Find and win international customers online

These Q & A’s are from a panel discussion at the England heat in London alongside successful entrepreneurs, where they discussed online marketing within a fast changing environment.

Q. I run a small business and don’t have any expert marketing skills. What questions should I be asking myself as I consider the first steps of marketing my business online?

A. Perhaps the biggest and simplest question is ‘What do I want to achieve with my online marketing?’ You then need to consider how much you are prepared to invest in terms of time and money in achieving it, and what return you need to get. Then ask yourself if this is something you can realistically do alone, or do you need help.

Having asked those fundamental questions, I’d suggest diving into the detail and consider questions like:

  • How do my customers and prospective customers go about finding me online and where do they look for me? The answers are the places where you need to be found. Think about search engines, particularly Google™, but also Facebook and online directories.
  • What do I want people to do when they find me online? For example, if you want them to call you it’s important to make sure your phone number is prominent.
  • What kind of analytics do I need on my website? Analytics are vital to know what’s happening when people visit your site. This gives an indication of what is working well and what isn’t.
  • Should I have a Facebook page for my business?
  • How can my online and offline marketing complement each other?

Q. I feel I should have a strategy. What key items should my online marketing strategy cover?

A. The same items as your offline marketing strategy. Identify who your customers are and how they look for you. Understand what is important to them. Determine how much you are reliant on new customers versus repeat business. Know your key selling points and points of difference from your competitors.

On top of that, online marketing presents three big questions:

1. How do I want to present my business to web users?
This essentially comes down to having a well branded website, Facebook page, listing pages in relevant business directories like Yell Online and Google Places™. I’d want to make sure that my business was presented consistently across all the media types I was involved with. I’d also consider whether it was worthwhile going a little further and consider things like having a blog and creating videos to make your business stand out a little more.

2. How do I get traffic to my business online?
There are a number of free and paid methods available. Any strategy aimed at pulling in traffic online needs consideration about your presence in search engines (natural and paid search), directory sites, display advertising – including Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing.

3. How important is mobile to my business?
Mobile is one of the fastest growing sectors. There’s been an explosion in the number of people with smartphones.

Q. What are the do’s and don’ts of marketing a business online?

A. Do’s:

  • Get help when you need it. But don’t be afraid to ask people to explain to you what they are doing for you and why.
  • Do get a website – it’s the equivalent of a shop window online.
  • Monitor what’s being said about you online. As a minimum set up a Google Alert on your business name, and maybe key competitors, so you can be aware of what’s being said about you online.
  • Make sure your business is listed in places like Yell.com and add content to your listing to help people find you and to help you stand out.
  • Claim your business on Google Places, especially if your business tends to be searched for locally. This is currently a great form of free SEO in many searches.
  • Consider opening a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your business – they’re a great way of keeping in touch with your existing customers and letting them know of new developments within your business.

Don’t:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new things – but set out a plan of what you expect to happen so you can adjust your activity.
  • If you’re going to do it yourself, do research before you start – especially if you’re paying for advertising. Make a plan and monitor what’s happening carefully so you know what’s working and what’s not.

Q. I have heard of ‘brand reputation’. What does it mean and what should I be doing to protect and promote my own online brand?

A. Brand reputation simply means what people think about your business – from the service you offer to the quality of the product, and what your business stands for.

The internet has made it much easier for people to talk about businesses and share their views with the world. Whether this is leaving a review on a site such as Yell reviews or simply sharing their views with friends on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

The best way to protect your brand is to give great service and meet your customers’ needs. It is also the best way to promote your brand online as people will share great experiences they’ve had. Indeed it may come as a surprise to some, but many more people share great experiences than bad ones.

Businesses should encourage their customers to leave online reviews whenever possible. This is the best way to guard against the odd negative review and it enlists your customers to help market your business. It is also a great source of free information on what your customers think about your business.

Q. What practical advice can you give to make my business stand out from the crowd online?

A. The simplest piece of practical advice is to do the basics well. Get a great website, claim your Google Places page, have a Facebook page, get listed in Yell (a standard listing is free) and update your online pages and content regularly. Taking that a step further, video is an excellent way to connect with prospective customers. Depending on your line of business, a blog can help you create a voice and engage your audience.

Topics: Sales & Marketing
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