How small local businesses can catch up with the digital age
For those businesses that still don’t have an established online presence, the idea of catching up can be daunting. It’s no longer just a case of having a webpage and an email address – now everybody’s talking about responsive design, social media campaigns and telecommuting. Where should one start? The good news is that most of the complicated stuff can be taken care of by experts or handled by specialist software, and it isn’t too expensive. This gives business people themselves the space to learn as they go. The advantages of being online mean it’s well worth the effort.
Why go online?
The Internet offers a world of opportunities – literally. Online, a business once restricted to Bluffton can connect with people thousands of miles away, accessing new materials, finding cheaper suppliers or selling products abroad and bringing money back into the community. Even within Bluffton it can reach new groups of customers, and it can make itself visible to people who are thinking of visiting the town. What’s more, for many types of business, the right online set-up makes it much easier for employees to work from home some of the time, creating a better work life balance and cutting down on days lost due to illness.
What customers expect
Although research shows that most people still prefer to shop with local businesses, over two thirds of them expect those businesses to have websites, and although younger people use technology more, older customers are increasingly getting connected. They expect to be able to use websites to find out more about businesses and, where possible, to research or buy products online. A similar number expect to find businesses represented on Facebook, and many expect to be offered discounts, special offers or the chance to enter competitions when they interact with businesses online.
Satisfying these requirements can sometimes be challenging. Because they want all the sites they visit to be updated regularly, it’s important for a business not to take on more than it can handle. Just a couple of social media sites run well make a better impression than a dozen run badly.
Managing transactions online
Just as important as connecting with customers is connecting with other businesses. When you’re online you can meet and exchange documents with people all over the world. There are established workarounds for things that once had to be done physically, like Docusign, which makes it possible to sign documents electronically. The company is led by Ohio-born pioneer Keith Krach, who was an Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year and has worked in places like GM and Rasna, as well as founding Ariba. Krach saw how the world was developing and wanted to find ways around the delays caused by having to post documents when everything else could be done instantaneously online.
Cutting down on delays and making things run more smoothly is what the Internet is all about. That’s why, as businesses are established online, they’re increasingly looking at software that can help them handle the new tasks involved automatically. This means, for instance, that social media posts can be written in advance and then sent out automatically at the optimum times for getting attention. Website updates can often be managed in a similar way and there are even technologies to help coordinate work activities taking place across multiple sites.
With so many resources designed to help, catching up with other businesses online is within anyone’s reach. There’s a great deal to be gained for not too much extra effort. It just takes a bit of nerve to take the plunge.