Web Presence

Dan Morrill

Step One: The first thing you need to do is get started, what are you building, why are you building it, what niche does it fill in. Once you have the mechanics of the business down, and you know what you are doing, you are enthused and passionate about what you are doing, and you want to go to work every day, this is the best start you can have.
Corollary to step one: There are tons of people who will tell you not to do this, they are doom sayers, if you really have a niche, if you really have the brilliant idea, go to it, there are many people worldwide who will support you. If you are strapped for programmers, consider doing this as an open source project (eventually you can do a premium service for money as well). Nathan Kaiser over at NPost has a great post right here you want to read on this subject.
Step Two: Start a blog – I know everyone has a blog, how do I differentiate myself from the noise, I have to update it daily, I don’t know how to do this, ect. Sure there are tons of reasons not to do this, most are some form of “I don’t want to spend the effort” or a fear response. You are a startup, we want to know more about you, we need something to link to, you get Google page rank the more you get linked. You should be well over the fear idea holding you back, go do it. This might take about 15 minutes to set up word press, find a premade cool skin in your companies colors, slap your logo on it and give us a weekly update on what you are doing. Alpha version, cool, beta version, cool, call for open beta testing, excellent, go live RTM Gold Disk, even better. This gives us and your readers a way to follow how your company is doing, you will also provide inadvertently provide startup lessons for everyone along the way. Even if your startup fails, you might end up like Andy Sack, widely respected and followed because of his blog.
Step Three: Twitter – oh yes you do want to do this (even if you think it is silly, microblogging eh), tie your blog into twitter, easy to do with Word Press, and just about every other blogging platform out there. Tweet stuff, tell us how it is going, got a tough programming issues, tweet it, got a meeting with VC’s, tweet it, anything? Tweet it, 140 characters is not enough time to talk about everything, but why the heck not let us know how it is going.
Step Four: Start a Facebook page for your company, also do this on Linked In, make friends, tie rule five into your Facebook account. Friend as many people as you can, or at least those that look like legitimate people who honestly wish you well. Tie your Facebook page into your FriendFeed page (next step)
Step Five: Start a FriendFeed Account, tie your blog, twitter, and other media (if you make a great video of your product and put it on YouTube, if you podcast, anything that is your own companies channel) so that there is a one stop shop for everything you are doing. Link heavily to your FriendFeed account; use a widget to tie your FriendFeed account back to your blog.
Step Six: Start a social median account and send all your FriendFeed traffic to that account, this way there is just one feed, and social median is a great way to get noticed. There are other systems just like Social Median out there, and you should explore them all, make as many accounts across the social network, this all ends up being Google page rank support later on. You do need to keep up with this though, the more social obligations you take on, the more people expect you to keep up with them.
Step Seven: Find industry thought leaders, whatever your startup is about; there is a thought leader in the process. Technology, Robert Scoble, Louis Gray on the internet side, if you are local to Seattle John Cook and Todd Bishop at Techflash, Me (I’ll blog about any local company), NPost, and a ton of other outlets, including the Seattle PI and Brier Dudley over at the Seattle Times. If you are not in Seattle, find the local equivalents to these kinds of people. Don’t just send them a PR sheet, court them, talk to them, offer them coffee, come down for a visit. Make a personal connection, and then let them write about you. This means there are at least seven people in the Seattle who will talk about you and link to you right off the bat.Your town might have more.
Step Eight: Keep the conversation going, all of us are busy people, we will forget about you in the fog of shiny shiny, let us know how things are going from time to time. Send us a personal note, let us know directly that something big is coming, another guided tour, another cup of coffee, a demo, awesome.
Step Nine: Go to conventions, if you can make it, save money and go to startup conventions like Techcruch and others. Get a booth, smooze, see what others are doing, allow yourself to be interviewed by everyone, this will require more coffee, and in some cases a beer or two. Have plenty of business cards, have a huge sense of humor, but go do this.
Step Ten: Go to every single local meeting for startups and make friends. MIT Venture Lab, meetings at colleges, small halls, Your local Tech Startup list, and get involved in the conversation. If something grabs your interest, blog about it, tweet about it, keep the connection going. Then revert back to rule two and keep this whole process flowing. It is not so much that your idea is brilliant it is that you need to communicate how brilliant your idea is.

Several months ago we hired a marketing manager and one of our first steps was to make our website a more key tool in our marketing efforts. I will try to summarize some of the things we learned.

Before making any changes we spent a lot of time discussing how the site would be used, we set very specific graduated goals, many of which we are still in the process of completing. We also looked at the metrics we would use to measure our progress towards these goals.

We struggled quite a bit at first trying to find the right balance between the cool appearance that our marketing manager developed and the ability to actually create that look and feel in a webpage.

