We regularly ask potential clients the question “What is the biggest challenge you face related to growing your business?” More often than not, they respond with “I don’t even know how to get started.”

Fortunately, it’s not as hard to get started as they might think.

Get started by starting with the first step

As is true with any journey, you get started with the first step. In this article, we’re going to take you further than that. We outline the first five steps you can take today to begin your journey of growth.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

-Lao Tzu

Growing your business starts with marketing. This assumes you offer a product people want, of course. When you have something people want, you need to make sure they can find it quickly and easily.

Think online before anything else

Today, we live in a digital world. In that world, no marketing channel exists that you should use before you’ve established your presence online.

Radio, TV, print, even the Yellow Pages should be avoided for now. Don’t even think about spending your valuable time and money in these areas until you have a finely-tuned online presence. Get started online, then consider offline.

Frankly, an online presence could be enough. You may never need to consider those other options.

There are five steps you should take before anything else

To get started, there are five steps any owner, manager, or partner can (and should) take to market their business online. They’re quick. They’re easy. In fact, with a minimum amount of know-how, you can establish your online presence in a weekend. This article will take you through these steps one at a time.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Is there more you could do? Are there other, more effective (and more expensive) means of marketing online? Yes.

Right now, however, let’s focus on where to get started. After all, we everyone knows you can’t eat an elephant all at once.

First verify your business presence with Google

Google serves up results to more than 1 trillion search queries every year. Rest assured your potential customers are among them. This is why the first item on your list is to create a business page. This gives you two distinct advantages.

First, creating your verified page establishes your business in local listings, both on Google Search and Google Maps. This allows you to control the published details of your business, like contact information and hours of operation.

Second, it lays the groundwork for collecting client reviews.  This gives you an opportunity to improve both your social proof and your sites SEO (more on this later).

To complete the process, Google will ask to send you a postcard in the mail. Doing so helps confirm you truly are who you say you are. Don’t worry, it’s easy to do, and we will walk you through the steps.

Next clean up  your business listings across the web

Whether you know it or not, your business can be found by potential clients on a number of web sites and online directories. Each one provides information about your company to people who want your services, so it’s in your best interest to make certain the information is correct.

Not only that, but inconsistent information also affects search engine rankings for your business.  It’s not only important for the listing information to exist. It needs to be exactly the same on all sites.

Some sites, like Yelp, are large and well-known. They cover all industries and geographical locations. Others, like Avvo (which provides a directory of lawyers) also cover all regions, but cater to a specific industry. Still others, like the Better Business Bureau, focus on businesses local to an area.

Get started by making a list of sites and directories that could potentially contain information about your business. Then start working your way through the list, verifying and correcting each one in turn. Be warned, this job can be tedious, but it’s important to later steps. In the end, this is time well spent.

Need a quick way to check if your business is listed consistently across the web? Check out Moz Local. This tool provides a free and easy way to conduct the initial assessment. For a fee, the company will even help you automate your citation clean up activity.

Then clean up your website

Many will tell you to buy or build a new, flashy, expensive website if you want to improve your online presence. Nonsense.

Your business already has a website. Is it perfect? Doubtful. Could it look better? Probably.

How your site looks matters very little if it doesn’t provide accurate information, the right functionality or a smooth customer experience. A restaurant that’s beautiful on the outside isn’t much of a restaurant if it has no functioning kitchen on the inside.

Form follows function.

Get started by taking some time to review your existing site. As you did with your list of directories and third-party sites, make sure your contact information is correct. Make sure your phone number is prominently visible. Provide your users with a way to contact you electronically, such as a contact form (not everyone likes to call on the phone).

This is all quick, easy, and necessary. It shouldn’t take more than an afternoon.

Functionally, your website should provide two things. First, it provides a way for you to tell your customers who you are and what you do. Second, it gives you a means to provide them valuable content that is of interest to them.

The static pages of your website accomplish the first task. A blog accomplishes the second. If your current site does not include blogging functionality, then you’re wasting an enormous opportunity.

Now establish a social presence for your business

Social networks are incredibly valuable to building a community…and in turn, your business. Each network speaks to a particular audience, and each provides a distribution channel for you to spread your message.

The blog on your website reaches very few people, at first. Social networks provide the amplification necessary to spread your message across the web.

Your friends, peers, employees and past customers all have friends, peers, employees and past customers. When they believe in you, your work, and your message, they will want to tell others. Provide them valuable information and take advantage of their willingness to share.

Which network(s) do you choose? If you can only handle one, make it Facebook (it has the biggest reach). If you’re willing to dive into two networks, add Google+ (it brings additional benefits, given it’s close ties to Google Search).

Beyond that, consider LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Instagram. Each of these networks reaches specific markets and brings specific value, depending on your target audience.

There are certainly others to consider; however, it would overwhelm any business owner to try tackling too many right out of the gate. Get started with the highest impact site(s). Stick with the relative few that will bring the best bang for your buck.

Finally, request client reviews

Now that  you’ve finished the house cleaning and laid the groundwork, it’s time to start spreading your message. What’s more, it’s time to start off-loading some of the work to others.

Client testimonials represent an incredibly valuable way to promote your business. They provide a powerful way to employ social proof…the psychological phenomenon wherein people mimic the actions of others in an attempt to reflect “correct” behavior…in your favor.

Remember the third-party sites you cleaned up earlier? Draft a quick email asking previous customers to briefly review your business on one of them. The message should be cordial, humble, and provide the client a direct link to your site of choice, making it easy to comply with your request.

Specifically, include a link to Google business page you created early in this article. Having your business reviewed on other sites definitely helps; however, having your business reviewed on Google itself brings additional benefits from a search perspective.

One other item to note…don’t take the easy way out by sending a mass email to your entire list. Take the extra time to send this email to each client individually. The small time investment of adding this simple personal touch will pay off in the end.

Get in touch if you want to dig in further

Remember, this article is intended to help you simply get started. We’ll dive into the details of each step in future articles, but we encourage you to get started today. To stay up to date with all our articles, check out the Reading Room.

If you don’t feel you have the capacity to tackle these steps on your own…or you covered them all, and want to go deeper…give us a call. We are always here to help.

Room19 provides exceptional digital consulting services to growing professional firms, because we do the right things well. Reach a seasoned consultant to help guide your firm through the digital world today.

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