Grow Your Online Footprint

Your company has a story to tell. In days gone by, you’d tell it is small ways, with individual interactions with each of your customers, or in slow ways, such as your monthly newsletter. Business rose and fell with the times, but most businesses could follow some well-worn paths to success.

ReporterFast forward to 2011. The “recession” is 3 years old. To quote a poster in my bank, “Save is the new Spend.” Your customers’ buying habits have changed irrevocably. Add in the technology and communication booms that we are seeing make it even into little old Medford, and what this guy used to be able to count on can’t be counted on any longer.

Have a great (or poor) interaction with one your customers? You can now count on it to be blasted out to their 300 Facebook friends who will then Tweet or Yelp it all over the valley in record speed. How’s a small business owner to keep up with all this change? Its coming from so many angles and now its coming 24/7 too. Well, no one ever said entrepenuership was for the faint of heart. So tighten up your chin strap, hang on, and let’s make a PLAN to battle back.

Join the Conversation

Your brand is online whether you like it or not. Customers right now in this valley are talking about you and/or your competitors. They are looking for what you sell, asking each other for advice, searching for places to buy, and generally trying to absorb as much as they can “in order to make a smart purchase.” No one wants to buy the wrong thing from the wrong company – and in an online economy they never have to again.

So since these horses are already out of the barn, embrace it! Leap in with both feet! Have a place on your website (you do have a website don’t you?) where your customers can ask you questions – and answer them quickly. Tie in a Facebook page and Twitter account to make it as easy as possible for your customers to find and reach out to you.

And most importantly, contribute to the conversation. Offer tips, ask questions, answer questions. Share some of your personality. After all, people don’t want to buy from a company, they want to buy from a friend. Go ahead, be a friend.

Set a Schedule

Yes, all this can be daunting. Time consuming too. “But, Greg. I’m already as busy as I know how to be. There’s no way I can fit all this into my schedule too.” Not without scheduling it you can’t – so give this part of your business part of your week – and maybe part of your employees’ week too. Your doctor asks you for 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. Your online reputation deserves as much. You even get to pick when you fit it in.

Tools Make the Job Manageable

Sweat equity has never been easier than it is in the digital age. Leverage these great tools in order to save your labor for the really important parts.

Triple Play

Southern Oregon Media Group has a new, inexpensive tool to help called Triple Play. It does some serious heavy lifting for you.

  1. You get listed on all the sites around the web that you should be on so your customers can find you.
  2. It promotes your business on the largest local site in Southern Oregon with 10,000s mentions each and every day.
  3. It “listens” for chatter about your brand – and up to 9 more businesses that you want to monitor – and emails you when it finds anything allowing you to fully leverage your word-of-mouth advertising.

It also costs less than your daily latte – which doesn’t do any work for you at all.  Once you are listed where your customers can find you, are promoting what you offer in the most prominent location, and listening for when people talk about you the next task is to make sure you can easily respond.

Your Company Blog

If you don’t have one yet, let’s talk. You can probably tack one on to your existing website without adding to your montly website costs. Worst case, the monthly charge would be less than $10. And there are platforms for your blog that allow you to automate it to update your Facebook and Twitter accounts for you – saving a whole lot of time and effort from needing to post your info in multiple places.

Having a blog means that – once properly set up – you can get your part of the story out on the web with little more effort than sending an email. If we take the mystique out of updating your site out of the equation, chances are you and your employees will actually do it.

Keep Track of it All

In this day and age, the amount of conversations you are having with your customers means that you need a CRM system. Gone are the days when these were only the realm of the Fortune 500 and your only option was SalesForce with their steep pricing. My favorite new CRM for small to medium sized businesses is Bantam Live. Man, does it pack a punch for the price. For $19-140 a month depending on your size this site ties it all together for you. Stay on top of all of the interactions you and your staff are having with all of the people you connect with in an easy-to-learn intuitive way.

Use the forecasting and management tools in Bantam Live to see around the corners that are flying up at you in this economy. Use the search functions to find more prospective customers. And tie the whole thing to your Outlook and Accounting software. It’s a great tool even if I don’t make a dime for telling you so.

So now you have a plan that you can follow that will work in the world of 2011. Have questions on what you see here? Maybe you’d like some help in implementing these changes to your business? If so, give me a call.

Think I missed something? You might be right. Sound off below to let me know.

Greg Thompson

Internet Specialist

gthompson@mailtribune.com

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