The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many businesses to take their operations online. If this is your company, perhaps it’s now you’re realising that you need to focus more on your online strategy and diversify your business.
The internet offers a platform unlike any other when it comes to edging out competitors, being found by prospective customers and innovating new and exciting ways of marketing your brand.
There are no two ways about it: businesses that have a good website and strong online branding are more likely to grow than those with little or no online presence. And if you want to know how to grow your business online, today we delve into how to grow your small business online with 4 easy (and free) ways.
1. Leverage free marketing tools
The internet is awash with tools that are free to use and that can significantly improve the quality of your website —if you know where to find them.
From those that streamline your email marketing campaigns to those that allow you to design a precise and optimal social media graphic, you don’t need to break the bank to craft great marketing material.
There are numerous social media marketing tools that can boost the traffic to your website. Whilst some reporting tools do require a monthly subscription fee, many others are totally free, or at least afford you a limited free trial which allows you to evaluate whether the tool would benefit you in the long term and therefore be worth a small monthly investment.
Tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite can save you a huge amount of time by sharing your posts simultaneously across multiple platforms, as opposed to you having to publish individually on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, say. We discuss below how to make social media work for your business.
If you created your website using WordPress, there are literally thousands of plugins to choose from that can grow your business online. Take HubSpot’s free WordPress plugin, which offers a rich and diverse set of tools that can enhance your online marketing performance and boost sales.
If you are creating a website from scratch, sites such as Squarespace offer simplistic drag-and-drop website templates. However, it’s worth checking the costs beforehand, as these sites often charge a monthly hosting fee.
If you haven’t listed your business in Google, you’re missing a trick. By registering your company with Google My Business, you can increase your chance of being found by users in your area who are searching for the service or product you provide.
Mail Chimp offer free email marketing software if you are sending under 2,000 emails. It’s easy to use and represents a cost-effective way to get in touch with your customers about your offers and promotions. Mail Chimp also offer a range of tutorials and guides to help you get started.
Business blogs are a great way to give your company credibility. By providing interesting content for your readers, you give them a reason to come back to your website or social media channels and engage with you as a company.
You also increase the likelihood of them buying from you again. It’s also a great idea to adhere to SEO best practices with your blogs, which involves planning, outlining and implementing steps designed to improve your business’s search engine rankings.
3. Mobile-first design
At any given time, 52% of internet users are browsing from smartphones, not computers. If your website is unresponsive or ill-suited to its mobile variant, you risk alienating over half your potential consumer base. Is it time for a site revamp to prioritise the user experience of mobile browsers?
Adapting your website with mobile-first design features doesn’t always entail a monetary investment. What’s more, hosting systems such as WordPress will give you the option of creating a mobile-first website from scratch.
So what adjustments can you implement in order to create a far more mobile-friendly user experience?
- Optimised images: rendering graphics require both time and bandwidth. Endeavour to always use images’ correct sizes for your website.
- Avoid Flash Videos: the vast majority of mobile devices do not function optimally with websites that include the container file format of Flash Videos.
- Straightforward navigation: it can be tempting to stock your navigation menu until it’s bursting at the seams, but sometimes less is more. Create a website whose navigability is self-explanatory and keep your navigation menu simple and minimal.
- Tappable elements: text links in your website copy may well be too small for the average user’s thumb, so consider replacing them with tappable icons in your website’s mobile variant.
- Easy functionality: your website should be manageable on a three-inch screen!
4. Go all-out with social media
The majority of social media platforms allow you to create a profile for free—and the benefits of doing so can be boundless. There are few more effective methods of garnering a widespread and diverse customer base than integrating solid social media savvy into your business strategy.
Research the competition
Just because social media is free, it isn’t necessarily easy to get right. Nowadays it’s not enough to just put up a business page on Facebook or Twitter and hope that flocks of users flock to it. The competition is fierce—but you can use this to your advantage.
Research your competitors to see what is working for them and what social media sites they use, as this will give you ideas to include in your own strategy. Embrace the premise behind the entire medium—and be social.
Plan your content calendar
Start by creating a content calendar of posts weeks in advance. Whether you create daily posts or just one a week depends on your resources and the nature of your business, but as long as you are consistent and present a proactive and knowledgeable approach to industry trends, half the battle is already won.
Test different styles of post
Next, consider how often you append graphics to your posts. There is abundant research demonstrating that graphics are often far more engaging than posts consisting only of text. On LinkedIn, posts that include images receive 200% more engagement than text-only posts. On Twitter, posts that contain videos are six times more likely to be retweeted than posts containing images.
Post content relevant to your customer base
Don’t just create content for its own sake. Everything your business shares on social media should have meaning and be uniquely purposeful in its premise. Before you click that Share button, take a step back and consider: will our users find this content useful, interesting, entertaining?
Make sure people know how to follow you
Finally, remember your social buttons! Look at any successful website and its content will almost certainly be dotted with social sharing buttons. Don’t forget to add the buttons for your service offerings and online store, too. You never know who is looking at your website—they might have hundreds of thousands of their own followers who will check out your business on the sharer’s recommendation.
Growing a business online for free has never been easier
Whether you’re messaging customers personally via social media or creating outstandingly good blogs for your website, there’s a clear link between the time you invest in your business’s online presence and the rewards you can reap. After all, your website is just as customer-facing as your brick-and-mortar shopfront—if not more so.
Just because the methods we’ve examined today are free, they are no less difficult to hone than are those for which you pay. However, by utilising your business savvy and delving deep into that passion that drove you to create your business in the first place, you can work wonders on a shoestring.
Access additional support for bigger changes
If you’re looking to make bigger changes, such as outsourcing your marketing for growth or briefing a design agency to design a new website for you, you may consider taking out a business loan to help get your business off the ground. If you need help working out if a loan is right for your business, be sure to read our guide on reasons to consider getting a business loan.