There are many ways to bring your business online and choosing the wrong one can be both costly and disastrous. You must do your market research first, it is an ongoing process that never ends but you have to start somewhere.
Start Local – Start Offline
The first thing you need to do is identify your local competition. ‘Local’ will mean different things for different businesses and depends on your market, but whatever it is you must identify the competition that falls into that bracket. It will be there or you don’t have a market.
Your initial sources should always be offline – not every business is online and you might be surprised what you find. In today’s economic climate there is a constant ebb and flow of companies and you need to be aware of it. You need to have a good working knowledge of your competition and how they are marketing their business. Take a careful look through your local paper and make notes of others in your market. Go through Local and Trade Directories – your library will have them. Don’t forget those old fashioned Telephone Directories either, Yellow Pages are still a mine of information for local business and it is the only place you will find some of them. How long is it since you walked around your local area? You might be shocked at what you see. So many of us only travel through our town in a car, and you miss a lot of useful information.
Throw Your Net Wide
Only when you have a good list of local businesses from offline sources should you go online. Start by checking all the search phrases you would expect someone to use to help them find your business. You need to make careful notes of the top twenty or so results for each search. Are they local businesses? Are they larger businesses targeting your area? Are they ‘real’ businesses or other types of sites that just come up for your chosen search?
Don’t neglect the adverts and sponsored results that surround the basic listings. Are they your competitors – cross check with your list. Are they larger companies who think it is worth spending money on advertising in your area? Are they real adverts or generic ones that make no sense at all – there are lots of those if you look carefully! Again you should make lots of notes.
Once you have done that search for each of the companies that you have identified in your original offline search and your broad online ones. Do they have a website? Are they listed in online directories? You need to search those too. Do they have a Social Media presence? How up to date is their site? Where does it appear in the search results, is it in the top five or six? Do you like the style of their site?
Don’t forget to search for your own business and see if you appear anywhere – and what people are saying about you.
Throughout this process you should be taking lots of notes so that you end up with a picture of what the competition is like online, what kind of presence they have both in terms of their own sites and on others. You should also have a good idea of what style and type of sites work well in your market area. There is no point in reinventing the wheel and people like the familiarity of certain styles for certain businesses.
Once you have done all this basic research you will have a good idea of how your competitors are marketing their businesses and you can make the basic decision about whether to bring your business online.