Basic rules:
1)      Keep it as simple as possible. Don’t clutter individual pages with lots of information. You can easily create more pages, make sure that your structure makes sense and that it is easy to navigate. Don’t let the pages get in the way of the message.
2)      Stay away from technologies that not all of your customers may have, unless there is a very compelling reason for it. Where possible stick to plain html, making your customer install, flash, quicktime or any other number of tools before they can access your content is like making someone go on a scavenger hunt or having to complete a quiz before they walk in your front door.
a.       That being said if you have a compelling reason, make getting the extra software they may need as easy as possible.
3)      Involve your customers in the process, ask them what they want and need, and do everything you can to give it to them. What you think should be there and what they want is not necessarily the same or obvious.
4)      Place your address, and a phone number that is answered by a person on the front page. This will be your first and sometimes only contact with many visitors. Make it easy to contact you.
5)      Use a professional to create pictures and graphics for your site. It needs to be every bit as slick as your billboards, trucks or any other marketing materials you distribute.
6)      Use some kind of CMS (Content Management System), which allows the appropriate people to edit the content on the site without having to get your technical folks involved. There are many available, many as open source.
7)      Make sure that your hosting location is fast, stable, secure, and where possible shielded from any sensitive content your organization may be storing, as a very public window to the world it will also be one of the first places an attacker will look for a way into your systems. (In other words make sure this is not the same computer your accounting data is stored on)
8)      Have a professional proofread all of your content for proper grammar.
9)      Keep it fresh, Post news and info as often as possible but don’t put info up just for the sake of having new content. Make sure that it is going to help you engage with your customers.
10)  Be wary of anyone that guaranties/offers to drive traffic to your site. If your site really provides useful information and tools to your customers it should not be hard to get them to use it. Give them a reason to come.
11) If your customers have website ask them if you can cross link to them. Work together as much as possible.

As the System Administrator for our company I had created the original website, I had a significant investment in the look and content of the site. Our new marketing manager and everyone in the process of re-design were careful to make sure that I understood that they were not making this change because of any failing in the present site just a desire to improve it. As a result I felt much more comfortable with the whole process.

10 Ways to Promote Your Small Business Online by Rob Walker
Saturday, February 7th, 2009 @ 3:17PM

Rob Walker

There have been significant developments over the past several years that have created new opportunities for small businesses to reach out to their local audience using the Internet.  These tactics are powerful tools to engage your target audience with the added benefit of being mostly free!  Below are 10 things small businesses should be doing to reach their local consumers online:

1.  Facebook Company Profile.  Create a Facebook company profile off of your current Facebook personal account page by clicking on "page manager" then create a new "page".  This creates a hub on Facebook for your current consumers to "become fans" and advocates for your business.

2.  Google Maps.  Go to Google and search for "Google Local Business Center".   This free service let's you add your business' information into the Google Map results.

3.  YouTube.  Create a YouTube page for your business and start creating videos (see #4 below).  Videos are a powerful tool to communicate your businesses unique product/ service and help you stand apart from your competition.

4. Video, Video, Video.  Have someone with some decent film skills film you and your business.  Depending on your business this can take couple different forms.  For example, if you are a dentist film a tour of your office with you explaining how you're different from the competition (I suggest "painfree" and "on time appointments" may be good starting points.)  Post the videos on your Facebook page, your Google Maps, and in your You Tube account.

5. Yelp.  Create a Yelp profile for your business.  Yelp is a review site for local businesses.  Then ask some of your favorite clients to post a review.  Offer them an insentive to post a review to make sure they know how much you appriciative their help.

6. Create and Join Groups. 
Most of the Social Networking sites provide the ability for you to create a "group".  Check out groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup and others.  Actively  participating in these groups is a great way to engage your local audience.  Think about how to create a Group that actracts new customers.  For example, if you own a sporting goods store in Eastern PA start a "Hiking in PA" group.

7. Have a decent Web Site.  This one is not free but it's not that expensive either.  Spend a couple bucks to get a professional domain name and find someone with some design skills to put together a decent web site for you.  If you don't know anyone check out the local college (they may work for beer).  Link all of the above to your web site.

8.  Email.  Your domain name and web site provider will also have an email service.  This service will allow you to send emails using your domain name (you@yourbusiness.com) and collect email addresses off of your web site.  Collecting client emails and potential client emails provides you with the ability to send emails out to that list.  Depending on your business this can be used in a couple different ways.  Some things to think about -- Send appointment reminders, sales info, special offers for loyal clients, and a monthly newsletter.

9. Blog.
  Blogging takes two forms - you can create your own blog and/or you can become active posting comments on other blogs.  Once you have your web site starting a Blog is easy.  Most web site providers have a easy set up process.  Use your blog to position yourself as an expert in your field.  If you're a dentist blog about the latest advances in whitening.  If you run a Gym blog about your exersize regiment.  Then find other local bloggers and activily post on their blogs.  The more you become a voice in this online community the more your voice gets amplified to your potential customers.

10.  Pull it all together. 
Connect your online communication tools together and to your offline marketing.  All of the above should link together. And all of your business cards, print ads, fliers, and other offline material should list all of your online contact points.  Make fun ways for your customers to engage you online.  For example, your restaurant could offer 10% off customers that provide their email address (send the coupon to their email), Any customer that becomes a "fan" of your Facebook page gets a free bag of swag, Customers that create a video testimonial get a free meal.

Doing the above will greatly amplify your marketing message into your local market and create new opportunities for your customers and potential customers to engage in your brand.

Good luck and get digital -- It's easy!