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In this fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, owning and operating a successful small business is far easier said than done. New technology is constantly unearthed and implemented, and it ultimately falls to the overloaded business owner to realise and assess these developments in order for the business to stay abreast.

With these existing constraints, many smaller businesses are failing to adjust their ongoing online strategy, and in many cases, most business owners fail to see – or simply let online potential pass them by. To many, the idea of making a big impact online will be the product of spending a significant amount of money on development.  However, in order to make a start and increase your visibility online, your business needs to be relevant, consistent and accessible on the web.

In 2013, there were 4.9 million businesses operating in the UK, with over 99% of those businesses employing fewer than 50 people. However, 52% of those small businesses still have no online presence to speak of. Now, many business owners may argue that their businesses don’t need to be online; they don’t sell actively sell products, their services require a personal approach that a website cannot offer or, they already advertise via more traditional channels.

Taking a laidback approach, in the current climate, could leave you in the dust, with your competitors racing ahead and cornering the market you’re looking to tap into. Already, there’s a 50/50 chance that at least one of your competitors does have a website and is acquiring new business because of it. A recent study carried out by the Office of National Statistics identified that 38 million adults head online every single day – 21 million more than in 2006, when records began. To add to this figure, users are no longer just heading online to find information or research their interests; they’re now tweeting, liking, sharing, engaging, commenting, reviewing, comparing – the opportunities are endless and so are the choices on offer. If you’re not online, you can’t be factored into the decision making process and you will be overlooked.

As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time, inclination or resources to develop a complex online strategy, but that’s not to say that there aren’t manageable and affordable options available to you. At the fore, a website is the most important element for a small business to establish their online presence. A website will serve as the focal destination for the whole brand, as a storefront and as a conveyor. If a company has one thing, it should be a well done website.

If you’re serious about taking your business online and the future and growth of your company matters to you, then the cost of developing and launching a website is immaterial, when you factor in the potential return of investment that a fully-functioning and interactive website can offer. To look at things from a wider perspective, a website will allow you to trade globally, accept payments, manage your content and output, build subscriptions, engage with your audience, accept newsletter registrations and present your products and services to the masses.

Running before you can walk

Making your presence known online doesn’t necessarily mean trying to take your business global in an instant. Building relationships with your existing offline customers and peers on a local level is fundamental to the success of many small businesses – they are, after all, the reason you’re looking to expand. By engaging with your core demographic and bridging the commerce gap, you can create a seamless experience that allows for an always-active online connection, with offline sales working on equal footing. This will, in turn, allow you to build a network of loyal and valued customers who will return to your business again and again.

Highlighting your accessibility

By developing a website for your business, you will be allowing people to interact with you in a way that suits them, at a time that suits them. The days of conventional opening hours have long gone for the majority of online businesses. Now, a simple enquiry form can ignite the sales process, as potential customers can ask questions and request further contact at any moment, from anywhere in the world. From a wider perspective, this level of accessibility can be heightened by developing a social media strategy, an option that will be explored further in the next section of this blog post. However, to begin with, the need for a well-designed professional website with product/service descriptions, calls-to-action and easily identifiable contact details will be the most important elements moving forward.

Incorporating social into your strategy

Tapping into the value of social media is a task that can be carried out during the development of the website – it shouldn’t be an afterthought and it definitely shouldn’t be the only way in which you engage with your customers online. Creating numerous social media channels and hoping for the best outcome can often result in a confused and misinformed social strategy. If you’re looking to take your brand onto social media, you need to establish where your potential customers will be. Assumption can often lead to time wasted and money being lost, something which few business owners will appreciate. So, you need to identify the right social media channels for your business, be consistent with the tone, branding and messages you convey and produce rich content for each individual channel. The majority of these platforms are free and if used correctly, they can help you engage with your customers and potentially reach a wider audience, but they should be additional channels that, ultimately, lead back to your website.

The vital takeaway from this blog post is the fundamental necessity of a website for emerging small businesses. Some of the additional platforms and channels can be explored in time, with patience, practice and informed analysis. However, it is clear that in today’s marketplace, with users adopting a critical approach to purchasing, a company needs to have an existing online presence in order to appear legitimate and worthy in the eyes of the consumer.

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