I’m so glad you’re reading this guide for step-by-step instructions to take your small business online. That’s where your customers are spending a whole lot of their time reading, watching, researching, socializing and buying.

Many businesses start with a simple presence on a Facebook business page and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just important to realize that you don’t have total control over those platforms and you’ll likely be limited in terms of what you can do there. Plus, most eCommerce marketplace sites take a cut of your sales.

As such, you might want to expand your digital footprint to include a number of important elements.

Custom domain name: Your domain name is the heart of your business’s unique address on the web. It should tell people who you are and what you have to offer at a glance, direct them to your website, and help protect and promote your brand.

Website: Your website is your business’s online home. It’s where you tell your story, showcase products and services, and start to establish credibility and expand your reach.

Social media: Getting active on the social networking sites where your customers spend their time is key to building an online community around your business. You can use sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube to market your products and services, establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry and, most important, build relationships with your customers.

Email: Branded email is an affordable and effective way to communicate with your customers and generate leads.

 

10 steps to take your small business online.

 

Even without a lot of technical experience, you can take your small business online by taking a strategic approach to building a web presence.

  1. Get a domain name that represents who you are and what you do.
    • How to choose a domain name.
    • How to register your domain name.
  2. Plan your website.
    • How to prep to sell online.
  3. Pick your designer.
  4. Create valuable content.
  5. Get your website found.
    • What is SEO?
    • How to optimize images.
    • Using online reviews, directories and maps.
  6. Connect with customers on social media.
    • How social media can help your small business.
    • Choose the right social media platforms.
    • Best practices for using social media for business.
    • Connecting your small business website and social media profiles.
    • Time-saving tools.
  7. Drive traffic to your website.
    • Create compelling, search-worthy content.
    • Send business-class email.
    • Maximize blogs.
    • Join online communities.
    • Set up shop on a marketplace.
    • Run promotions.
    • Paid options.
  8. Use your website and email to generate leads.
    • How to collect email addresses.
    • Start with email marketing.
  9. Measure, improve and grow.
    • Stay social.
    • Hone your focus.
    • Keep your website in shape.
    • Track your website’s performance.
  10. Evaluate your efforts.

This guide will show you how to take your small business online, step by step. Ready? Onward!

 

1. Get a domain name

Your domain is the part of your website address that comes after the www. Like this:

www.example.com

For a business, a domain name can also anchor a professional email address. Like this:

ceo@example.com

Let’s say I’m looking for a plumber in Lagos. I whip out my smartphone, tap Google, and enter “plumber in Lagos” and voilà! I get a list of search results that include relevant websites identified by their domain names.

You want your business to show up in search results when potential customers are looking online for the products or services you offer.

Your domain is your business’s nameplate on the web, so take care to choose a domain name that represents your business and is easy to remember. Here are five tips for picking a domain that sticks:

  1. Keep it short. Would you remember it if you saw it on the side of a bus?
  2. Make it easy to type. Avoid hyphens and unusual spellings.
  3. Include keywords. Try to use words that people might enter when searching for your type of business.
  4. Target your area. Use your city or state in your domain name to appeal to local customers.
  5. Pick the right extension. Using and industry- or geo-specific domain name ending (the part that comes after the “dot”) might be a strong fit for your business.

When you’re noodling through domains, do a little research to make sure the name you love isn’t trademarked, copyrighted or in use by another company.

As you prep to take your small business online, complete the following fields with relevant business information to come up with the perfect domain:

Business Industry: E.g. Events and Entertainment

Services: E.g.  Event Management

Products: E.g.  Mobile Phones

Geographic Location (If applicable): E.g. Lagos

Words that describe your services: E.g.  Luxury

 

2. Plan your website

With that domain name in hand, you’re ready to start thinking about your website. A bit of planning goes a long way toward ensuring that your site will do all the things you want it to do for your business.

Do you want your website to inform? To inspire? To generate sales leads? To actually sell products or services?

Is it enough for your website to showcase your products and services, or do you want visitors to be able to buy them directly from the site? If so, you’ll want an eCommerce website (more on that later).

When you figure out what you want your site to do for your business, you can begin building the type of site that will achieve those objectives.

How to prep to sell online

If you plan to sell products or services on your website, you’ll need an eCommerce website, also known as an online store. This type of website requires a few more specialized parts than a standard website. Here’s what you’ll need to plan for:

A shopping cart: This tool will let you display product images and descriptions. Look for a cart option that includes important features like shipping options and inventory tracking.

