The ultimate online success checklist for your small business

Just like people, cars and pets, businesses need a checkup every now and again to ensure that they’re as strong and healthy as they can be. We’ve created a little checklist of the top things you should include in your business’s MOT, so you can have it running as smoothly as possible in next to no time.

Strategy and goals

You can only become successful if you know what your goals are, and how you plan to reach them. Start by thinking about why you originally started your business. Are you still working towards the same goals? Once you’ve thought about the broader stuff, there are a few more specific areas to think about:

Do you have an idea of where you’d like your business to be this time next year?

Numerical, abstract or otherwise, this is a great way to give yourself direction and help you to establish priorities.
Tracking your return on investment (ROI) will help you discover when you break even on your investment and prove your success when you start making a profit.

If you’re selling products, will you be able to meet demand if your business grows in popularity?

Or do you need to get something in place for this? This isn’t just a case of being optimistic – it’s important to ensure that if your business gains momentum, you’ll be able to keep that going. Make a plan for how you might expand your offering to meet demand if the need arises.

Do you currently have a system in place to help raise brand awareness?

Whether that’s reviews, word of mouth, competitions or something else, brand awareness is an important part of growing any business. Take a look at what similar businesses are doing, and think about what would work best for your brand.

Are you achieving the goals you previously had in mind?

It’s totally okay to not be achieving every single one of your goals; it’s just important to be aware of them as a guideline, and to have an idea of where you are compared to where you wanted to be.

Website

Does your business have a website?

If yes:

Is it mobile friendly?

This is crucial to ensure that your website shows up on search engines like Google. It also means your customers can easily visit your website on the go!

Do you update it regularly?

This will keep your visitors coming back to your site and further boost your search engine rankings.

Is it easy to find? i.e. personalised domain, good keywords

It’s much easier for customers to find a website if its domain is simple and matches the company’s name. In conjunction with good SEO rankings, which you can boost by ensuring that you’re using relevant terms throughout your website, and by making the most of any SEO tools included in your website, this will ensure that you can be found by the customers you’re targeting.

Do the images fit with your branding elsewhere?

This will ensure that your brand sticks in your customers’ minds. They don’t need to match, but it’s good to ensure that they don’t look incongruous with the rest of your branding.

If you opened up the website and saw it for the first time, is there anything you’d change?

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to take an objective look at your website. This will help you to identify any issues you might be missing by being too close to it!

If no:

Are you losing potential business by not having a website?

Not having a website makes it harder for potential customers to find your company, decreasing brand awareness and customer conversion.

What kind of website would suit your business?

Do you need a store? Just a blog? What kind of website would ensure that you’re keeping up with the competition? With a website builder, you can be really flexible, so just having a little look around at the kind of websites others have can help you to decide what you do and don’t need to include. Once you know, you can create your own unique, beautiful website in no time! It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming; sign up for a free trial of Go Sitebuilder to see for yourself!

For more hints and tips on the main things to consider when you’re making (or managing) a website, see our blog here.

Social media

Do you have:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

LinkedIn?

The more social media accounts you have, the more people you’re likely to reach. Once you have a posting rhythm going, it won’t take much longer to post to several pages than it would to post to one. There are also loads of tools to help with this.

Have you replied to all the messages you need to reply to?

Did you know that Facebook rates your response rate for your customers? Try adding an automated message response to keep your rating high, and try to reply properly as soon as possible.

Do you update it regularly?

This is the best way to make sure you’re keeping your followers engaged. There are different studies on how regularly you should post, but many suggest once a day on Facebook, at least once on Instagram, at least twice a week on LinkedIn and between 3 and 30 times a day on Twitter (which can include retweets, of course).

Is it connected to your website?

This is an easy way to keep your website updated with little effort: featuring new social posts on your site ensure that visitors can see everything in one place.

If you use images, do they fit in with your branding elsewhere?

This will ensure that your brand sticks in your customers’ minds.

Are you engaging with your customers?

