Get the internet to work for you: How to get your small business online
Getting yourself online or your small business online is the first step in a marathon, not a 100 m sprint. Everyone has a website these days, if you don't exist virtually, you barely exist at all!
Those at the top of your search result listings know how to play the game. To really get the most out of the internet for your career, you'll need to learn the rules too.
Get your brand on the internet... in the right way
Maybe you're self-employed, own a small business, are starting a business or just write a blog. How you portray yourself and your business on the internet is how the world will see you, so it's so important to get it right.
Take a step in the right direction and speak to the experts. We love New Century Design, who've helped boutique brands and big names to make a real impression on the world wide web and can even help bring offline marketing in-line with the online brand image.
An attention grabbing, professional design which is easy and quick to navigate should be your priority. Decide what your business is all about and if you don't have the expertise yourself then work with a design team to make your vision come to life.
Back up your website with slick business cards, professional printing and marketing material, again a company such as New Century Design can help you make the right impression where it counts. Remember the world isn't just virtual.
What is Web 2.0?
The term Web 2.0 is thrown around a lot even though it's practically obsolete given the giant leaps forward in technology. It's a principle based on interactivity, user-generated content and exchanges between users.
From it we've seen the birth of several types of community-based platforms. All of these can be used to promote you or your business.
Using social networks for business
Online social networks have opened up new ways for us to engage with potential clients and customers and get our name out there. It's how you use it that counts.
MySpace, which is aimed more at the world of music, arts and culture, has been a launch pad for many artists who have gone on to become international stars (Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, etc.). Set up an account that represents your business and link it back to your own website.
Facebookis more personal and focuses on people's everyday lives. You can now set up a business or artist page as well as a personal page and get people to 'like' your page or become a 'fan' so that everything you say appears on their homepage and reminds them of how great you are.
Twitteris a micro-blogging site. Say what you will in 140 characters or less. Fans of your twitter page will see your updates in their twitter feed. Become a fan of other relevant pages and be interesting to get more fans for yourself!
Online professional networking sites allow you to add a business page and personal pages for all your staff. You can link to other professionals you do business with, use it as a tool to promote your business activities or even as a recruitment source.
Simple Internet blogs
Blogs (from the word 'weblogs') are the simplest form of engaging with the web and the online hosts such as Blogger, BlogSpot and Wordpress allow you a certain amount of creativity in terms of layout etc.
Blogs are really just glorified diaries however some blogger's have crossed over to mainstream popularity. Making these web stars aware of your business can get you a mention on their popular blogs, especially if you offer to swap direct links to each other's sites.
Often you'll find people looking for advice on web forums. If you're company can provide the solution to their query then log in and let them know! Keep it personal though, forum users like to know they're talking to a person not a faceless company.
The magic of services such as MSNand Skypeis that they allow you to stay in touch for free. Make calls, hold conferences, share your screen - it's all possible. Offering your customers a Skype number to call can also be handy - use a webcam so they can speak to you face-to-face - it all helps to build trust, which on the web is like gold.
YouTube and Dailymotion and other video sharing sites allow internet users to speak to each other face-to-face. Some vloggers (video bloggers) have become international sensations thanks to these sites.
If you want to use video on your site, start a channel on YouTube or another popular site and you'll be able to embed your videos back onto your site with the code they give you. Simple.
Small URL's for social networks
Making your really long URL link's short enough to appear on Twitter or neat enough to look good on Facebook is simple when you know how: Use bit.ly, is.gd or tinyurl.com - you can even register and track how many people have clicked your link through bit.ly and tinyurl.
Learn about your customers
Using online survey's can be a good way to really get to know your consumer. Offer a prize incentive to get more interest. You can use the results of the survey to really tailor your business or even your website to better serve your customers.
After all it's all about giving the people what they want!
Check out soFeminine's consumer survey - we're offering £4,000 worth of vouchers, just for sharing your thoughts.
What is SEO? How to use SEO to boost your business
It's all very well having a brilliantly designed website and fabulous marketing materials but if you don't know how to use SEO to your advantage then it's all worthless.
SEO means Search Engine Optimisation. Essentially it means that all the writing on your website should be geared towards getting Google, Yahoo!, Bing, AskJeeves and all the other search engine's to notice you and put you at the top of any relevant search listing.
First step is to choose your keywords carefully. What is your business about and what words are people using to search for it? If you offer art classes then use the word art classes over and over again - in headers, many times in the text, in the URL, even in the file names of the images you use.
Call a spade a spade, it's not artistic instruction, it's an art class. Want to see how many people are searching for your keyword, and what words they most often use - check out Google's Keyword service.
Don't be tempted to write gobbledygook full of your keywords or try and hide 800 'art class' keywords on the page in white text. The search engine bods are wise to this now and you'll get yourself blacklisted!
Same goes for link farms. By all means exchange links with reputable and relevant websites but don't throw your URL about willy-nilly. Really consider what you're willing to link to as well. Don't just write www.otherartclasses.com - put that URL on the keyword: Not www.topshop.com but women's clothes. Links on keywords are particularly powerful.
SEO is a huge subject and getting some SEO training on how to make it work for you is a great idea.
Buying your way to the top
Getting to the top of any search engine's results without spending money is called 'organic' but you can buy your way to the top by bidding on keywords. You only pay for how many click-throughs you get so it can be cost effective or ruinous if you don't put a cap on what you're prepared to spend.
Facebook have a similar scheme which allows you to target really specific audiences, you can choose for your advert to only appear to women between 25 and 26 who love needlepoint and live in the North West if you want.
Be the best online
Once your website or social media page is in place then make sure you keep it updated, remove or archive old content and make sure you're proud of every page.
Triple check spelling and grammar, make sure all your links work and never underestimate how a tiny mistake can ruin your reputation. Internet users see bad quality images and spelling mistakes as a sign of dodgy dealings.
Users need to immediately see what they're looking for. You've got ten seconds to make a good impression before they click the back button so make it count.