The giant companies of the Internet offer online sustenance to the masses. They feed people with information, satisfy the hunger to connect and give companies fuel to run successful businesses in the digital age.
Sure, consumers and businesspeople have to pay for the prime Internet services (advertising and other premium services) but the core services are free. By this I mean the gamut of services available that can help small businesses succeed: web search, maps, directories and reviews.
The giant Internet companies operate on such a large scale that they can literally give away their services -- at least at the most basic level -- to the everyday Joe. Take Amazon and eBay. Using just one of those platforms, someone could sell sports memorabilia from a corner of the kitchen and reach millions of potential customers, without spending much more than time.
Without even printing up business card, an entrepreneur can carve out a niche on the web by taking advantage of the opportunities that the Internet's biggest players offer small businesses. Here are three ways (with many options that are free or at minimal cost) to mine the offerings of large online companies to the advantage of small businesses:
While many buy insurance to protect their interests in case something bad happens to their company, a lot of small-business owners aren't in the habit of protecting their online identity. Yet it's possible for misinformation (or worse) about a company to be circulated online. This is a real risk (like a flood or a fire) to the viability of a business.
Online products like SinglePlatform, BrightEdge and Get Found (offered by my company, GoDaddy) make it easier for a company to have control over basic information posted about it on large popular sites such as Bing, Google and Yelp. Now companies can manage that information from one central location.
SearchMetrics recently came out with this year's list of the top search-engine ranking factors -- and seven of the top 10 now involve social media.
Groom the social profile of a business by posting relevant content on the sites frequented by its target customers. This takes time and developing a strategy to manage these tasks well. But today a business active on social networks amounts to a more successful one.
Many consumers use a combination of trusted apps to look for products or services. Do additional research to discover the online channels that will work best to reach target customers in a specific geographic market and be sure the information posted about the company is correct online.
Those businesspeople who are building relationships with customers face-to-face and online -- especially via meaningful engagement on social platforms -- should ask customers how they found out about their company.
Leveraging all these online resources takes time.
Embrace technologies that offer time-saving solutions for small and medium-size businesses to get the full benefit from the web, such as mobile apps that enable payment via a linked PayPal account or GoDaddy's Get Paid. Or try an online bank application.
That's how to milk the Internet for its affordable small-business services without squeezing the last ounce of time from a daily schedule.
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