can do by using language and messaging that resonates with each group.

Create a User-Friendly Website

A website serves as the digital storefront for your business, so it's crucial to make a strong first impression. If you don't have a website yet, the thought of creating one from scratch might seem daunting. The good news is that modern website builders, like Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify, have made the process incredibly user-friendly, with drag-and-drop interfaces and ready-made templates. Here are some pointers for your website development:

  • Mobile-Friendly Design: Ensure your website looks and functions well on mobile devices, as a significant portion of web browsing happens on smartphones and tablets.

  • Clear Call-to-Actions (CTAs): Whether it's "Buy Now," "Subscribe," or "Learn More," every page on your site should have a deliberate action for the visitor to take.

  • Resource-Rich Content: In addition to product or service descriptions, consider adding other elements that could add value for your visitors, such as a resource center, FAQs, or a blog. If you're concerned about maintaining a blog, know that 57% of businesses have acquired a customer through their blog, so it's a powerful tool not just for branding but also for revenue.

  • Trust-Building Elements: This could include customer testimonials, guarantees, security badges (especially if you're dealing with transactions), or collaboration logos.

  • About Section: Tell your brand's story in a compelling way. People resonate with authentic narratives, so don't shy away from sharing your journey, the challenges you've overcome, and your vision.

If you already have a website, it's essential to periodically audit its content and functionality to ensure it meets the following modern best practices:

  • Fast loading speed

  • Security (preferably with an SSL certificate)

  • Optimized for search engines (you'll learn more about this in the next section)

  • Intuitive, user-friendly design

Brand Your Online Properties Consistently

Take the time to create a cohesive brand identity that reflects your business's ethos and resonates with your target audience. This should go beyond just a logo and include elements like color schemes, typographies, image styles, and most importantly, a brand story. Once you've established these, ensure consistency in how you present your brand across different online channels. For example, your social media profiles and website should look and feel like they belong to the same company. This not only aids recognition but also builds trust.

Focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Regardless of your business' nature, product, or niche, it's almost certain that many of your potential customers are turning to Google and other search engines to research and make purchasing decisions. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of enhancing your website's visibility on search engines for relevant queries. While the full extent of SEO is vast and ever-evolving, here are some fundamentals to focus on as you start your online business:

  • Keyword Research: Identify the words or phrases your potential customers might use to find products or services similar to yours. There are both free and paid tools available for this, with the most popular being Google's Keyword Planner. When starting out, it's generally a good idea to target longer, more specific phrases (known as long-tail keywords) as the competition for broad terms is intense.

  • On-Page Optimization: Once you have your target keywords, optimize individual pages on your website for relevant ones. However, be mindful not to overdo it; the key is to provide valuable content for your human visitors, not just to please search engines.

  • Quality Backlinks: Getting reputable websites to link back to your site is a crucial trust signal for search engines. A good way to do this is by creating shareable, high-quality content that naturally earns links. You should also aim to get listed in relevant business directories.

  • Google My Business: If you have a physical location or serve a specific geographic area, setting up and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) profile can help you show up in local search results, which is where a significant portion of purchase intent lies.

  • Content Quality and Freshness: It's not enough to just have well-optimized pages. You also need to regularly publish relevant, valuable content. This could take the form of a blog, news articles, or even just expanded informational pages. The key is to show search engines that your site is active and an authority in its niche.

Establish Trust with Online Customers

One of the challenges of conducting business online is overcoming the natural skepticism customers have due to the prevalence of online scams and false advertising. Here are some strategies to establish trust:

  • Customer Reviews: Encourage and showcase genuine customer feedback. There are many review platforms you can be a part of, the most popular being Trustpilot, but Google and Facebook reviews are also powerful. The key is to not just have glowing 5-star reviews; authenticity is important, so a few negative reviews can actually be beneficial if you're seen to be transparent and willing to address issues.

  • Trust Badges: If you're collecting any form of sensitive information (even email addresses) or processing payments, security badges play a crucial role in allaying visitor concerns. In a survey of 4,000 consumers, 61% of participants stated that they had not purchased something online due to the absence of a trust logo. The Norton Secured, McAfee Secure, and SSL Certificates are the most well-known badges.

  • Transparency: Be upfront about policies, pricing, and product details. You'd be surprised at how many businesses' websites lack clear contact information or have "hidden" shipping and return policies. It's also good to have a dedicated page outlining who you are, your team, and your mission.

  • Authenticity: Showcasing the real people and the story behind your business can significantly humanize your brand. You could have videos of your team, your manufacturing process, or just images and bios of your team members. You could even consider taking a stand on an issue relevant to your business, but be mindful that this can be polarizing.

  • Provide Social Proof: If you've been featured in any publications or major websites, consider adding their logos to your site. Similarly, if you have partnerships with recognizable brands, display their logos as well. These are quick ways to build credibility.

