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Demystifying the Internet for Small Business

Quick steps to establishing your online presence as a small business owner

If you have a business of any kind, you MUST also have a website. These days clients expect to be able to find information about you online, and sometimes they will write you off immediately if they can’t find you.

For example, If you have a small One-Hour Dry Cleaning business in Chicago and a traveling business person looking for one hour dry cleaning services does an online search for “Dry Cleaning Chicago” your online presence will immediately determine whether or not you will win this incidental business. In most cases, especially for small businesses, your competition will not have the advantages of a well formed website and the online directory listings etc that will drive absolutely free traffic to your business. Anyone who has a website set up to provide interested seekers with more information automatically has an advantage over competitors who do not have these same tools in place.

Do not think that you have to spend thousands of dollars hiring a web developer and contracting out designers and services. This is a way to go if you have the budget and want to invest in this type of marketing, however, you can also set up a simple website and have complete control over the look, design and content without having to rely on someone else to make changes for you. You can also contract out these services a la cart for a low cost solution to not having to figure it all out for yourself, while still maintaining control and saving money.

If you are new to the concept of online business, this simple guide can provide you with the easy steps you need to complete in order to quickly establish your online presence.

1. Register your domain name

There are numerous providers where you can register your domain name. My recommendation is GoDaddy.com.

It is up to you whether you want to take advantage of the email addresses and other options offered as you check out. I generally just register the domain name.


2. Set up hosting

You can also host your site with GoDaddy. However, I set up my hosting with HostGator mainly because their tools after this are much easier to use than the tools at GoDaddy. Also, HostGator has great rates.. $4.95 a month for unlimited sites and unlimited bandwidth.

Hostgator also provides unlimited free email addresses with your hosting.

3. Install WordPress

WordPress is a free blogging tool which you can install through Hostgator and use to establish your site. It is easy to use, you can make modifications to your website from any computer, and there are just tons and tons of plug-ins, widgets, and themes to help you personalize the site.

After you install WordPress you also have to configure the settings and pick a theme. These steps can be very simple or very complex depending on your level of comfort with working on websites. As a small business owner, it is probably the best use of your time to hire someone to complete this part for you. However, if you have the time and the ability, you can certainly complete this on your own. There is no end to the amount of information and tutorials on how to work in WordPress if you just do a quick google search.

At a minimum you want to enter user information, set up categories and tags, and create the first post.  Also create an “About Me” or “About Us” page with your bio or company information.  You might also want to set up a “Contact” page with your physical address, phone, fax and email contact information. 

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of free WordPress themes to choose from to create an identity for your site.  Try doing a Google search to find a theme appropriate to your business.  For example, I would search for “writer free WordPress theme” to see what comes up.  You can also simply use the theme tool inside of WordPress to search based on the colors or other characteristics you would like to have for your site.

4. Register with search engines

Now that you have established an online presence, how will people find you?  You need to register with the major search engines to make sure that people can find you when they
search for your name or business name.

Visit the following pages to register your site:

You can also choose to submit to other search engines or search engine directories, but once you are recognized by the big three, you should be recognized by all eventually.  Find other search engines them by doing a search on “submit site to search engines.”  Many of these will offer paid services to submit your site, however this is generally  not necessary.

5. Set up Google Places

Go to Google Places and follow the on screen instructions to add your business to their free business listing. To confirm your information google will send a postcard with a code to your physical address. You have to enter this code online after you receive it to prove that your business is actually at the location where you have listed it. This is a great way to get free visitors to your website and then to your business. Back to our example of the dry cleaners, if someone searches for “Dry Cleaners in Chicago” your google places listing will be one more way to lead this customer to your business.

6. Add content to your site

Once again, you want to have your basic business information, how to contact you, and other general information about your business to give visitors something to see when they come to your site.

You may also want to include a few informational articles, offer discounts for people who mention the website when they come in, or offer other incentives to convert basic website visitors into recurring clients.

7. Set up your social networking

If you are a small business owner you also definitely want to have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. This is not quite what you may think. These sites can serve as tremendous tools to promote your business and to keep your customers and website visitors updated on new products or promotions that you have going on. If you start slowly to establish a following, this is invaluable free marketing for your business.

8. Add an Opt-in / Autoresponder to your website

One of the most important functions of your website is not only to attract clients, but to capture them. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. You definitely want to get the email addresses of your site visitors so that you can keep in contact with them. In the same way as you want in a physical store, you want to turn drop-in visitors into repeat customers.
Get Response allows you to capture up to 100 email addresses for free. After the first 100 they have varying rate plans to manage bigger and bigger lists. If you haven’t heard it before, this is the first rule of your internet presence: The Money is in the List. This means that the people who you are able to establish a dialogue and relationship with over the web will be your best customers.

After you’ve captured the emails you can follow up with your subscribers with a preset automated email followups, a newsletter, or special offers and discounts. Remember, your communications with your clients should not always be sales related, but should offer them a value for free.

9. Add an Google Analytics

One of the best ways to understand how people are using your website is to use Google Analytics. This is a free service offered by Google which allows you to know what search terms people are using to find you, where they live, how long they stay on your site, and hundreds of other metrics. You can set up alerts to let you know when your site visitation has reached a certain level or falls below certain goals. The information provided by Google Analytics is amazing, and can really help you optimize your site so that it is offering the information that people are really looking for. This will help you to gain customers and earn revenues.

Simply visit the Google Analytics site and sign up for a free account, then add the tracking codes to your site.

You can also set up Google Webmaster Tools to help you monitor the status of your site and whether or not it is being recognized by the search engines.

10. Add Google Adsense

If it is appropriate for your site you can also monetize your site by adding Google Ads or advertisements from other ad services. You can also sign up for Amazon Affiliates, Commission Junction or Clickbank to find products to promote on your site.

11. Add Widgets and PlugIns to your Site

WordPress has a plugin for almost anything you can think of wanting to do on your site. Provided you can figure out how to use them, you can customize your site in some amazing ways or use the various SEO and Social Networking tools to optimize your site. After you have it up and running and doing everything you want to do, go back and explore the plugins or do google searches to see what neat plugins you can find to make your site into everything you want it to be.

Feel Free to contact me to find out how you can get help with completing these steps and start taking advantage of the incredible low cost marketing opportunities you can leverage by establishing an online presence for your business.

Updated August 22, 2013

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