Payment processing: You can use a third-party service like PayPal and Paystack to collect payments.

SSL: The first thing most savvy customers look for when they make a purchase online is an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. SSL certificates are digital certificates that encrypt the information your customers send when they purchase products or complete forms on your website. Visual indicators of an SSL can include a padlock icon in the browser, https:// before the website address, and a green address bar.

 

3. Pick your designer

You might not be well-versed in the art of website building and you don’t have to be. You’ve got options.

Professional Website Designer

Hiring a professional designer or website design service is a great option if you have an idea for your website, but don’t want to build it yourself. A pro can collaborate with you to turn your vision into a fully functional, customized website that meets your online goals.

Whatever path you take, you’ll want to consider these primary factors: cost, customization, complexity, time, and ongoing maintenance. A good method for making your final decision is to prioritize your most important considerations, then weigh the options against your needs.

 

4. Create Valuable Content

So, what’s your story? Every business has one. And a compelling story drives an effective small business website.

  • How did you get started?
  • What do you tell customers about your business?
  • How do you explain to friends how you make a living?
  • What problem can you solve for your customers, as only you can?

Think about your mission, your vision, and what makes you stand apart from the competition. Then start writing.

It could be as simple as this:

“I started designing when i was 15yrs old. It all started when I decided to take a gap year from school due to some financial constraints. I decided to learn something, something that is related to my passion and my direction in life. I got my first gig after school and made some money, not a lot of money but I was happy and fulfilled about the fact that I got paid for something I love doing. This sounds more like a perfect brand story. LOL!”

Pages to include on your small business website.

You’re going to tell that story throughout a handful of pages on your website. Most experts recommend that five core pages — Home, About Us, Products/Services, Testimonials, and Contact Us, make for a solid small business website.

But if you’re in a crunch, just get a great homepage up as soon as you can and then build out your website with additional pages.

Developing the content for web pages requires telling your story with words (text), images (photos, your logo, etc.), and perhaps video, presented in an appealing way (that’s the design factor).

It’s important to make this space your website easy for visitors to travel through, or navigate. A click here, a link there, and they’ll get a clear idea of who you are and what you can offer to them.

Not sure how to start telling your business’s unique story on your website? Here are a few places you might find inspiration:

  • talking to friends
  • customer referrals
  • existing brochures and other marketing materials
  • company newsletters or cards
  • other websites

Take a look at what other successful businesses in your industry do on their websites, and note what you like and what you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little online inspiration, just don’t copy someone else’s content.

Small business website design basics.


Even if you hire a pro to build your site for you, you’ll need to make (or at least approve) decisions about the look of the site — its design. Here are a few design fundamentals you’ll want to consider:

Logo: Think about how you want to incorporate your company logo into your website’s design. Maybe you want to echo the colors of your logo on your site, or make the logo “pop” against a contrasting background.

Colors: For brand harmony, it’s important to choose the right color palette for your website. Do you own a creative company? Perhaps vibrant colors like blue and tangerine speak to your brand. If you’re in the professional services industry, more subtle hues such as charcoal and blue might be more appropriate.

Think about the feelings colors evoke for you and match them with how you want your customers to feel when they visit your website.

Fonts: Think about the fonts that might best represent your particular business from bold, linear styles to more delicate, feminine fonts.

Layouts and more: Consider the amount of “whitespace” (space between elements) in your design. A lot of whitespace can denote clarity or simplicity, while having very little of it can make your site look active or intense. Other elements, like background colors, gradients, and the “texture” of your overall design, can contribute to your online impression.

By putting a little thought into these basic design elements, you’ll make big strides in telling your story, building your brand, and framing your products and services in the best possible light on the web.Not sure how to start telling your business’s unique story on your website? Here are a few places you might find inspiration:

  • talking to friends
  • customer referrals
  • existing brochures and other marketing materials
  • company newsletters or cards
  • other websites

Take a look at what other successful businesses in your industry do on their websites, and note what you like and what you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little online inspiration, just don’t copy someone else’s content.

Small business website image tips.

By using a few thoughtfully chosen pictures and/or short videos, you can quickly convey the information and impression you’re going for on your website

Here are three tips for using images and video on your website:

Show instead of telling: If it would take a thousand words to explain something, showing it is better. This is especially true of product shots and video demonstrations. Use them to create an impact.

Take them yourself: If you need to snap a few shots of a product or make a video, you already have a tool you can use. Your smartphone. Just adjust the lighting, be aware of the background you’re using, and snap away. When you’re done, you can edit them using an online editor, or a tool like Canva.