From liking posts you’re tagged in to asking questions, there are lots of ways to keep your customers engaged and active.

Do you follow accounts who offer good information/connections?

This is a great way of making sure you’re on top of the latest trends in your area. If you follow relevant accounts, not only will you be able to pick up on useful information, but you’re also more likely to find opportunities to promote your services or products!

Are you reposting content from others?

This helps to build a community, shows support for other local or small businesses and saves you from having to create original content every time you post. As an added bonus, if you share something of theirs, they’re more likely to post about your business in return!

For more advice on making the most of social media, check out our blog here.

Your own wellbeing

No matter how perfect all the other areas of your business are, you come first – and in order for a business to function well, its owner needs to function well too.

Are you getting enough time away from your work?

The key to a work-life balance is in the name – you’ve got to balance both things. Make sure you’re setting aside time to do things that aren’t related to work, whether that’s spending time with family, exercising, watching TV or a hobby.

Do you have a good working environment?

If you work in one place on a regular basis, ensure that it isn’t going to cause you any problems. General employer desk assessment checklists can help with this. If possible, always work away from where you sleep, as this can disrupt your all-important sleep!

Are you getting enough sleep?

Sleep is incredibly important, and it’s never worth sacrificing it. Even if you feel like you need to spend more time growing your business, being more tired will just end up making you less productive in the long-run.

Are you delegating tasks to colleagues (if applicable), technology and your future self, rather than trying to do everything?

If you employ anyone, make sure you’re delegating tasks, and not letting yourself get into the mindset of ‘it’ll just be quicker if I do it myself’. That task might be quicker, but it will always come at the cost of something else that needs doing. If you don’t employ anyone, then focus on prioritising and scheduling. Even though all tasks are technically delegated to you, that doesn’t mean you have to do them all at once.

Are you acknowledging your own achievements?

Remember to give yourself a pat on the back every now and then! You’re doing something amazing by running your own business, so make sure you acknowledge when something goes well – and go easy on yourself if it doesn’t.

Looking after your own wellbeing is such an important aspect of being a business owner – and one that’s often overlooked. If you’re finding yourself unable to tick any of these boxes it’s probably because your work-life balance isn’t quite in check. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! We’ve provided some helpful tips on ensuring that you’re maintaining a sustainable work-life balance in this free eBook.

This may look like a fairly long list, but in reality it should only take you a few minutes to go through it – and any unticked boxes can be rectified gradually before next time. Whether you use this list once every month, quarter or six months, it’s important to have a system in place to check your business’s metaphorical engine!

Eight ways to build a social media following

Social media can be a great way to reach people, gain customers and keep them engaged, as well as growing your brand as a whole. But how can you make sure you’re using your valuable time effectively?

The idea of growing your following on social media can seem daunting, but there are a few really easy steps you can take to be well on your way to success. Once you’ve done some of these, you’ll realise it’s actually nowhere near as scary as it seems! With a little bit of planning and thought, your follower numbers will be climbing in no time.

Understand who your audience are (and focus on the networks they use)

First of all, who are your audience? Are you mostly targeting a certain age group, or a certain lifestyle category, such as young parents or travel enthusiasts? If so, find out which social networks they’re most likely to use. There are loads of great resources like this article from Hootsuite which will help you to understand where you need to place your focus.

If you’re not sure who your audience are, don’t worry! Looking at competitors; talking to your existing audience; just thinking about who you want to be interested in your products – there are plenty of ways to get a better idea of who you’re targeting.

Make the most of useful apps and tools

Even if you’re focusing on one social media platform in particular, it’s likely that you’ll need to at least occasionally use other platforms. Juggling messages, comments, likes and tags on several different platforms can get overwhelming – especially if (or when!) your following increases. Fortunately, there are loads of tools which make managing multiple accounts as easy as managing one.

As well as using products to link your accounts, make the most of the existing connections between the platforms. If you post regularly on Instagram, for example, why not turn on post sharing to Facebook, so you can update the two pages at the same time?

