As a small business or “solopreneur”, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the array of “free” tools available at your digital fingertips. But “free” has a hidden price and sometimes it takes thousands of hours or a large chunk of revenue to figure things out. Many of us learned these lessons the hard way and, in the spirit of sharing, we prepared these guidelines to help you navigate digital realities and make the business decisions that are right for you.
- Have a plan. Every digital tool has a specialized audience of heavy users. If you don’t have a clear business plan, with clear objectives achieving results is unlikely. Decide your target audience and then pick the tools that provide access to those people/organizations with whom you wish to do connect. Also, create a digital baseline. Start by “googling” yourself and your website to see where you stand today. It might surprise you.
- Don’t try everything, try a few things and do them well. As a small business person, time is at a premium. We never have enough of it and what we have we want to use earning revenue. It’s better to select one or two “channels”, use them well and then expand your toolbox as you identify the tools that yield the best results. This means taking the time to master the functionality and the etiquette associated with your tool choices as well as committing to regular use.
- As with all things in life – nothing is free. As a dear friend of mine, Dave Wieneke, always says “If it’s free, you’re the product”. What does this mean for the small business? When you used social platforms, they collect your data and many “own” your content. Tools like Facebook are data collectors designed to determine your “likes” and “dislikes” based on your online behavior. Their goal is to create ever-more tailored advertising content that suits your preferences and is delivered directly to your desktop. When you build a business solely on top of one of these platforms; you give up lots of control. If you are cool with all this – fine. If not, buyers beware! Generally we recommend you use social platforms as “outposts” leading back to your professional address.
- Digital environments at driven by algorithms. If you want visibility in a sea of “content” search (SEO aka search engine optimization) is a key factor. What does a search engine detect? Among other things: online activity + keywords that many people select for search, websites with lots of visitors, blogging, blog comments, tweeting, link sharing, pictures, videos, podcasts, activity on recognized sites like Google + (as the heavy hitter in this space, Google dictates the parameters). Choose content-sharing channels that search engines recognize so you get more visibility for your efforts. Also, when building website or blogs, make sure your technology partner has experience optimizing the site for search. Conversely, this also means you have a lot of data available to you related to your site(s). But there are obvious costs and trade-offs. Tools such as Google analytics are “free” – but they require work to set-up and also to monitor. It also means Google will have access to your analytics as well.
- Networking takes work. Online, offline; no matter, networking is hard work. It’s a fallacy to assume digital = easy. Building a useful, productive network takes time and forethought. Add people to your digital channels strategically and thoughtfully, then use your chosen channel(s) to deliver meaningful content that a) is timely and useful info your network will appreciate b) displays your “quality of thought”. The advantage of digital channels, you can update many people with one status update. Not everyone will look at your updates all the time, but then, not everyone notices newsletters, emails or voicemails. Digital channels simply provide additional “touch points” that allow you to maintain contact with individuals that have chosen to share a network connection with you. That makes digital connections richer in some ways because of the implied “permission” to keep in contact and share content when a digital invitation gets accepted.
- Digital channels provide the possibility of amplification and acceleration. With millions of users per tool, the possibility exists for higher levels of exposure for you, your business, your content, and your products. Thus the extreme appeal of digital. Two things to keep in mind a) the highest ranking YouTube video at 300 million users isn’t business related b) this environment is not unlike the stock market – part formula, part luck. If you really want to gain “marketshare” you need to understand the market drivers and even with this knowledge, you could still lose.
- Devices matter. Mobile, e-readers and tablets are supplanting laptops (just forget desktops, they are dinosaurs) as the device of choice for many. Any strategy you develop should consider these formats as they are increasingly the entry point for search and information delivery. When you upgrade websites, make sure to think about mobile formatting so you can maintain your site’s integrity regardless of the device.
- Just when you get things settled, they will change again. This environment doesn’t stop evolving – ever. It’s very much the wild-wild west and we don’t see this changing any time soon. Here’s your challenge – as the market continues to evolve and digital is increasingly the way buyers look for content, goods and services – the way new clients find you will change as well. Think about your career timeline. How long do you wish to maintain your professional vitality? If your answer is more than 2 years, not going “strategically” digital will impact your chances of meeting your goals.