Whether we realize or acknowledge it, many small business owners get stuck in their ways. We say that we’re open to change or ready to adapt; however, the reality remains that we fear the change that may (or may not) move our business forward.
Due to the uncertainty of the economy and the world at large, it’s easy to fear such change.

Case in point, we as a society are more than connected than ever. The numbers don’t lie:

Whether we’re chatting it up with someone next-door on Facebook or following revolutions across the globe via Twitter, we’re in tune with our surroundings like never before. Alerts. Updates. Messages. All about everything, all in an instant and all while we’re on the go. It’s cliche to say that the Internet has revolutionized business; however, it’s the degree that we are connected that has really changed the game.

Users expect us to play the game, too. With so many apps, sites and technologies out there, we’re responsible for a lot of moving pieces when it comes to our business and its customers online. It’s easy to resist. It’s easy to want to forgo the potential headache and focus on something else. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to get left behind.

Push aside the buzzwords and fluff. An online presence is absolutely crucial for any small business looking to survive. Whether we’re talking about social media or simply having a website, it’s paramount that you connect yourselves to your customers (both existing and potential) and take advantage of what the modern web has to offer.

You can’t afford to get left behind, can you?

Making a Connection

Before anything, it’s important to simply embrace the concept of being “connected.” You may want to resist. You may want to pull yourself from a world of wires, cords and connects; however, the benefits of connectivity cannot be denied. Consider how embracing technology and the social web…

  • Puts you closer to your customers, their wants and opinions
  • Ultimately makes your job easier as you monitor feedback in an instant
  • Keeps you in tune with your industry and competition
  • Opens new doors and opportunities that would otherwise not be possible

You can see what your customers are saying, both good and bad, and respond to it in a heartbeat. You can understand what’s working and what’s not. You can explore new opportunities and adapt your business at a moment’s notice. Is it worth the potential headache? You bet.

Many see connectivity as wasted time and, in truth, they aren’t necessarily wrong. Ultimately, most of your success online will be determined by how you manage your time. Drooling in front of a Facebook game won’t do your business any favors. Instead, focus on how each facet of your business online can help you grow.

Picking Your Battles

Before you do anything (and regardless of where your business stands) you need to focus on the three major components of your business online:

  1. Social Media – The voice of your business online
  2. Website – The hub of your business online
  3. Ratings and Review Sites – The pulse of your business online

The three aforementioned components are absolutely essential for growing your business and monitoring your progress, both online and off.

Calming the Seas of Social Media

Despite popular belief, you don’t need to be a part of every social media channel to find success. In fact, that’s oftentimes a recipe for disaster and burnout as you attempt to spread yourself too thin. Instead, look at who you want to reach and your respective niche when it comes to picking your battles.

Facebook – The safest best for businesses online. With the largest, most active base of users, Facebook is synonymous with the web itself. Start here and move forward.

Twitter Although its legitimacy with SMBs has been questioned recently, Twitter represents a prime platform for interaction between you and your customers. Also a safe bet.

LinkedIn – Personal profiles on LinkedIn are beneficial for those looking to make connections and connect with movers and shakers in their industry. It’s also a great place to scope out potential talent. Build out a business profile here yet don’t concern yourself too much with upkeep.

Google+ – Like LinkedIn, Google+ offers opportunities for connections and engagement. Build out a profile and monitor accordingly it; however, don’t obsess over presence just yet.

Tumblr – A former up-and-comer appealing to a younger, artsy demographic, Tumblr is an example of a massive site with a well-defined niche. Browse a bit to understand whether or not it’s your niche.

Pinterest – Similar to Tumblr, Pinterest represents a niche site with a huge female demographic (approximately 80%).

Instagram/Vine– Photo and video platforms such as Instragram and Vine are becoming staples of the modern web. They aren’t reserved for the tech-savvy, either; how you utilize them depends on your creativity.

In short, avoid spreading yourself thin and give the proper sites your full attention. Don’t leave your followers behind or let your sites fall to the wayside. Remember; social media is about engagement first and foremost.

You Have to Have a Website

Conventional wisdom tells us that approximately half of all small businesses do not have a website. Unimaginable, right?

Perhaps modern business owners feel that with so many social media options available, what’s the point? Lacking a website represents a huge mistake as you miss out on potential opportunities when it comes to new leads, customers and ultimately sealing the deal. Many business owners fear the idea of a website due to the energy and upkeep involved; however, your website doesn’t have to be rocket science. In truth, the concept behind a SMB site is quite simple.

That is, give your users what they want.

Your website represents a concentrated hub of your business online. This hub answers all of your users’ questions and leads them in the right direction. It’s about information. It’s about content. It’s not about being flashy or complicated. All in all, it’s about helping your customers in the quickest, most convenient way possible.

They Said What About Me?

With the recent influx of mobile users, review sites are holding a lot of weight for SMBs as they represent the pulse of your business to the public. What are people saying? Is your online reputation holding up? While you can’t obsess over reviews, especially those you can’t control, you should take into consideration what such reviewers are saying and adapt your business accordingly.

You may feel that word of mouth is more important than a few sentences scattered around Yelp! or Google. The different is, though, that what’s written on those sites doesn’t simply go away.

The Bottom Line

If you spend your time online wisely, you may avoid a big headache when it comes to running your company online. Consider that today, every small business is an online business. How connected are you?