When you run an independent business it can be a challenge to make sure your voice is heard, and the key is to make sure your customers know their voice counts.
Use your online presence to provide a "window"; a way that people can communicate with you and know that their opinions are being heard. Having an effective online presence will help you gain clients, but giving them a voice will ensure that they return time and time again.
Businesses can create an online journey for a customer that begins before they've even reached the door, without having to spend vast amounts of money on more traditional marketing methods.
Creating a full website may not always be right for every business, but maximising social media and review sites really goes the distance in building an online presence with a personality.
Below we count down some top-level tips on how best to build your business through its online presence.
5. Be visible online
As the online world becomes an increasingly important sphere to operate in, the importance of ensuring you are visible on review sites such as Yelp increases accordingly.
People interested in the products or services your company provides are already turning to the internet to help them make an educated decision about where to spend their money.
People need to know that they can talk to you as well as about you. Be both aware of and a part of these conversations that are happening, and use their feedback to help build your business. If your business is customer friendly and visible online, you're making it easy for people to engage with the brand and know that their opinion is valued.
4. Your profile
It is crucial for companies to be online and visible, as this gives people an idea of how the company operates and the personality behind it. It guarantees that potential customers have the correct information and are informed about the best features your business has to offer.
It is completely free to claim your Yelp business listing, and the process of optimising the page with photos, business information and an insight into 'you the business owner' can take as little as 30 minutes.
This simple act of claiming your profile and filling it out can have a marked impact on new client acquisition.
3. Get your story across
Most people who share their name, brand and what they represent online express some sort of personality. Think of your Facebook profile, for example, with all your favourite films and foods listed alongside that hilarious photo of you dressed as Spiderman at a party.
So why should a business be any different? If you talk to them, they are far more likely to want to talk to you, and ultimately make that all-important purchase decision.
Remember that people want to feel that they know and understand a company or an individual's character. Connect with your potential customers and make yourself interesting to them.
Your local family-run cafe may have been around since the early 20th Century, have bags of charm and character and a resident cat called "Daisy", but if you don't tell people your story it makes it difficult for them to make that all-important decision to visit.
2. Bring it to life with images
Images are a fantastic way to really showcase your business. Some research we carried out indicates that users stay over 2.5 times longer on business pages that have photos on them compared to those that don't, so the best way to keep people engaged is to bring your business to life by making it visual.
Pick photos that are colourful and vibrant, and make sure there are enough of them to really make your profile interesting. The photos must be up to date, especially if you've had a revamp or rebrand, so that people know exactly what to expect – the "it wasn't what I thought it would be" review can be easily avoided.
Review sites such as Yelp allow users to claim their business page and upload their own photos, adding a personal touch and further building your online profile and understanding of what you provide.
1. Give potential customers everything they need
Even if a product or service sounds like the best thing since sliced bread, if someone can't contact you because of an out-of-date or a complete lack of a phone number, they'll reconsider. People may think, if I can't ring this place, or see what it looks like, then why should I bother?
The average consumer needs to feel reassured in advance that they have the necessary information about your business before committing.
Additional information should include pricing, business hours, the nearest public transport links and anything else relevant to your market.
Ensure that everything a potential customer may need is right at their fingertips so there is no need to hunt around.
Elliot Adams is communications manager for Yelp.