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Though less and less common these days, a common question that traditional "brick and mortar" business owners ask is: Why should I take my traditional company online?
First, let's clarify something. In the sense of this article a “traditional company” is one with a physical location and sells either in person, by phone, or mail; essentially a traditional "bricks-and-mortar" business. They may or may not have walk-in customers. Essentially, a business that is not selling physical products exclusively online, like an e-commerce company.
While in many cases, the steps for setting up an online presence for a bricks and mortar business are very similar to those if you wanted to start an online business, there are some things that make an online presence for a bricks and mortar business unique.
There is much said about doing business on the internet or “putting your business online”. To many it may just sound too complicated or too risky. But there are many good reasons to begin selling (and running your business) online. Here are the top nine reasons you should establish and online presence for your offline business:
9 Reasons You Should Start Doing Business Online
1. Improving Your Company Image
This alone should be enough reason to start a new website and begin selling online. It's an extremely important factor considering that without a website, blog, or online presence prospective clients could begin to wonder how serious you are about business. Today, companies of all sizes and industries are establishing a successful online presence.
If you don't have an online presence (and a professional one to boot) then you can't expect your prospects to take you seriously and you will lose business to competitors that do have an effective online presence.
2. 24/7 365 Hour Availability
While some fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations manage 24-hour service, it is impossible for most businesses. That is, without the internet. A key benefit to having an e-commerce website, is that your clients and prospects can read about your products and place orders at anytime— day or night. On regular business days or holidays. Imagine what being open 3-4 times longer could do for your business.
Even if you have a traditional offline services type business you can generate leads and inquiries while you are closed and follow up with those prospects and customers once you open the next day.
3. Better Customer Support
The internet allows you to answer questions, give sales webinars, and solve customer problems—all without taking any of your time. Create a video, a product spec sheet or a FAQ (frequently asked question) section once, and you can direct clients to that information for years. Not only does it save you time, but you’ll be providing better service. Your clients and prospects are looking for specific information, such as:
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to develop a relationship and increase sales.
4. Very Low Start-up Costs
Starting out online means very low start-up costs. You have no buildings to construct, no vehicles to buy and few (if any) staff to hire. Simply build your site and start selling. If you are already selling offline, then the transition can be very smooth. You continue selling the same products that you know and have a good supply of. Putting your company online simply gives you a new source of customers.
The reality is you can outsource a lot of the technical stuff and even things such as social media marketing.
While you could spend tens of thousands of dollars developing the best website and e-commerce solution many of your competitors will be doing it on a shoestring. A good website can be designed simply and for very little money.
Using a free platform like a self-hosted WordPress blog and a professional quality premium theme ($70 - $200) you can build a professional site by yourself. Some web hosting companies offer free site building tools.
With a good WordPress theme, it is possible for you to design your own site and do it with (almost) no coding.
To get started on a shoestring budget, expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. The basic expenses include web hosting, WordPress theme, domain name, and email marketing autoresponder service. Once its all set up it can run on virtual autopilot.
5. The Internet Was Made for Business
The beauty of the internet is that your prospective client(s) can literally be just one click away from your online store. Through the internet you can now educate, instruct and solve clients problems. You can accept orders and payments and receive them directly to your inbox.
You'll wan to learn about new effective and inexpensive ways to drive traffic to your website; the more people who find you online the more leads and sales you'll make.
6. Live / Work from Anywhere
Are the long cold winters starting to get you down? Are you tired of the constant heat and humidity where you live? Taking your business online gives you the ability to have location freedom so you can live and work from anywhere you want; you're not stuck to a physical location.
If you have a solid internet connection you can live virtually anywhere while you conduct your online business. Many people live in one continent, have their hosting on another and their warehouse on yet another. The world has gotten very small and you can take advantage of this. You could even move to the Caribbean or South America, enjoying a low cost of living, while doing business online.
With few exceptions the internet reduces your need to “be” somewhere. Live where you want to, and let your business adapt to your lifestyle instead of the other way around. There are some notable exceptions, like landscapers, surgeons and home painters who must be in a specific location to perform their work.
Of course, as appealing as this all sounds, having an online business is not for everyone. There are many reasons you should not start an online business and keep your day job or traditional business.
7. Reduce Operation Costs
Just one single task can make a significant difference in cost savings. For example, receiving orders online reduces the need for customer service staff. With comprehensive sales and product information online, you’ll simply receive purchase orders and payments via email or into your database. Staff numbers can be reduced, thus office space and related office expenses.
A good sales video, sales letter, or online webinar presentation can replace a full-time sales person.
Making use of various online service providers you can now take all aspects of your business online, such as purchasing, billing, order fulfilment and shipping. Other functions can include pre-emptive customer service—such as answering client questions via a FAQ section or a customer forum.
8. Target the Global Market
With your brick and mortar business, you are limited to the number of individuals who can visit you at any given time, let alone find you. With a good website, you can literally have thousands, even tens of thousands (even millions) of people visiting your online store at once. Imagine the potential for your company, if you could expose your products and services to a potentially unlimited number of interested people.
