Considering that 90 percent of consumers search the internet before deciding whether to give a business a chance, managing your online presence is more important than ever. Whether you’re thinking about it or not, potential customers are already forming opinions about your business based on your online persona — even if customers find absolutely nothing about you when they search the internet, many will interpret this as a reason to be leery.
Your secret to success lies in your ability to create and control your online reputation. Correctly managed, this will bring you new clients and cost almost nothing. If it is poorly done, no amount of money spent on marketing will convince wary customers to give you their business.
Here are 10 steps that will equip you with the tools necessary to create and maintain a commanding, effective online persona.
1. Start Thinking of Yourself as a Brand
It doesn’t matter if you are the most talented in your field, or that you have the most competitive prices. The most successful businesses owners understand the value of effectively packaging their product. How are you demonstrating the value proposition of your services? It was found that 45 percent of consumers expect great design across marketing and sales channels. Learn to craft your brand accordingly.
2. Know Your Online Footprint
Google every possible spelling of your name and the name of your business. Find every online mention of your business. Pay particular attention to sites like Yelp, Google, and Yahoo Local. You do not want a dissatisfied customer to be the only one talking about you.
Once you have finished your search, set up a Google Alert to automatically email you any time your name appears on the internet.
3. Get a Professional Headshot
You cannot skimp on this one. Your face is your brand, and you want customers to recognize you. You want to make a good first impression, and this photo is how you will do it. Dress professionally and make sure it is well-lit and that the background is not too busy.
4. Choose a Professional Email for Your Brand
If your only email is the one you created in high school or college, chances are you picked an unprofessional name. It is time to get rid of it. Likewise, if you are still using an outdated email client like AOL or Hotmail, you must change it.
If you already have a hosted website, you can usually add a personalized email service to your account for just a few extra dollars. If this service is unavailable, create a free email account with a company like Gmail or Outlook.
5. Set up These Three Social Media Accounts
Now that you have a photo of your brand (aka you), use it to set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Even if you already have personal accounts on any of these platforms, you need to create one exclusively for your business. You will use these networks to post links to articles useful to your clients, announce important news, and conduct various polls about your business.
6. Purchase a Website
Business owners often assume a professional-looking website is expensive, but it does not have to be. Using a company like SiteGround, you can purchase a personalized domain for a few bucks and host it for as little as $4 a month. Need help with design? There are many free or low-cost drag-and-drop programs that will help you build a site in just a few hours.
7. Offer Customers Incentives for Posting Online Reviews
In Step 2, I suggested you check your company’s online reviews. Now, you will use them to your advantage. Millions of people visit these sites before they make a purchase. If you have a particular client that you know is a satisfied customer, offer them a discount or freebie in exchange for them writing a testimonial about you.
8. Accept Debit and Credit Cards
When was the last time you bought something with cash? If you are like most people, you use plastic for nearly every purchase, even from vending machines. Simply put, if you do not accept debit or credit cards as a form of payment, you are missing sales.
Thankfully, you no longer have to purchase expensive terminals or pay exorbitant fees to accept credit card payments. Now, you can easily accept payments online with PayPal or Square, and they each offer small devices you insert into your smart phone to take payments in person.
9. Create an Elevator Pitch
You may have heard about being able to pitch your business to potential investors in the short time it takes to ride in an elevator. But have you prepared that pitch for potential clients? Success lies in your ability to describe your business in a precise, unique, and innovative way. Be sure to use action words that invoke emotion. If you tell people you are a copywriter, you are one among many. However, if you say that you effectively use words to persuade brand-new prospects to complete a purchase and become lifelong customers, you will stand out from the competition.
10. Become an Expert
Do you know how most “experts” interviewed on the news got that reputation? It is quite simple: They crowned themselves. They understand the value of actively controlling their persona. They send out press releases and make comments before anyone asks for one. This is what you must do online to establish a reputation as an expert. Write reviews of books in your field on Amazon. Answer questions on Yahoo Answers and Quora. When you do so, end your advice with a link back to your website. This way, they will show up when future clients search for you online.