Any other business
The Microsoft way to boost the online presence of a small British business
14 min read
16 March 2015
Chris Rothwell, channel development group manager at Microsoft, shares his tips for small businesses looking to boost their online presence.
There are a number of reasons why small businesses and sole traders might not trade or market themselves online. For instance, some small businesses don’t know where to start when it comes to setting up websites or social media pages. Others assume engaging customers online is expensive and time consuming, with some simply not realising the extent to which customers now use online methods to look for and purchase their goods and services.
A recent study from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills showed that more than half of the public (55 per cent) finds it difficult to support local small firms because often these businesses aren’t online. In fact, figures show that as many as two million sole traders and small companies are missing out on building their business because they have no online presence.
Over half of customers (52 per cent) go straight to search engines when looking to buy from local businesses, which is nearly double the number that ask for word-of-mouth recommendations and, with total website sales in the UK now worth £193 billion, small businesses that don’t trade online are missing out. So, for those businesses that want to make 2015 the year they take their operation into the digital age, here are some handy tips to help them Do More Online.
Build your own website
Building a website doesn’t have to be expensive and you certainly don’t need to be a coding wizard in order to get a basic website up and running quickly. There are lots of online website builders such as GoDaddy, Wix, 1&1 and others or, if that’s out of your comfort zone, you can pay a web designer to build your website or talk to your local college or university who are offering free tuition and support to small businesses. You can find more information about local courses by visiting Digital Skills.
Before you get carried away building your website, you need to purchase a domain name. This is your own personal ‘.com’, www.thisismoney.co.uk for example. It’s easy to do and you can have any name you like, as long as it hasn’t been taken. You can purchase a domain name at Godaddy, Easyspace and UK2.
The final step to building your own website is filling it with content. It’s important to write copy and use images that help visitors learn about your company’s unique brand. What’s more, you should make it easy for visitors to find the information they’re looking for by including ‘About us’, ‘Webshop’ and ‘Contact us’ pages.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills as part of its Do More Online campaign has included these hints and more online at the Great Business website.
Once you’ve built your website, it’s important to make sure that people can find it. Many of your existing customers will look for your contact details online, so it’s important that you’re visible where they’ll be looking for you.
It’s important to ensure that you’re listed with search engines like Google and Bing as this is one of the most common ways customers will try and find you. Google has My Business and Bing has Bingplaces.com, both of which get you listed online for free and allow you to be found based on keywords and location.
Depending on your business, there may be other places you need to make sure that you’re listed in order to be seen by as many people as possible. Try and think about where your potential customers might go to find you, and then make sure you’re listed there – that could be a local business directory or a service specific site like TripAdvisor.
Wherever you put your listing, the description you submit of your business must be as relevant as possible, consistent across different sites and kept up to date. Try to use the same words a customer might when looking for you. Sometimes it helps to ask a few customers how they found you, and what words they were searching for.
Read more on web design:
- Choosing the right web host for your business
- How to avoid the pitfalls of a new website launch
- Giving your website a competitive edge
More tips from Microsoft on page two, including social media engagement, online finance efficiencies and digital marketing.
Engaging through social media
Social media is a valuable means of finding your customers online. The largest social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all free and public, and represent a huge opportunity when it comes to having conversations with your customers and promoting your small business.
Social media is a cost effective means of advertising designed to be engaging and interactive. An instant means of communicating to groups of people, social media can help companies broadcast their products and services. One site will often suit a company more than another, for example, Instagram is used by picture lovers (and selfie lovers) whereas Facebook is used to broadcast more meaty information like events.
You only need an email address to set up a Facebook or Twitter account. What’s more all the information you’ll need to help set up your profiles is available by visiting http://www.greatbusiness.gov.uk/engaging-through-social-media/. Once set up, the billions of people that use social media will instantly become potential customers/clients. The best advice for anyone using social media is try to make posts and content engaging by using images, videos and news. Experiment with different kinds of posts such as questions, competitions, jokes and anecdotes. You’ll quickly see what works for you and what gets people talking. Do More Online is a good place for inspiration.
Social media is a great way to engage with customers and build your brand. But if you don’t tread carefully it can also represent a PR minefield. Avoid updating your social media profiles too often – you’ll just be annoying. On the other hand it’s better not to have a profile at all than never update it – it will look like you don’t really care about your business.
Don’t talk at people on social media, the point is to engage with consumers not just broadcast information about your brand. However, this does leave you open to criticism and negative feedback. Don’t ignore it, keep an eye on your Twitter/Facebook accounts and deal with issues swiftly and tactfully. You can frequently turn a negative experience into a positive one, generating good PR for your business.
Read more on social media:
- Caprice: “When I put my lingerie on the TOWIE girls it flies off the shelves”
- Why Facebook is treating British SME market like a military operation
- Afraid to admit that you don’t understand social media?
Being efficient with online finance
It wasn’t a million years ago that paying suppliers for a small business meant 20 different cheques with 20 different envelopes and trips back and forth from the bank or post office. You can do all that today just by getting your small business connected using the Internet. With your business finances online, there’ll be less paperwork, your company will run more efficiently and you’ll have more time.
You need to protect your customers’ finances. Paypal, Sage Pay, NetBanx and WorldPay are all popular platforms for secure online transactions. It’s important to display the logo of the payment method on your website so potential customers feel assured and are more likely to buy from you. Partnering with a reputable payment system is the start but you must also offer a help service, provide contact details and confirm any transactions with an email.
Using the internet for your finances can be made safer by protecting your bank details, updating your anti-virus software, using the latest version of Windows, installing the latest security updates and, if possible, trying not to use public computers. Some banks offer additional security software specifically designed to protect you during online banking. Rapport software, as it is known, is free to download and secures financial transactions in addition to normal internet security software.
For more advice on being efficient with your businesses finances visit Great Business.
Marketing online is a goal for many small businesses but can be seen as quite a daunting task. There are multiple platforms to explore when it comes to promoting your business and services online including social media, search advertising, newsletters and blogs.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different kinds of marketing tools. Boosting a Facebook post is useful if you want to up the number of people that engage with your page or post. If you go down this route it’s important to set yourself a budget and bear in mind it doesn’t have to be expensive.
With so many companies selling online, and household names like Argos, eBay and Etsy making it so easy to trade online, it’s no wonder UK online sales are at £193 billion a year. Using host sites such as, Etsy and eBay is safe and they also provide help and support for new sellers. For more information on how you can start selling via these websites, visit their support pages at http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/sell/store-getstarted.html and https://www.etsy.com/uk/sell/.
Background on the Do More Online campaign
The Do More Online campaign refers to a plethora of activity being undertaken by the Government Department for Business Innovation and Skills, alongside partner organisations, to enhance the digital capabilities of micro businesses and sole traders.
Do More Online is a part of the Business is Great campaign and aims to raise awareness of the extensive Government and partner support that is available for small businesses to enhance their online presence, and demonstrate the following:
- That thousands of potential customers are searching for businesses online – if small businesses aren’t there, they can’t be found
- That doing more online will save businesses time and money
- That doing more online can be done cheaply, quickly and without IT expertise
For more tips and support on how your business can do more online, visit http://www.greatbusiness.gov.uk/domoreonline for more information.
Chris Rothwell is the channel development group manager at Microsoft.