Use quality stock images. With stock images, you can save yourself time and get high-quality images at a fraction of the cost of a professional photographer.

Be mobile-ready!

The vast majority of smartphone users do shopping research on their phones. They tap and swipe their way through search results, websites and reviews to figure out what they’re going to buy, and from which seller.

Make sure your small business website is mobile-friendly.

A mobile website is optimized for use on a smartphone and other mobile devices. It’s designed for a positive user experience on mobile. Whether you design your own website or hire a designer to do it for you, make sure your small business website looks and performs as well on smartphones and tablets as it does on desktop computers.

 

5. Get your website found

Congratulations! You’ve already accomplished the first rule of thumb for getting your website found when you take your small business online creating relevant content. The type of content that will resonate with your target customer.

Now it’s time to take the extra steps needed to boost your business’s visibility online.

What is SEO?

Enter search engine optimization, fondly known as SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO): the process of refining a website to get higher search engine rankings and organic visitors to your site, without paying for search engine placement.

Imagine you’re a chef who’s spent a week perfecting a new recipe. If you don’t get it on the menu, it’s going to collect dust back in the kitchen because most of your customers aren’t going to know about it. It’s the same way with your website. You’ve cooked up all this amazing content, and you want search engines like Google and Bing to serve it up to potential customers in their search results pages.

Unlike paid listings, advertisements that display in sponsored areas, organic search results are “free” and based on, among other things, the site’s content and how closely it matches the keywords being searched.

How does SEO work (in a nutshell)?

After you (or your website guru) does the website backend stuff needed to attract the attention of the search engine bots (like connecting the site to Google Search Console), search engines know that your site exists. They scan it, index the information, and analyze the website’s content to determine how and where your website’s content should display on search engine results pages (SERPs).

While each search engine has its own set of ranking criteria, they all look at these same basic but key elements:

Relevant page content. Focus on content that meets the needs your target customers are searching for.

Keywords: Do some research to discover what select words and phrases people use to search for your type of business. Sprinkle these keywords throughout the content on your website.

Meta tags: These are HTML tags that contain info to help search engines know what your site’s about. They help describe your website in search engine results.

Website navigation: This covers all the links on your site and how visitors navigate from page to page. Like visitors, search engines rely on good navigation to get around your site.

In the world of SEO, a broken link is like hitting a brick wall. Make sure all the URLs in your navigation are valid.

Link building: Search engines use both internal links and backlinks to rank your site. You create an internal link by linking from a keyword or sentence on one page of your website to another page on your site. Even more important for search ranking are backlinks, links from other websites that point to your site.

Image optimization. This one’s got its own section. Keep reading to learn how to get SEO juice with the images on your website.

 

 

6. Connect with customers on social media

Establishing a business presence on the social networks where your customers and prospects spend their time is sort of like setting up a booth at the world’s largest virtual trade show. You can bet your competitors are there, vying for the attention of all those potential customers with flashy banners and giveaways. There’s a crowd gathered around the booth playing a funny video and the vendor live-streaming a makeup demo.

How social media can help your small business

Why is social media so important for businesses today, and more importantly, how can you get in on that action?

Build relationships. By developing a following on popular social media sites, you can connect with your customers and prospects and share content with large numbers of people. Social makes it easy to target specific customer questions or issues, while making the same information available to all existing and potential customers.

Build your brand. Social media gives you the opportunity to share valuable information about your business and showcase your personality.

Drive traffic to your website. Including a link back to your website in interesting social posts can generate serious traffic.

Establish expertise. Share your knowledge and experience to build credibility as an industry thought leader.

Make sales. Ultimately, these activities, connections, brand building, driving traffic, establishing expertise, all lead to the same place: sales.

Establishing and maintaining a strong social presence for your business definitely requires a commitment of your time, but the benefits make that investment worthwhile. By getting social, you will continue to build credibility, raise brand awareness, and, especially, engage with current and potential customers.

Ready to get started?

Choose the right social media platforms

Just like IRL (in real life) you can’t be everywhere at the same time. Same for social media. You’ve got to figure out where the people who are most interested in your type of products or services are spending their time, and go there.

Different social networks appeal to different demographics.

Some platforms like Pinterest and Instagram specialize in visual content perfect for product-centric businesses. Some networks allow you to share long-form content, live-stream video, stay on top of industry trends, and “spy” on your competitors.

