Business development · 21 June 2016

Thinking about your company’s online identity

The Vrumi team thought long and hard about what kind of online presence would attract custom for its innovative work space service
The Vrumi team thought long and hard about what kind of online presence would attract custom for its innovative work space service

To kick off a new four-part series of features delving into the online sales and marketing techniques available to small and micro businesses, conducted in partnership with Yell, Business Advice talks to owners from a diverse range of ventures to understand how they go about addressing the online identity of their brands.

Growing a small business is all about connecting with potential customers in the right way. Word of mouth recommendations and referrals play a key part to getting your name out there, but thinking about your new brand’s online presence has become arguably the most important aspect of spreading the word about the products and services you offer.

Recent statistics confirm that the traditional way of attracting customers by word of mouth is increasingly shifting online. Research from Opinium has found that when recommended a product or service by a friend, some 62 per cent of people now follow up with an online search – looking for product information, contact details and customer reviews before deciding to get in touch.

Despite this, statistics from Google show just 30 per cent of small businesses are investing in advertising and marketing. Mark Clisby, marketing director at Yell, said that of those that do invest, they may not be investing in the right way. The majority of online searches now occur on mobile, yet research from Yell has found that just 42 per cent of SME websites are mobile optimised. Yell has also found from their research that only ten per cent of reviews posted on Yell.com are responded to, suggesting that many businesses are not actively managing their online reviews and reputation.

For Chris Whitham, thinking hard about the impression customers would get of his brand online turned out to be the most important part of establishing his one-man graphic design business Lucid Synergy. “My marketing was all word of mouth initially – it was the best way of getting those first few customers,” he said.

“I didn’t see the need to spend too much time marketing myself online at first, but as soon as I did I experienced business growth straight away. I began to diversify my products, investing in a laser cutter to make bespoke items like bracelets, leather clothing and medals – visually striking products that people want to see pictures and descriptions of – so they know what they’re getting. Making sure my site displayed my products in the way that I wanted, as well as various social platforms, has been essential to growth, and now most of my business comes from the web.”

For Roddy Campbell, founder of London-based daytime room rental service Vrumi, considering about his startup’s online presence helped calcify the message about the service he wanted to give customers. “We wanted to make working easier and more affordable for everyone,” he said. “So when we built our site we thought about our core message – empowering Londoners whilst saving them time and money.

“We’re an online-only platform, so it forced us to think about Vrumi’s values from day one. We had a brainstorming session of all the virtues we thought Vrumi stood for and landed on ‘adventurous, creative and open’.  We’ve tried to channel these virtues across our online channels.”

Establishing an online presence was all about trial and error for Planned Market Research’s founder Thomas Parry. Tapping into a wide network of marketing and market research professional contacts, Parry received advice on a range of online methods in the early days of his business, but soon realised that business owners needed to find out which unique combination of online tools and techniques work best for themselves.

“A lot of my customers were actually online marketplace experts themselves, but I’ve experienced the benefits of not already thinking I know best because it’s allowed me to experiment,” said Parry.

“At the moment I’m using tools to engage customers and launch email campaigns, as well as LinkedIn. I find that reminding people of my service is an important part of my online identity, and so as well as these tools I’m also thinking of more mailing lists and a pay-per-click campaign. There’s a fine balance to be struck between investing time and money on these things and working on the quality of your site, or taking orders,” added Parry.

Whatever message you want your business to be sending out online, being intelligent about your online presence is the best way to ensure growth. Yell’s Clisby revealed to Business Advice that 87 per cent of UK businesses have incorrect or out-of-date information online, according to a survey of 8,588 businesses that have an online presence. “That’s a shocking statistic and one that most people won’t understand as they won’t look in all the places consumers are looking. With our Connect product, small business owners have the opportunity to scan the online landscape and rectify online strategies in the long-term,” added Clisby.

Investing in building a website that’s mobile-friendly will be crucial going forward, as will being connected to other popular and relevant websites and social media channels.

Up next in our series in partnership with Yell, we ask our business owners about the content marketing strategies they find effective, and how they manage to keep costs down.

We hope you’re enjoying our online sales and marketing feature series. If you have any specific questions then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and we’ll get our friends at Yell to answer them.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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