Remember the good old days of the “Website Under Construction” banners? That is actually how I used to find a lot of clients. I would use my spider to go out and look for “construction.gif” and a short time later have a small business website client ready to go. It was almost like, well – you know, fish in a barrel. Only clients aren’t fish. Clients are people and they have the same personality traits as the rest of us. Heck, you’re a client to someone.
Small business SEO is the realm of snake oil and magic bullets. It’s the place in cyberspace where digital hustlers spread their lore and captivate audiences with stats and stories from around the globe. You will find both the trustworthy provider as well as the ant-lion hustler spewing great gushers of acronyms in volume enough to spin the heads off ten penny nails.
Let’s see – what all did I confuse the search bots with in that paragraph? I got “small business SEO” there at the lead then I hit it with “snake oil” and “magic bullets” in one sentence. I think by the time I got to “ant-lion”, “hustler” and “ten penny nails” the Googlebot probably thought I was using an article spinner. That’s another topic in and of its own but for now let’s get to the pertinent information for the small business online marketer who, let’s face it, needs to be found in search engine searches.
How we got here today, I mean the history of search engines, is important but that’s a little beyond the scope of time I expect you to invest in learning the what and why about small business SEO. Today nothing matters more than Google. That said there are other important tools and systems relative to online search marketing but none of them tops Google. In fact Google dominates the search engine space with 83% of the search engine activity as of May 2012 (resource). The closest “competitor” is Yahoo with 6.5% and Bing is all the way down at 4.15% of total global search share.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization, SEO, is the practice of creating or modifying a website, a webpage and/or the content thereof to be more “search engine friendly” and thus result in more searches displaying your page higher (ie closer to the first result) in the search engine results pages (SERP). As an example if Janet makes wood beads for jewelry she would certainly like for her website link to appear at the top of the search engine results when anyone searches for “wood beads for jewelry” or “wood beads”. It could mean the difference between a few sales and thousands of sales – this, of course, depends on the demand for the product.
Chances are you have thought about it, dreamed about it and even discussed the idea of starting your own business. Congratulations you still believe in the American Dream. There are currently somewhere around 25,000,000 small businesses existing as a legal entity inside the United States of America. I chose the word “existing” instead of “operating” for the simple fact that some of these small businesses never quite get off the ground. I further used the word “legal entity” because there are also thousands, if not millions, of small businesses operating “under the radar”.
Starting a small business is a big decision. Making big decisions requires planning – if you plan to succeed. True enough many, maybe even most, small business owners start out by “just jumping in there” but there are many pains which can easily be avoided just by taking a few breaths and planning.
When considering starting a small business, at least the first one, most people are quite clueless, even in this age of the Internet, about required steps, suggested steps and steps to avoid. Don’t count on this article answering all of those. However, from my 33 years as a small business person having owned and operated nearly a dozen with an array of results, there are some pointers from experience I can share with the average person to possibly make things a little better for you. These tips should apply well to almost any business and will certainly give every reader food for thought on how to start a small business.
Tip One – Passion
If you’re not passionate about what you are thinking of doing then sleep on it until you are passionate or until the idea passes. How many people have gone to a food storage container party or a make-up party on a whim only to leave with hundreds of dollars worth of product samples to go home and start their own business? As an avid yard-saler I can tell you it appears to be a very large statistic. My favorite place to buy those well known kitchen items is at yard sales from people who are selling their demonstration kit for pennies on the dollar. If you haven’t been already planning and strategizing for at least a few weeks I strongly recommend waiting until your emotions level out.
Tip Two – Partners
Be careful about partnerships. I’m not saying don’t enter into a partnership I’m just saying be very careful about them. Once you join a partner in a business you have a relationship which is not too unlike a marriage. Even friends who have been so for many years don’t necessarily make good partners. If you do intent to have a partner then please make it abundantly clear between yourselves what is expected and what is forbidden and do so in legal form. If, for example, one is a money partner and the other is a sweat equity partner the sweater has little right to whine when the funder isn’t required to show up for work – if that is how the agreement reads. No agreement? Expect a world of hurt at some point. It’s called a Partner’s Operating Agreement and it’s court worthy.
Why should you blog?
Blogging is an elective. There is no requirement for blogging just as there is no requirement to eat diet food … unless, of course, you really need to. Likewise with blogging. If you study the statistics for small businesses you will find certain types of businesses do much better as a result of blogging than others. We know, for example, that social media’s highest participatory demographic is females between the ages of 18 and 34 (report link). We also know that companies who blog have 55% higher website traffic than companies who do not blog (report link).
Every legitimate business should have an online presence. If any business has an online presence they should also employ some method of making sure that online presence is seen.
Small Business Blogging
For the small business person the concept of outbound marketing to gain inbound results really is simple: find the highest return for the least investment which pays off the quickest. What some “social media gurus” may try and sell you is that blogging and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all you need I, who depend on internet marketing clients to buy my pies, disagree in a pretty major way. While these tools certainly should be in virtually every small business marketing strategy they should never be depended on to achieve your fullest results.
