Starting an online local business isn't easy. You've got to build your website from the ground up, fill it with content, check for technical glitches and ultimately, launch it to the public.
And the work doesn't end with your grand opening. In fact, after launching, there's even more to do: you've got to manage client schedules, spread the word on social media and grow your mailing list, among other things.
Luckily, there are some incredibly helpful online tools at your disposal that can aid you in this process. Below, I've hand-picked some of my favorites that have proven especially useful to me as I've grown my business online.
1. Real-time scheduling
It's a common problem among online local business entrepreneurs: you have clients all around the city, and trying to manage the various appointments by hand can be a headache -- not to mention the all-too-common miscommunication when you and your client think that you'll be meeting at different times.
Rohan Gilkes, CEO and co-founder of launch27, understands this struggle. His real-time booking platform for local businesses takes the frustration out of online scheduling: in allowing clients to book appointments themselves, it becomes much easier for them to do business with you. "If you have to grow beyond a one-man operation, it is important to automate your tasks. Setting up a real-time scheduling becomes necessary this way," Gilkes explains.
Recently, I experienced the benefit of online scheduling -- not as an entrepreneur, but as a consumer -- when I was attempting to book a massage. I ended up scheduling an appointment with the only business that had an online calendar, as I didn't have the time or energy to call back and forth to negotiate between the spa's schedule and mine.
2. Automated social media
Nobody would deny that having a prominent social media presence and updating regularly is an extremely important part of generating public interest in your online business. However, between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others, you can end up spending your entire day posting updates.
That's where the plethora of emerging social media automation tools, such as Meet Edgar and Hootsuite, come into play. After a quick learning curve, these tools allow you to reach more customers in a fraction of the time that it would take to post updates manually. That means there's more time for you to engage online in a personal and intentional way that builds rapport with your clients and creates buzz for your business.
Remember: even though it takes some effort, it's better to be getting your name out there on as many platforms as possible than it is to not be posting at all.
Still feel like you're missing the mark in terms of social media? Consider hiring a high school or college intern to create content for you to distribute on these platforms. As you might expect, nobody is on the cutting edge of social media more than teenagers, making them a great asset in terms of expanding your social media presence.
3. Easy email opt-ins
If you don't know what an "email opt-in" is, don't worry: it's not as complicated as it sounds. Simply put, an opt-in is a place on your website where you can direct potential or existing clients to give you their name and email address, so they can add themselves to your mailing list. You've probably used an email opt-in before when requesting a quote online: you usually have to enter your name and email before the quote appears.
Your email list is the foundation of marketing your business online, and there's a ton of things you can do with it. Eventually, once you've grown your mailing list, you'll want to start exploring complex sales funnels -- but if you're just getting started, don't get overwhelmed, and instead just focus on getting that opt-in on your website. Check out my recommendations for good opt-in services like AWeber resources page.
These tools will not only make your website a user-friendly experience for your clients, but will also make your job a lot easier, too. Once you're no longer scrambling to figure out tricky schedules, stay up-to-speed on your social media and manually build your email list, you'll be able to focus more on your services, and continue establishing your reputation as a trusted leader in your field.
Online entrepreneurs: have you used any of the tools on the list? What other online tools could you not live without? Leave your experiences and suggestions in the comments!
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