Businesses thrive by integrating a solid strategy that ensures good management practices, financial health, and the possibility for expansion. The Internet presents many opportunities for business; here are the top 10 online resources for small businesses.
A strategic business plan is a prerequisite for launching any business as it lays out the procedures for dealing with potential constraints, whether they are financial, personnel-related, market-based, or legal. Although there is no generic business plan that fits all, specific elements can be identified that define your particular venture, making it easier to formulate necessary strategy. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a good resource that can help both start-ups and established businesses develop business plans. The site can help you generate a business plan that has a complete analysis of the venture; its objectives, potential market, and competition. This document becomes the comprehensive operating manual that management can use to achieve objectives.
Financial resources: loans, grants, and funding
Small business owners are eligible for loan and grant programs offered by both federal and state governments to either set up or expand their enterprises. A good starting point to research the various options available is the Loans and Grants Search Tool of the SBA website. Note, however, that loans have to be repaid in accordance with terms spelled out by the respective lenders. Grants do not need to be paid back and are available for specific ventures or activities, such as businesses involved in scientific research and development.
Although it may appear difficult for business owners who are not computer experts, making good use of the Internet to develop and maintain a functional online storefront only requires some basic information and tips about e-commerce, readily available online. Indeed, there are companies that can offer you ready-to-install payment solutions complete with shopping cart and credit card processing systems. If you cannot accept online payments for some reason, you may take advantage of available third-party merchant systems, like PayPal, that can handle transactions on your behalf. Alternatively, some companies like Amazon can offer small business owners a storefront for selling their products.
Many small business owners may overlook key federal tax deductions that could otherwise help their bottom-line due to time constraints and a complicated tax code that can be overwhelming during the tax season. The Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a wealth of information about the various tax credits and deductions to which you are entitled. With smart planning, small business owners can leverage the opportunity at tax time and save money by claiming all pertinent business tax credits, such as education and training related to the business, start-up expenses, legal or other professional expenses, health insurance premiums, or even hiring a veteran.
Business web page and blogging templates
Web pages should do more than just look nice; they have to make the visitor feel comfortable enough to trust you in order to buy your products or services. Format your site to properly communicate and encourage visitors to contact you or buy your products. There are several free web design templates available online that you can download and use to set up your business pages, such as Wix.
A blog can be a powerful marketing channel that can potentially reach huge audiences. There are several online mediums that can offer you a blogging environment, such as Blogger from Google and the open-source WordPress platform. A blog will allow you to educate visitors and customers about your products and services as well as answer frequently asked questions about your business.
Content marketing is a popular online marketing avenue that refers to all marketing activities centered on creating and sharing content to engage consumers; it is a key marketing tool for building your brand and customer loyalty. To effectively engage in content marketing for your small business, you need to create and share media, such as videos, photos, news and infographics, or published content (white papers, e-books) that can have a positive impact and add value to the browsing experience of targeted online users. Alternatively, you may opt to outsource content for your site from third-party content marketing companies.
Social media resources
Social media presence enables your business to showcase products and services to many potential customers. Use the advantages provided by these networks by creating and regularly updating your pages on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Pinterest to draw traffic to your site. YouTube is also ideal if you can produce short videos demonstrating uses of your products, for example; this can influence viewers to purchase your wares or services.
Some of these media go a step further and offer resources to assist small business owners in marketing their sites:
- As part of the Google Plus initiative, Google for Entrepreneurs offers online learning where small business owners can sign up for business, marketing, and technical classes taught by leading entrepreneurs, academics, and experts.
- The Facebook for Business portal teaches best practices for your business on Facebook, where you can learn how to build and promote your page, create ads, and more.
You may opt for display advertisement, an online marketing technique in which you pay a small fee to place banners on other sites or blogs to bring traffic to your own site. You may also create ads that can be broadcast on several online sites via Google Adwords, Bing Ads, or Yahoo. Note that you have to create an account and pay an upfront advertising fee with the respective companies to carry your ads. You are billed once viewers systematically click your ads. In addition, social media boasts the largest pool of Internet users and is an ideal platform on which to place your ads for maximum impact.
Web analysis tools
One of the reasons businesses set up websites is to market their products and services. Vitally important is the ability to track and measure how many visitors are converted to customers, a service that can be offered for free by Google Analytics. The service lets you gain insights into how visitors arrive and use your site a key marketing tool that enables you focus on optimizing the elements of your site that generate high conversion rates and, hence, sales. The basic service is free while the premium version is available for a fee. Once you sign up, Google will update you with a statistical report generated from your website’s traffic, detailing traffic sources such as search engines, social networks, direct visits, and referring sites.
Online directory listings
Last but not least in the top 10 online resources for small businesses is directory listings. Most small businesses gain new customers through such channels as search engines, apps, and directory sites. Thus, it is important not only to be listed but also to have updated business information in the online or mobile listings. Get your business listed nationally in as many directories as possible, such as yellowpages.com, showmelocal.com, citysearch.com, and yelp.com, among others. To be found easily within your location, you may consider having accounts with Yahoo Local, Bing Business Portal, and Google Places.