Do some research. Where is your target audience hanging out? How about your competitors? What benefits can each network offer your business? Analyze and prioritize.

Take all that data, look at it in the context of the marketing goals you’ve established for your business, and define a social media strategy that works for you.

Best practices for using social media for business

Once you’re all set up on your chosen networks, and listening to get a pulse on your customers and competitors, it’s time to start posting and sharing content. To get the most out of social media for your business, it helps to follow a few basic guidelines:

Make friends. Social media is about people connecting with people. So, even if you’re representing a business, be sure to let your human side shine through in your posts. Return favors (such as sharing and liking posts and pages).

Add value. Provide useful information in your posts, such as links to related articles and videos.

Show respect. Treat your followers with dignity and respect, and you’re likely to get the same in return.

Get it right. Be sure to check your facts, spelling and grammar.

Encourage open dialogue. Craft posts that encourage followers to respond. Ask questions.

Be responsive. Acknowledge followers’ feedback and engage them in conversation.

Get visual. Post photos, videos, and other visual elements to boost engagement.

Leverage promotions. Come up with special offers for social media followers.

Drive traffic to your website. Include your website address in posts for followers who want to learn more.

 

Connecting your small business website and social media profiles

You want your business’s website and social media profiles to be joined at the hip. After you set up your social media profiles, post links to them everywhere on your website, storefront, marketing materials, even your email signature.

Links in social posts. Include your website’s URL in your social media posts. Also, add widgets or add-ons to your site so live feeds of your social media posts show up there.

Share, Follow, Like. When people “like” your business’s social page, they become members of your business’s online community. Take every opportunity to “share,” “follow,” and “like” others’ pages so they’ll return the favor!

 

7. Drive traffic to your website

We’ve talked about how SEO and social media can drive visitors to your business website, but we’re not quite finished on this topic.

Let’s look at a handful of proven strategies.

Create compelling, search-worthy content

Whether it’s a shareable infographic, entertaining how-to video, or blog post about why spending time in your online store is more fun than watching a favorite TV show, make content that people can’t find anywhere else.

This is the kind of stuff people will want to link to from their own websites and social profiles (remember backlinks?). Make sure they find that amazing content by optimizing it for search engines.

 

 

8. Use your website + email to generate leads

Driving traffic to your website is key, but converting your website’s visitors into leads is how you’ll stay in business. That means figuring out who’s visiting your site and contacting them directly so you can work to convert them into customers.

Include your business phone number or email address on every page of your website.

Ask website visitors to share a little bit about themselves name and email address. That’s all you need to start converting, and most people are used to giving out that info online. Ask for a phone number if you’ve got a callback strategy in place.

 

9. Measure, improve and grow

You’ve got a website and social profiles in place, plus the know-how to drive traffic to your site, engage with followers, and generate leads so you’re in a great position to grow your business. What now?

Stay social

You’ll want to tweak your social media strategy as you gain some experience engaging with followers.

  • What types of content get the most positive response?
  • When are your engagement rates the highest?
  • Is it time to try some paid options?
  • Which social networks seem to be working best for your business?

You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, so make smart use of your time on social media. Focus on deeper engagement on the sites that matter most to your audience.

 

10. Evaluate your efforts

Congratulations! If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve put in the work it takes to get your small business online the right way.

Now, are you wondering if you have an effective small business website? Your site should be more than a glorified business card. It should entice visitors to learn more about your products and services, establish that you’re a credible business, and turn your visitors into customers. Even a website with just the bare essentials should help your business grow.

Answer the questions below to see if you’ve covered the basics:

  1. Do you have clear/concise statements on the home page about who you are and what you do?
  2. Does your home page have a call-to-action?
  3. Do you have an about us page that represents your passion for the business?
  4. Have you included customer quotes, reviews or testimonials?
  5. Have you clearly defined your products/services, pricing, warranties and refunds?
  6. Are you collecting email addresses through signup forms?
  7. Is your primary contact information on every page?
  8. Have you included “trust logos”?
  9. Can your visitors share your website through Facebook and Twitter?
  10. Do you promote a “special offer” for your website visitors?

All done? Great! Now tally up the number of “yes” answers to get your diagnosis.

0 – 4: Sounds like you’re just getting started. Give us a call. We’ll help you out.

5 – 7: You’re on track. Pick one area to focus on this week. Make it happen.

8 -10: You’re a guru. It might be time to take the next step. Email marketing?

You’ve got this. And if you ever need any help, we’re available 24/7 at info@24group.com.ng.

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