Being able to have thousands of visitors and having them are two different things. The success of an online business depends on the same thing as any off-line business: marketing. Learn how to increase blog traffic. Content marketing is a great way to increase traffic to your site / online store. Social media can be a powerful and inexpensive (free) way to drive qualified prospects to your site. I'd be remiss is I didn't mention that mastering the art of copywriting is one of the most valuable skills you can learn to increase sales.
9. Increase Company Responsiveness
The internet allows you to deliver your proposal, purchase order, order confirmation quickly—in many cases instantly—to your clients. Online stores will process orders and confirm them to the client. In the olden days, purchase orders were called in, mailed or dropped off. Depending on the workload of the sales staff, it could have taken hours, or even days to process the order. With a competent online store application, you can automatically track inventory, sales numbers, outstanding orders - everything.
Faster response time means happier clients and less administrative work for you.
These are some of the most powerful reasons you should take your offline business online. With all the benefits of having an online business many people are selling their traditional businesses and launching online businesses for the time, location, and financial freedom it offers.
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Developing a strong brand identity for your business is an extremely important factor in its success. Effective branding can help build your reputation, make you stand out from your competition and project your values to attract your ideal client.
Your brand is your business identity – the image you wish to portray to the world – and is one of your company’s most valuable assets. Although your visual brand identity is important, your brand is more than your logo. Your brand communicates your business personality and shapes your clients’ perceptions of who you are. Your brand should project the expectations and promises you extend to your customers in terms of quality, service, reliability and trustworthiness and create trust and loyalty from those who do business with you.
A strong brand identity helps the audience differentiate you from your competitors and can positively influence their purchasing decisions, directly impacting your profitability. But there are several myths and misconceptions that small business owners believe that can get in their way of developing a strong brand identity.
Myth #1 – We can design our brand ourselves
We have all experienced the effects of a do-it-yourself brand. What do you think when you are handed a self-printed, black and white business card? What happens when you get to a website that looks homemade? People will judge your ability to provide the solution they are seeking based on their first impressions of your business, both online and off. Don’t risk turning away potential clients with an unprofessional brand.
Myth #2 – We can’t afford to have a professional brand developed
Having your company brand professionally designed costs money, but it may cost your business more if you do not have a high-quality, visual identity. The visual representation of your identity is something that takes a skilled resource. Creating a logo that is not aligned with your vision, values, target audience and positioning could cause confusion in the market. For example, if you provide quality services with attention to detail, your lack of attention to detail in your brand will send a conflicting message to your prospects.
Myth #3 – We don’t need a brand
Since more people search for products and services online, you absolutely need a quality visual identity for your web presence. How do you represent your business online without one? And whether you have developed a professional brand or not, your business has a brand. Your company name, how you deliver on your promises and what your customers say about you when asked creates an impression of what it is like to do business with you – and that, my friend, is your brand. You can let it be developed for you through online customer reviews or your competition, or you can take control and manage it to your advantage. Your choice.
Makes your company look bigger
When prospects see a professional brand consistently used on your business cards, website or social media profiles, they get the image of a company that deserves their business. Prospects look for a company that has the resources to help them succeed. They will also expect to pay more for a more established company. If you hand them a homemade business card or your web presence is unprofessional, they will think you are small and not worthy of their business or the fees that you feel you deserve.
Creates an identity that is bigger than you
Many independent professionals that offer consulting or coaching services end up building a brand around themselves rather than the business. If your goal is to become a public figure, that may be fine. But if you want to separate the business from you for future growth or sale, develop a brand for the company. A unique brand will be one of the assets that come into play during the sale or acquisition.
Builds loyalty and trust
One of the ways you can separate your business from the competition is to have a unique brand that differentiates you in the marketplace. A strong brand that conveys your values builds an emotional connection with customers, which will attract them to your business if they share the same values. This type of connection makes it easier for you to develop a long-term relationship with those customers, leading to greater customer loyalty.
You may be the best, most experienced person in your field, but no brand or a self-created brand conveys an impression that the company won’t last. A brand helps you develop an image for your business that says “I’m here to stay”. A well-defined brand identity projects a long term feels to those who see it regularly. Eliminate any question about your viability by having a crisp image and clear messages.
Makes your business memorable
Developing a brand identity and using it consistently helps customers remember who you are. The more your prospects see your brand, the more likely they will contact your business for information. Every time you get to interact with your prospect, you have a chance to make a connection and create a memorable brand experience.
Shows commitment and personal pride
Investing in a unique brand identity shows that you take pride in your business and are committed to success. Customers will believe you are more likely to deliver on your promises to them because a business that invests in its success will under promise and over deliver, creating more brand loyalty and trust with every customer interaction.