Every legitimate business should have an online presence. If any business has an online presence they should also employ some method of making sure that online presence is seen. One advantage of blogging over a simple, static, brochure type site is the frequency at which relevant content can be published. Google prefers new to old and so do readers. If you are in a business like many of my clients who are either in the mortgage business, real estate business or training/public speaking business the content of your business is constantly changing and therefore needs to be reflected in your online information. Blogs are perfectly suited for this by leaving the older copy available in an archive and publishing the most current and accurate information regularly.
“And now”, as Paul Harvey made famous, “the rest of the story.” I get it – you’re a small business owner. You know how to do it better, faster, more efficiently, with a special twist, or any other number of ways to make it “better”. If you did not think one, some or all of these to be true you would not be a small business owner or independent contractor. For you the world offers few challenges you are not willing to take on regardless, or in spite, of your experience in the given field.
You bet it can be valuable to record conversations on Skype. But I bet you have search for “recording skype calls”, “skype call recorder” and even “free skype call recorder” before you found this article. According to Steve Ballmer’s CES closing keynote there were over 300 billion minutes of Skype conversations in 2011. It’s fair to say many of those were important business calls or even audio interviews which need to be archived. For my personal use interviews for either Social Media Edge Radio or RETSO Radio are a regular part of my week. Using a Skype call recording application is crucial.
Remember back in 1998 and 1999 when everyone, at least in my world of web and application development, was getting checks for just crazy sums of money? It was the Dot Com Boom, yes it is. I mean was. Or is?
What We Learned About Web Start-ups The First Time Around
Back in the late 90′s I made some pretty good cash doing websites for people who really needed a data driven, dynamic web presence. They already had businesses and not just business ideas. It was the day of Front Page and early Dreamweaver when people were finally learning the difference between “the Internet” and AOL. It was in the days when you asked for someone’s email address and they gave you their AOL username without the @aol.com part. It was the wired west.
My sister ran the front office for a startup here in Atlanta who received millions of dollars from angel investors and proceeded immediately to buy everyone matching BMWs, rent some of the most expensive space in town and fill it with ungodly expensive furniture and decor. Since that wasn’t enough they overpaid everyone and threw lavish parties. They didn’t even make it to the bust, they were long gone before that happened. Bad management, no real product and pure money lust propelled them to failure – along with the millions they never earned or repaid.
Dot Com Boom 2.0?
Because we have now seen the failure of “the field of dreams” scenarios and the success of some of the most unlikely cast members investment funding for idea projects is once again flowing. In reality one is much more likely to win from investing in a successful Internet startup than they are to win big in the lottery or at the casinos. Why, then, does it seem such a challenge to get small investments from large crowds of the same people who will gladly spend $500 a year on the lottery and have no problem losing a few hundred at the craps table? Perception …
How Facebook’s IPO Will Change The Way We Invest
Until recently before one could “go public” and accept investment funds from ordinary people who also want a shot at greatness the corporation had to jump through many legal hoops to prove their viability. Likewise investors had to prove their financial status to make investment early in start-ups. Not that this stopped bigger investors but that only lead to people with money getting the first shot at big payoffs while smaller investors didn’t stand a chance to get in before the IPO or in the first round of sales.
As long you’re investing money that you can afford to lose, helping someone take a crack at making his or her dream come true can actually feel pretty good.
Enter 2012 and some very important changes to the laws which affect how companies, specifically start-ups like Atlanta’s CheepMonkey, can raise capital. Prior to the passing of the JOBS Act the system was, “set up so that you have to have a certain amount of money in order to invest in startups,” Alen Peacock says. Regulations require that you have $1 million, excluding the value of your house. “So for people who don’t meet those minimum requirements,” he says, “they’re just out of the game.”
Why would a web developer be giving a tutorial on how to create a web site? Simple: you need a professional one that does a lot of things you probably cannot get your own to do but you also need others to help build your network for lead generation. Google Sites provides just such a location to help you catch a few more eyes and turn them in to fingers that call you or enter their credit card number into the form on your main site.
Because Google Sites does allow HTML you’ll be able to do quite a bit with the site even if you are an advanced user. But the beauty is you really don’t need to know one line of code to create a decent site, for free, on Google Sites. My intention is to do a series of video tutorials as short in length as possible to get you going. Don’t worry if someone comments on the video or blog about how juvenile this is or how you can never depend on these pages for business – they’re just jealous of you. In reality you can’t have too many web pages. It is mathematically impossible.
The only link you need is http://sites.google.com and if you don’t have a Google account, I mean if you’re one of the last 37 people who don’t, now is the time to get one. Then follow the video and you’ll have a website in less than 10 minutes. Very basic, but a site none-the-less.
Recently a prospect contacted me with a need for their clientele to be able to upload a few different types of files via the website. The company requires documents from their clients and wanted to move away from the fax machine and allow customers to upload files directly from their computer to the site. The files needed were PDF, DOC, TXT, and ZIP.
Since the company already had an existing WordPress installed for their Content Management System (CMS) they needed a solution their WordPress guy had no idea how to create but needed it to work with their theme he had customized. This mean it had to be created in such a way that when their existing guy quit handling it and new updates were made the application would not break.
As a small business professional, meaning I have started, built, operated, and sold small businesses since 1979 there is one thing I always wanted to have and worked like mad to discover or create: a desirable advantage over my competitors (thus eliminating them as threats). For example: In 2000 I was coding ecommerce sites for Swissartex (later renamed to ICHA) at the rate of about 2 or 3 per month. Business was