Ignorance is not bliss. Most people who hear 18th century British poet Thomas Gray’s famous line think he was celebrating ignorance. For the record, he wasn’t—he was reflecting on childhood, when not knowing stuff just comes with the territory.
So for grown-up small-business owners in today’s 24/7, instantly connected universe where information is a mere click away, there’s simply no excuse (not expedience, naiveté or laziness) for ignorance. And yet …
A shocking 52 percent of small-business owners don’t have a website, according to a recent survey by local online marketing platform Yodle. Seriously, people, how can any business owner in 2013 justify not having a website? What consumers do you think aren’t online? Last year, a Pew study revealed a majority of seniors (age 65 and older) were using the Internet; this year, 54 percent of seniors are Web users. When consumers want to find something, they go online to search for it. If you don't have a website, your business will become increasingly invisible, until it vanishes altogether.
Don’t think just because you have a website, you’re in the clear. The recently released Small Business B2B Call to Action Study reveals 70 percent of the small-business websites studied had no call to action on their sites, 68 percent don’t have an email address on their home pages, and 27 percent don’t have a phone number there. The Web isn't an isolated entity. It should be an integrated part of your business marketing strategy, and you should make it easy for customers to find and contact you offline. If you have a business with a physical location, be sure to cross-promote your business, your website and your social media platforms.
The Social Media Misstep
Speaking of social media, it’s time to get over the “I’m not on Twitter because I don’t want to know what people are eating for lunch” meme. I’ve heard that too many times in the past few years, and if you’ve said it (or believe it), then you’re living in the past. Social media should be part of every business owner’s marketing plans. Even if you think it’s silly (and it isn’t), the fact is current usage of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram is closing in on 2.5 billion users worldwide. What business is so successful it can afford to ignore that many customers? As I mentioned above, you need to create a marketing plan for your business that integrates all potential marketing channels, even some of the smaller social media sites and apps you may not be familiar with.
If you're guilty of any of the above-mentioned actions, you're essentially burying your head in the sand. And you simply cannot grow your business if that’s the case.
The owner of an independent coffeehouse in tech-savvy southern California once told me she didn’t sign up for a Yelp account because she didn’t want people to say bad things about her business. The fact is consumers say things (good and bad) about businesses every day. If you’re not aware of what they’re saying, you’re allowing the negative reviews to go uncontested, which leads other consumers to think they’re true. Instead, claim your businesses on the rating and review sites, monitor what’s being said about your business and politely engage with unhappy customers. By making the effort, everyone who checks your listing will see that customer satisfaction is important to you.
Several years ago when speaking at a National Small Business Week event, I was startled when I asked a room full of successful entrepreneurs how many had signed up for Google Alerts, and almost no one had. I’ve been asking that question ever since, and never have more than 10 percent of small-business owners in the audience raised their hands. This is inexplicable to me. Google Alerts are not only free, but they’re a simple and convenient way to find out what people are saying about you, your business and even your competitors online.
Last year the SMB DigitalScape study concluded 98 percent of the nation’s small businesses were “woefully unprepared” for the coming wave of mobile commerce (m-commerce). That wave has landed: More than 1.2 billion consumers worldwide access the Web from a mobile device, and a report from Google tells business owners, “Without a mobile-friendly site you’ll be driving users to your competition.”
I doubt that’s your goal, so it’s time to get your head out of the sand and smarten up. Consumer behavior has evolved and you need to change your business—or you’ll soon be extinct.
Read more articles on social media.