For some businesses, using the internet to promote and marketing their services makes perfect sense. Any business that serves a large geographic area can use internet marketing to reach large areas for a lower budget than traditional media channels. Ecommerce retailers can only sell to people when they’re online so online advertising is sort of a no brainer. But there are many small businesses that only sell locally and don’t have any ecommerce components. Even if it’s not readily obvious, internet marketing has just as much to offer these offline small businesses as it does to internet giants.
The greatest advantage of internet marketing is that it provides small business owners with a low-cost and effective way to get their name out to the public. Establishing a business and gaining initial customers is often the biggest challenge for small business owners. Relying on old small business tactics like placing flyers on cars or employing people to hand out coupons or twirl signs can work; but these methods aren’t cost efficient, have limited range, and for what it’s worth environmentally unfriendly (think of how many flyers go directly in the trash). Internet marketing tactics can be used to accomplish the same outcome but with better results. For example, instead of flyers, using that budget to promote the content that was advertised in the flyer would have a greater reach, more targeted so that the right people get the message, and dollar for dollar, far more cost effective. For small business owners trying to get the word out about a new business, $50 spent on social media marketing (promoted posts, advertisements, contests) would be far more effective than $50 spent on flyers. So without a penny being made directly from the internet itself, a brick and mortar store could see a large bump in their sales from online marketing.
Another thing that small business owners need to consider is how the internet has changed the way that people search for information, including business information. Long gone are the days that people turned to the phone book when looking for a plumber or mechanic. Not only is the same information usually easier to find online, there’s usually better information than what can be obtained through printed phonebooks. To illustrate, a Google search of “auto mechanic” plus a zip code would give the searcher a list of mechanics, their contact information, ratings, maps, websites, etc. According to a study quoted by a group that is opposed to the continued production of print phone books (for financial and environmental reasons), 70 percent of consumers never touch the print version and that 60 percent of people look up contact information online. Even when taken with a grain of salt given bias of the source, the point remains clear that small businesses that are relying on the people to find their business by searching in the phone book are missing out on many, if not the majority, of people who would be searching for their services. So again, even without selling anything online, online marketing affects the bottom line. Small business owners should at least have a presence on Google. This means that they will have a Google+ profile, a Google Maps listing, and a Google+ Business Page if they choose set one up. And there’s no cost to setup this up with Google which makes it far more affordable than any package offered by a telephone directory for decent exposure in a print phonebook. In fact, this seems to be trend, 70 percent of businesses have some presence on Google+.
All small businesses should also have a website. In this day and age, a website is as important to a brand’s image as it’s name and logo. A website is a business property online and the shape of this virtual property matters just as much as the facade of the physical business. Consumers make judgements about a company based on their website or lack there of. A website that looks amateurish, is error-ridden, contains out-of-date information, or doesn’t function properly hurts the professionalism of a business. Worse still, a business without a website hardly seems legitimate in the 21st Century, it’s would almost seem to some that they had something to hide.
However, unlike social media and Google+, which can be handled relatively easy with just some time and effort, proper web design isn’t something that small business owners should do without proper help. For a small business trying to establish itself and it’s credibility, it is not the time to learn web design through trial and error. The comparison of a business’s virtual property to their physical property is appropriate. Business owners wouldn’t try to build their own store by hand unless they had experience building stores before. Business owners should use the same logic when deciding on who should build their website. Cookie cutter approaches to website content aren’t helpful. According to one report, 61% of consumers say they feel better about, and are more likely to buy from, a company that delivers custom content.
For the modern business, there are tremendous benefits to marketing online even if the business itself is not. Social media, Google services, and websites are essential parts of any comprehensive marketing plan for small businesses. Not only are the tools effective, but they provide better results for the money spent.