This guide has been sponsored by the kind folks at .IE
There has never been a better time to create an online presence for your business. In 2022 the RITA community will connect business owners with suitable organisations and experts to help them start their online journey. If you would like to contribute to this guide please drop an email to : [email protected]
Table of contents
Disclaimer : Rural Ireland Tech Advocates is a diverse group of individuals brought together by the love of their respective counties. Our goal is to shine a spotlight on each of the 32 counties and promote the uniqueness which each county offers. This guide is a work in progress and will be updated throughout the year.
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for business owners with a brick and mortar business and without an online presence. This guide has been compiled by the Rural Ireland Tech Advocates with the goal of creating an easy to follow guide to help business owners expand the reach of their business. We’ll try to avoid technical jargon and remain objective as we cover some of the options available to businesses of various sizes and budgets. We’ll also try to help business owners avoid common pitfalls which have been crowdsourced through the RITA community.
What are the benefits of expanding online?
- Cost-effective expansion
- Increased brand awareness
- Increased customer reach
- Round-the-clock sales
- Added brand value
- Increased customer engagement
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased customer/brand loyalty
When is the best time to start?
There is no time like the present. The current global pandemic has been devastating to businesses spread across many sectors and for businesses which rely on footfall it has been especially damaging. Bringing your business online and leveraging the right tools may provide some protection for your business in light of future lockdowns and pandemics. Creating an online store using a well established e-commerce platform can be as simple as creating a Facebook account.
Where to start?
Let’s address the elephant in the room. It can be incredibly intimidating to expand your business online. Even for folks with technical knowledge the jargon can be overwhelming.
A great starting point is your Local Enterprise Office (LEO). There are currently 31 offices around Ireland and a full list can be found here.
LEOs provide training programs, mentoring and financial support for micro businesses. We highly recommend reaching out to your local LEO as a first step towards expanding online. Most LEO offices have a Twitter account and you can send them a Direct Message through Twitter. This is a great way to get questions answered quickly. If you’d like to do some research before reaching out to a LEO office then this e-book from .IE, “Digital Marketing Strategy” is a great first step : https://www.weare.ie/e-books/#digital_marketing_strategy.
How to create an online store
Businesses may create a virtual online store where customers can purchase items using an established e-commerce platform such as Shopify or Squarespace. We’ll provide a full list of the most popular e-commerce platforms later in the guide. With an online store your items are available to purchase 24/7, 365 days a year.
Another option is to hire a 3rd party to create a website for you. This can be costly. The good folks over at .IE have provided this useful e-book on how to get an accurate quote for your website : https://www.weare.ie/e-books/#get_accurate_website_quote and how to choose a memorable domain name that makes your store/brand stand out : https://www.weare.ie/e-books/#choosing_a_domain_name.
There are many e-commerce platforms available but we have chosen 4 based on feedback from the RITA community.
In no particular order;
These platforms provide the tools needed to build and manage your online store. Each has similar features and it’s up to personal choice which one you decide to use. If you’re unsure as to which platform to choose drop an email to : [email protected] or DM @RITAdvocates on Twitter and we’ll try to help further.
How to create an online presence
Brick and mortar businesses may want to engage with their existing customer base online or build an audience of new customers using social media tools such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We’ll provide a full list of common social media platforms below. Communicating the value of your brand with new customers using social media can be intimidating at first but following the steps below we’ll help you avoid some common pitfalls.
What platform is best for me?
Once you’ve made that scary decision to jump into the world of social media you might get a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of platform choices. Rest assured that there are certain ways that you can narrow down which to start on and you don’t need to be on all social media sites! You can start by asking yourself a few small questions:
- What social media platform do the majority of my customer base use?
- Do I need my platform to connect with customers or business colleagues?
- What content do I want to share? Do I want a platform to post images or to post a mixture of images, written updates and use it like a website?
Once you have narrowed down your use case for social media it might become obvious what platform you will want to sign up for; there is nothing to say that you might want to sign up for multiple platforms as well.
Our humble recommendation
If you have gone through all those questions and are still at a loss with choosing what platform to choose, here are our thoughts and rationale behind the main choices.
|Mainly used to share short form written content. |
Content is limited to 280 characters.
|Can be an alternative to a website. |
Ability to share written, image and video content.
