Every business, large or small, needs to have a comprehensive and focussed online presence, but while this may be relatively easy to achieve for a company with access to good resources and budgets, including specific people allocated to these tasks, it becomes a more arduous operation for a small business. In small businesses other priorities tend to crop up all the time and inevitably communication issues get pushed to one side. In the following few lines I am hoping to provide small businesses with some of the key issues to consider in order to maximise their online presence.
Establish clear objectives and key performance indicators
This is vital for any business. You need to know what your goals are, in which direction you want your business to grow and how you measure this. If you are aiming to attract visitors to your venue, for example, you should have profiled the appropriate market segment and established how many of them you can cater for, what exactly you are going to offer them and how much you are planning to take from specific tasks. Stick your
business plan on the wall where you can see it all the time, don’t bury it in your pending tray or in your hard drive! Your goals can change, they will as your business evolves, but provided you have clear performance indicators you won’t go far wrong. Also, don’t forget to use the SMART format for ALL your business objectives…. Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Relevant and realistic, and Time based. In short, be focussed and set up a realistic timetable with achievable and measurable actions – simple.
Audit your current communication channels
Take some time to look around your office and gather together all your offline communication tools (from headed paper to brochures etc), then move on to the online presence and create a short spreadsheet where you undertake a quick critical assessment of each of them. Once you have done this create a wish list (for example, we want to have an effective social media presence and so on, we need a new brochure or a web site, etc.) and compare to the audit in order to identify shortcomings and opportunities.
Establish your communication priorities – don’t run before you can walk
Never attempt to take up more than you can chew. Having done point 2 you will probably come up with a long list of activities. You may feel exhilarated and because things have gone reasonably well you may wish to do everything at once. Please don’t. Even in the best possible business growth scenario demands on your time will increase further. If your list of communication activities is too long you may not have sufficient time to spend on each of them. This will result in errors or unfinished tasks at best. Don’t be tempted to pass the buck to someone else either in your organisation or outside in the hope that they can get on without any input from you. Even if you commissioned the work outside to the best specialists around you would still need to sit down with your agency on a regular basis to set up objectives and review performance – you can never wash your hands completely. So please establish realistic communication priorities from your own personal perspective too.
Set up a realistic budget and don’t forget ROI
When you have identified your priorities create an actions list and then allocated a realistic budget for each task. You should really always place a monetary value next to each of these actions, even if you decided to do everything in-house – after all your time is money and you’d be surprised how expensive your own time may turn out to be. So if you decided to tweet regularly set up a calendar action and an appropriate cost based on the time you are planning to spend, including research of course. You need to know at the end of each period how much return this investment will bring. By the way, the ROI formula is very simple: how much you have earned from your investment, less the cost of the investment, all divided by the cost of the investment again, and multiplied by 100 so you get it as a percentage. Don’t be disheartened, however, if your ROI is little to begin with – with all kind of communication you need to persevere and what matters is the trend, if positive stick with it and continue to refine until you reach your goal – or ditch!
Be consistent in the delivery of your communications
By now you have established clear priorities, have identified specific actions and have set everything in place – you have a battle plan. The temptation now is to slacken the delivery pace. Messages gets sent out less frequently than at the outset, you get distracted and soon your twitter feed gets used once every few weeks or so, and you never retweet or follow anyone else, for example. With online media you need to keep up your efforts. If you neglect your online channels you will struggle twice as hard to reinstate them as your reputation would be dented.
By the way, consistency also applies to how good each message is (is it engaging, targeted and informative?) – you’ve got to strive for excellence to stand out from the crowd.
Regularly assess and review
You have followed these points to the letter, well done. Now you need to review the way the way the entire communication plan works, regularly. Failing to do it until things go wrong, or when your stats show that your online presence is plummeting and it’ll be much harder to put right as you would have moved from a simpler tactical adjustment to a crisis situation. But don’t expect instant success either, as we said before, you just need to keep an eye and apply the necessary adjustments if and when required, unless of course your business models changed drastically.
Finally, if you don’t have the time to do all of the above on your own, but you have come to conclusion that something must be done don’t be scared to look around for companies or people that could help you. Not every organisation out there would suit you and selecting the appropriate expert will be the topic of a next blog. But outsourcing needn’t cost the earth either, especially if you have done your homework correctly and put a value next to each of the necessary actions. A clear vision and good will is all it takes in the end.