4. Execute Customer-Centric Marketing and Sales Initiatives

With your foundational online presence in place, the next step is to drive awareness and sales. This can be done through a mix of customer-centric marketing, swift lead management, and systematic sales initiatives. The following tips cover how to do this while keeping the focus on your customers' needs.

Engage Customers with Experience-Driven Content

Remember, the key to online success is not just about having a presence but resonating with your audience in a way that cuts through the digital noise. One of the most effective ways to do this is through compelling, meaningful content. This could be in the form of inspiring brand stories, insightful articles, or even just engaging social media posts.

  • Storytelling: Craft narratives that resonate emotionally and authentically connect with your audience. Your story should not just be about what you sell but why you sell it and the positive impact you're looking to make.

  • Content Series: Consider creating content 'series' that encourage people to follow your brand and engage with multiple pieces. For example, you could have a weekly "tips and tricks" series or a 4-part series on a relevant trending topic.

  • Interactive Content: Quizzes, polls, interactive infographics, or calculators can be fun for the audience and also help you collect audience data. Did you know that on average, interactive content generates 2x more conversions than passive content?

  • Cause Marketing: Identify social or environmental causes that resonate with your brand and take a stance. You could run campaigns to raise awareness or funds, or simply use your platform to amplify important messages. Purpose-driven marketing is a powerful way to connect with conscious consumers.

  • Behind-the-Scenes (BTS) Content: People love getting a glimpse of the 'reality' behind the brands they love. Whether it's the manufacturing process, day-to-day office shenanigans, or the journey of creating a product - BTS content can be really engaging.

Regardless of the form it takes, your content should be aspirational, relatable, and most importantly, focused on your audience's interests and concerns.

Lead with Brand Awareness and Relationship Building

The traditional funnel approach, which focuses on moving customers in a linear path from awareness to purchase, is becoming increasingly outdated. Instead, businesses are now looking at the "flywheel" model, which places equal emphasis on attracting, engaging, and delighting customers. In practical terms, this means placing a greater focus on brand advocacy and continuing to engage with customers even after a purchase is made. It also means that happy customers are not the "end" of the process but actually the starting point for generating new leads and revenue.

As a business owner, it's important to think about how you can shift mindsets from "extracting value from customers" to "providing so much value to customers that they willingly advocate and bring more value back to the business." This is the core of sustainable, long-term online growth. Here are some methods to achieve this:

  • Delight Customers: Shift the focus from resolving complaints to proactively creating delightful customer experiences. This could be through surprise gifts, follow-up care calls, or just going the extra mile to make customers feel special.

  • Build a Positive Brand Image: Don't be so quick to chase every negative comment or review. Sometimes, it's more beneficial to take a hit (if the criticism is not widespread) and focus on amplifying the plethora of positive reviews you're hopefully getting.

  • Aim for 'Sustainable' Word of Mouth: Of course, it's great when people naturally talk about and recommend your business to others. However, you can't rely on this as a scalable strategy. The goal is to provide such an outstanding service that word-of-mouth does become a significant driver of new customers, but not the only one. As a business, you need to be equally—if not more—focused on new people who have not heard of you.

  • Advocate for Your Customers: Whether it's dealing with suppliers, sharing valuable industry insights, or even just standing up for a relevant social issue, show that your company's values resonate in everything you do.

  • Become a Thought Leader: Cultivate a reputation not just as a business but as an expert in your field. You can do this by regularly publishing non-promotional but valuable insights, the latest trends, and best practices in your industry. This goes beyond the traditional "blogging" to encompass videos, webinars, podcasts, and more.

Focus on E-Commerce and Online Reputation Management

Depending on whether you sell products or offer services, there are different ways to focus on reputation and revenue:

  • If you have an e-commerce business:

    • Reputation: Since most of your reputation will hinge on product quality, the focus should be on user reviews and maintaining a stellar review profile. Around 95% of buyers read reviews before making a purchase, so this really can't be overstated.

    • Revenue: The focus should be on making the buying journey as seamless and delightful as possible. This means swift delivery, great (and transparent) customer service, and care for the entire customer journey.

  • If you're primarily offering services...

    • Reputation: It's important to be present and active where your customers are most likely to leave reviews. This could be Google My Business, Trustpilot, or even Facebook. Prompt and positive handling of customer queries is also key in building a good reputation.

    • Revenue: The focus should be on lead nurturing and converting them into satisfied customers. Prompt response, warm communication, and a genuine desire to help are crucial in this stage.

Maximize Sales Using Integrated, Omnichannel Approach

While it's essential to have a strong branding and marketing game, the ultimate goal of your online business is to drive revenue. You can do this without resorting to the high-pressure sales tactics of yore by ensuring the following.

  • Strategic Resource Alignment: Tie your marketing initiatives to revenue generation by focusing on lead creation and sales. One way to do this is to have your marketing and sales teams collaborate on projects.

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