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Branding is one of the most important activities your business can engage in. Building a strong, recognizable brand will help you connect with your existing customers, sell to new ones, and encourage loyalty and recognition.
But like any other business task, successful branding requires careful planning and a smart strategy. Here 16 steps from 16 of the world best business and branding coaches that will guide you into how to get this done.
1. Do A 'Values Check'
Branding isn't about your logo; it's about your message - what you're broadcasting to the world. First, check in with your own values: Does the wording and look and feel on your website, social media profiles and materials match up with those values? Look to make all your messages and images congruent with your values and the world will notice.
2. Know Thyself And Align
The most fundamental part of branding is truly understanding who you are so that you can align all of your actions and your environment. The deeper your understanding of values, vision, and other brand attributes, the better able you are to align all parts of your life consistent with your brand. You are the most critical part of your branding strategy.
3. Create High-Profile Events
I created an event series named after my book, From the CEO’s Perspective. I invite three high-profile CEOs to join me on stage, and I moderate a discussion on a pressing leadership topic in front of an intimate audience of 70. I’m in my third year, and every event has sold out. For my brand, it’s led to increased visibility and influence, and fantastic content for video and writing.
4. Use Great Photos
Most small businesses are "personal brands," meaning you are the face of your brand. The days of the boring head shot are done for most coaches, consultants and service providers. Use photos of you that reflect your personality and style to make your website and brand stand out from the crowd online. You'll attract your ideal clients and get your message across with less effort.
5. Be True To You
Be authentic to who you are, the values you have, and the skills you excel at. Authenticity is imperative to branding success. Avoid pressure to constantly reinvent yourself or overstate and inflate your message. A simple articulation of who you are and what you are good at – shared succinctly and clearly – will suffice to nail down your brand.
6. Become The Media
Social media, camera phones, podcasts, etc. have given us amazing opportunities to build and expand our brands. Whatever it is we want to be known for, we can get the message out faster, bigger and better by becoming the media. You can deliver quick video tips from your phone, share ideas on a podcast, and interview others via a blog or short video. If you become the resource, you own the brand.
7. Improve Your Culture
The most visible brand you have is your company's culture. It's culture that defines your uniqueness and provides you with a competitive edge. It’s a social and psychological form of DNA that can become a catalytic mechanism. Your company culture is a key element relative to how people "see" your company. Since it's your company's soul, it's worth paying attention to.
8. Define Your Niche
You can't be all things to all people. Narrow your target market by either offering a specialized product or service, or by serving a specific demographic (i.e. busy moms who want to find a healthy work-life balance vs. anyone who wants to find a healthy work-life balance). There's a reason brain surgeons get paid more than general practitioners!
9. Meet Your Audience Where They Are
If you want to be unique, get your branding right. Address your target market in the places they hang out with the message they expect to hear, using the distribution methods and mediums they like. It's a simple formula that many do not follow. Your brand is your identity, and once you have that set, you can get creative with the rest.
10. Start With Your Value Proposition
Branding is an exercise in establishing an impression about yourself to others, but if you start with branding first, you have a very shallow brand. By contrast, an authentic and compelling brand starts with knowing your personal value proposition. What does your audience need and how do you fulfill those needs? If you can answer those questions, your branding will be a natural extension from there.
11. Provide 'Brand Extension' Experiences
A purpose of branding is to differentiate product and service offerings in the marketplace. Dare to provide solutions in a different way. To enhance leader productivity, I partnered with an upscale resort and an admirable entrepreneur to host self-care Glam Retreats for my targeted audience. My guests network, rest and are coached in five-star style, which is my brand extension.
12. Partner With An Expert
Nothing beats getting outside feedback from a branding expert to get clear on your reputation, values, brand and how to best articulate your business and services to your clients. Conduct a 360 of your brand strategy with an expert and, together, align your next steps for your target audience.
13. Stop 'Selling' And Be Helpful
Your customers don’t want to be treated as though they only represent dollar signs to you. If you focus on being helpful by crafting well-researched social media responses instead of driving traffic, you can give your brand an edge while building trust. Prioritizing quality engagement through creating meaningful interactions can lead to loyal customers and sometimes even brand evangelists
14. Give Your Wisdom Away
Branding is not a trick, it’s who you are. The best strategy is to just do what you do; if you do it well, people will want more. I’ve published, by email, a provocative leadership question every Monday morning for over 17 years. It’s a free little glimpse of the wisdom people can expect when they work with me.
15. Make Your Brand Human
Think of your brand as a real person, but bigger. We often make the mistake of thinking of our brand too broadly. Broad translates as vague and forgettable. Think about the brands you remember. They are human and real. They get stuck in our minds because they touch on a part of ourselves that we didn’t think anyone else could see.
16. Network To Start Conversations And Build Goodwill
When I make a new connection, I send a thank you message including something of value - a content gift not related to what I do. For example, within my thank you, I include a free subscription to my motivational quotes that include suggested actions to bring the quotes to life. Now you’ve started a two-way conversation.