Be human

We may be all for automating processes, but that doesn’t mean that your posts need to lack personality! Social media is a great way of connecting with your customers as individuals. Interact with them, respond to their questions, and engage with any mentions of your brand – if they’re positive, it’s free advertising!

Over two-thirds of customers are more likely to recommend a brand if they’ve had a positive experience with it on social media, so it’s really important to try and ensure that you’re creating a positive environment on your page. There are loads of ways to do this, but the best thing you can do is be yourself. Your brand is all yours, after all!

Help, don’t sell

In keeping with the above point, your customers want to be treated like individuals, and to feel like they’re speaking to a human being. It’s best not to focus too much on selling, as a rule – if you can build a good enough rapport with your customers, you’re more likely to make sales anyway! It may seem like a contradiction, but if you can establish your company as a helpful presence on social media without constantly selling to them, your potential customers will react much better to the idea of buying from you.

Use great photos (it doesn’t have to cost a lot)

People are more than twice as likely to engage with a Facebook post with an image, and tweets with images get 150% more retweets than those without. Wherever possible, keep your posts engaging with images. Most smartphones these days have pretty good cameras, so it’s actually easy to take great photos with minimal effort. If this isn’t really your thing, or your product isn’t something you can photograph, make the most of the interactions you’re already having. Have they tagged you in a post you can share? Has your product helped them to achieve something they would be happy for you to promote?

When you don’t have any images of your own to share, you can also use stock images to liven up a post. There are loads of free websites where you can find great images which are suitable for reuse, without the risk of copyright issues arising.

Build a community; don’t buy one

It may be tempting to go for a ‘quick fix’ and go down the route of buying followers, but this isn’t how you’re going to grow your brand long term. Slow and steady really does win the race on this one. If you can create an engaged community of followers on social media, you’re much more likely to see your brand having a wider impact further down the line. This is especially true seeing as Instagram has begun to take steps against inauthentic follower numbers.

The best way to build a real community is to really listen to your target audience. Ask questions, engage with their responses, and keep up a rapport with them. Why not run a competition, or even a weekly photo challenge featuring your products? There are endless ways to keep people engaged, but perseverance is key – engagement fluctuates, and that’s totally normal!

Work with influencers (but be careful)

Over the past few years, there’s been a huge rise in the number of brands working with social media influencers: accounts with a lot of followers, and therefore a lot of influence over people’s decisions – hence the name. There are a few different ways to go about this: you can ask them to review your products or services; you can set up giveaways; you can ask them to feature your products in one of their posts; the possibilities are broad-ranging.

This said, there are a few things to be aware of. Sending your products to an influencer does not guarantee exposure: the more popular an influencer, the more likely it is that they get sent a lot of products – and that they are selective in what they post. Make sure you choose who you contact carefully; don’t send your products to someone whose account (and therefore follower base) isn’t in keeping with your goals and values. Not only will they be less likely to feature you, but it probably won’t build you the right audience if they do. Last but not least, don’t do anything you can’t afford to do! If you can’t send freebies out just yet, that’s okay – focus on other ways to grow your audience for now, until you’re in a better position to come back to this.

If you have the budget, try some paid ads

Paid social advertising can be a great way to widen your audience, gain a better understanding of who you’re reaching, and know if you need to retarget at all. It’s definitely worth looking into its benefits if you have the budget, but, as with the above point, don’t overstretch yourself! Some social media sites will offer advertising credits from time to time – make the most of this wherever possible. If you don’t have any credits, it’s totally fine to leave advertising until you can spare a bit more budget, or to set a very low limit for a pay-per-click campaign. Focus on growing a community organically, and you’ll soon find you have the budget for advertising after all.

This might seem like a lot, but it’s actually surprisingly simple! The key things to remember are:

  • Stay relatable
  • Make your life as easy as possible
  • Understand your audience
  • Be helpful

Keep these ‘rules’ in mind, and you’ll surprise yourself with how quickly you can end up with a successful social media presence.