Focus on visual content – images and videos.
Can use Reels to grow your audience and expand reach.
Used in a professional capacity for both businesses and individuals.
Can share written and visual content.
Focus is on short video content.
Using trending sounds can enable a more viral reach with content.
If this is your first social media platform our first recommendation would be to create a Facebook page. Around 1.62 Billion users are on Facebook every day, giving your business one of the widest audience reaches possible. This platform also has the ability to be used for a variety of content and while it is free to use, you have the ability to pay for advertisements to reach potential new customers.
If you are interested in sharing more image based content, we would recommend Instagram. The biography section at the top of an instagram page will let you have a short description about your business and include details such as your address, contact information and website link.
With these two recommendations it is worth noting that within the settings of both platforms you can choose to link your Facebook and Instagram page together. This enables cross-platform posting, so anything you post on one goes on the other, automatically reducing your posting effort!
Before you Sign Up Tips
Once you have decided on your social media platform it’s time to sign up, but we do have some small tips before you rush into it.
Firstly, make sure you have a business email, this doesn’t have to be anything fancy like a custom domain name email your favourite platform will suffice – gmail, outlook etc. This tip will help keep your personal email and any business notifications or enquiries separated to make your life easier.
Secondly, if you are creating a Facebook business page you will need to have a personal account set up first. If you don’t have a personal account, it doesn’t take too long to set up and you don’t have to use the personal account later if you don’t want to.
Lastly, make sure you have any business images, logos or ‘About Me’ blurbs pre-prepared. Having your images and biography section content planned out in advance will save time during the signing up process.
How to grow your audience
At this point you have picked your platform and signed up, congratulations you’re officially on social media! Now you have to get people to follow your page and engage with your content, which is easier said than done, but of course we have some points to get you started.
This is one of the most important aspects of your brand and it is how your customers will know what to expect from you. It is important that you have a consistent message, whether that is in the images you are using, your colour scheme, logo or language of your posts. Creating a base outline of your message and always referring back to that will help keep you on track.
- Visuals and Content
If your business has a certain colour palette within your branding, it’s a good idea to bring that into any content that you post. On a visual platform like Instagram this will give your page a cohesive look and show consistency to your customers. Experimenting with different styles and image types will help you narrow down the types and style for the images and/or videos you will be posting.
Hashtags are one of the key ways to expand your reach and have your posts seen by a wider audience. You will want to think of a few base hashtags you can that will be consistent across all your posts, which you can then add to. A good rule of thumb is to pick popular hashtags that have a good number of posts under them.
- Start Simple
Once you start with social media you will see new trends and other accounts with different styles. It can be easy to get carried away and feel the need to try all the approaches but stay simple and consistent in the beginning. Instagram Reels are a great way to grow your account but getting the foundation right with your posts and content is just as important!
How to streamline your posting process
There are a million and one things that need done for a business and social media can often feel like the last thing to do at the end of the day. Thankfully there are a number of tools that can alleviate some of the overhead to make your life easier.
Some of these are (in no particular order):
These platforms allow you to connect a number of social media accounts to the one place to streamline posting on multiple platforms and enable scheduling of posts so you can plan in advance and let your content post itself. Some of these platforms can also provide analytics to see how your social media pages and content are performing.
Now you have the lay of the social media land, it is time to get stuck in. Of course we know this guide only scratches the surface of the depths of social media and each platform has its own quirks to get acquainted with. If you are ever in need of any further advice or help, don’t hesitate to reach out, either via email to : [email protected] or DM @RITAdvocates on Twitter and we’ll try to help further.
Useful insights and resources to help SMEs starting their online journey : https://www.weare.ie/sme-start/
Top 10 tools to work smarter and grow faster : https://www.weare.ie/top-10-tools-to-work-smarter-and-grow-faster/
How to start a small, independent business : https://wepresent.wetransfer.com/story/stuff-they-dont-tell-you-how-to-start-a-small-independent-business/
Online presence tips :
They Ask You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer : https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/30557185-they-ask-you-answer Recommended by WebDesignerLucyWeb