This is a guest post by Pratik Dholakiya.
We all know it; even though we wish it weren’t true: small businesses have limited resources. They often have only enough time, money, and patience for the core of their business. Certainly, a small business should never sacrifice its unique selling position. But it’s equally true that businesses need exposure in order to stay up and running.
Thankfully, the web makes it possible to boost awareness at relatively low costs. Even so, many businesses struggle getting a competitive edge online. Here are some of the reasons why.
1. Poor Market Research Before Creating a Web Presence
Often, small businesses are simply creating a website because they feel it’s the modern thing to do, and they just want to get it over with. But it’s important to understand the online marketplace before diving in.
The market for products online may look very different from your local market or the medium you are used to. It’s important to address what the online competition looks like, how many resources they have, and how you can stand out from the crowd.
2. A Cluttered, Ugly Website Design
WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr have made it so that anybody can put up a website. This is exciting because it has given consumers and small businesses a voice that they haven’t had in a very long time, but it also means that users won’t trust you just because you have a website. It’s important to invest in a sleek appearance and intuitive navigation so that users feel they can trust your website.
3. Not Setting a Unique Selling Proposition
As we mentioned in the intro, a business can’t sacrifice its core if it is going to survive long term, and this is only more true online. All to often, businesses try to convince consumers that they are “the best.” This is typically a waste of time because most consumers will not believe you.
It is important to be more specific about what you have to offer, and, most importantly, draw attention to how you are different.
Online efforts should focus on giving consumers a unique and specific reason to choose their product. Often this means creating a brand image as much as it means promoting the products themselves. It also often means that your site’s content must itself offer unique value that isn’t easily attainable anywhere else on the web.
4. High/identical price of Products/services compared to big names in industry
If your product or brand does not offer a unique and specific benefit over the alternatives, there is no reason it should be priced the same or higher. Big name brands have a very huge advantage in the marketplace and consumers need a very good reason to consider your products instead. This often means your prices must be lower, even if the product is in some ways superior. It is only if your product is clearly different from the competition that you may charge a higher price.
5. Don’t know the exact target audience
This is essentially the same problem as #1, but it’s important enough that it deserves its own category. Businesses often focus so much on creating the superior or cheaper product, when the real goal is to solve a problem for consumers.
You must understand your target consumer and the problems that they want solved. Often, your online content should also help them solve that problem, or related problems. This will help them trust your brand and the ability of your product to solve their problems as well.
6. Undefined Online Marketing Strategy
You need to be able to answer questions like:
- Why are you online?
- How will customers find you?
- Why will customers choose your products over others?
- How will your online presence grow?
- Where are your target consumers most active online?
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for businesses to have no answers to these questions.
7. Ignoring Social Media (or Being Ignorant of it)
Virtually everybody uses Facebook, and the most influential people online also use other networks such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and others. Making yourself known online requires building relationships with influencers as well as keeping consumers engaged with online conversations and community building.
At the same time, many of the businesses who use social media are ignorant of how it works and why people use it. The vast majority of people use social networks to entertain themselves first and foremost, as well as to express themselves and communicate. They do not use social networks to find information, especially not about consumer products.
8. Underestimating (or Overestimating) the potential of SEO software/tools
Businesses that do not track the results of their online efforts are waving their hands in the dark. It’s important for them to track their rankings, link building efforts, traffic, and other factors in order to understand what is working and what isn’t, so they don’t waste time on failing strategies. Some examples of low cost SEO tools include:
Tools like these will help you understand how you can improve your site so that it is more easily discovered in the search engines.
However, equally dangerous is the possibility of overestimating such tools. It is important to understand that SEO and online marketing in general are not mechanical processes. You must create outstanding content, build relationships, and become a unique voice in the community in order to improve your visibility online and in the search engines.
9. Lack of Online and Offline Local Marketing Strategies
If your business is local, or has physical locations that consumers can visit at all, it is important to have a local marketing strategy. Some businesses are still under the impression that because the internet is a “world wide web,” it is useless for local marketing. This hasn’t been true for quite some time.
The search engines currently localize search results to display web pages from local businesses and results from Google Maps with driving directions. Foursquare and Yelp have become widely used to find and review local businesses. Facebook has local event notifications, and consumers can review local businesses in Google+ Local or Google Places.
Devise an integrated local marketing strategy that makes the most of the online and offline world in combination with events to spread publicity.
10. Ignoring Mobile
As more and more people own smartphones and tablets, it is becoming unacceptable to pretend that people only use PCs to access the internet. Consumers are frustrated with sites designed for desktops that they have to zoom in and out of and scroll all over the place to use. Sleek and uncluttered sites that they can slide their way through, easily reading and pressing buttons with their fingertips, are far more successful.
But mobile is an opportunity, not just something you need to adapt to. Mobile users tend to be more wealthy, they are more engaged with their devices, and they are often already on the go looking for nearby businesses to visit. Conversions are much higher on mobile devices, and apps keep your brand where consumers will see it.
Understand the web and you will beat your competitors, becoming a successful small business in the online world. Fail to keep up and you will lose touch with your customer base. The web presents a promising opportunity for the businesses willing to make the most of it. Don’t fall behind.