Once you’ve got all the followers, make sure you give them a way to become customers! If you haven’t already, you can create a great new website today: download the Go Sitebuilder app on Google Play or the App Store, or access it through your browser here.

Do you really need a website as well as social media? (Yes!)

Now that most social platforms have a form of ‘business profile’ option, you might find yourself wondering if you really need a website as well as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. While it certainly makes sense to ask this question, especially with new features like product tagging on Instagram and Facebook, having a website is still very important for your business. The two platforms have their own benefits, but they are always at their most beneficial when used together; in this case, more actually is more!

The benefits of social media for your small business

It’s rare to find a business that doesn’t have a presence on at least one social media platform, as this has always been a good way of opening the doors for communication with potential and actual customers. Since such a huge majority of the business population is now active on social media, it’s no longer a particular advantage to have social media accounts – but it’s definitely a disadvantage not to.

It’s quick, free and easy to create an account on any of the main social media platforms, meaning that you can begin to build an online presence almost immediately. The interactivity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter means you can start to interact with your customers straight away, while also getting your brand seen by the friends of people you talk to, as your conversations show up on others’ newsfeeds.

The drawbacks

While social media offers some of the functions needed by small businesses, it lacks permanence and security. Instead of having ownership over your online presence, you are effectively ‘renting’ online space from the social media sites you use. This means that you are totally at the mercy of any algorithm changes that may prevent your page from appearing on newsfeeds. More and more frequently, businesses are being forced to pay for advertising in order to gain any exposure, rather than being able to keep using social media as a free way of growing their brand. In addition, while it may seem as though the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be around forever, there’s no guarantee that they won’t eventually go down the same route as websites like Myspace and Friendster – meaning that you are also at the mercy of the fate of the platforms themselves.

Opportunities for branding and credibility are also limited on social media. Your branding has to fit in with that of the platform in question, which can seriously limits your options. While no business can have particularly strong branding on social media, not making up for this elsewhere can leave you lacking credibility and memorability. As mentioned above, while using social media can add to your business’s credibility slightly, this effect is now limited by the saturation-levels of social media, leaving everyone on a fairly even playing field.

The benefits of a website for your small business

In light of these drawbacks, a website can act as the perfect solution to the problems posed by social media. It’s possible to have much more ownership over a website than over social media, meaning that potential impermanence and changing algorithms are no longer an issue. There’s also a greater sense of credibility included in a website. This works on a sliding scale: just a website gives a certain amount; a domain name and personalised email address gives even more. A website also serves as a central location for information – instead of having to ask questions on social media, your customers can find answers on your website. This reduces the need for repetitive questions on social media, freeing it up as a platform for customer feedback, reviews and more favourable questions – all with the potential to build your brand. This directly benefits you at the same time as your business, freeing up your valuable time, as you’ll only need to answer these questions once.

While social media has more functionalities than it did a few years ago, websites still have a much broader range on offer. From blogs to eCommerce and more, they offer a smooth and complete way of operating that social media can’t. All of these functionalities work in conjunction with advanced website analytics – whether these are included in the website builder itself or from an external system like Google Analytics. While social media includes some analytics, they are not complex or complete enough for a growing small business’s needs.

Best of both worlds

It’s easy to pitch websites against social media when it comes to your web presence; in reality, they can work together in perfect harmony to make a much stronger online presence than either could alone. Both methods strengthen SEO, and a good social media following can drive customers to your website when it matters most – such as during a promotion or a big event. While this driving force aspect of social media is incredibly important and useful, it can’t help your business to reach its full potential without the stability, security and flexibility of a well branded website. A promotion, for example, can find popularity on social media, but can’t become a reality without the eCommerce functionality of a website; similarly, an event which requires customers to register their interest with their details will run much more smoothly with a dedicated contact form.

However you choose to use the two, you can (and should) use social media and a website in tandem to get the most out of both of these versatile, potential-packed platforms and grow your ideas into a great business. To get started today, download the Go Sitebuilder app on Google Play or the App Store, or access it through your browser here.