Start-ups: Time to get active online (6)
By Mellissa Morgan, aka Ms Cupcake.
I went from baking a few cakes at home to owning my own shop within a year. When talking to people about the start of my business they often ask, "How did you achieve success in such a short period of time?" I tell people that my business was built on hard work, long hours and social media. I hear from small business owners all the time who say they like the idea of having a website, Facebook, Twitter and the like, but do not know where to start.
The first thing to do before anything else is put up a website. In this day and age you must be online. Excuses like "My customer base isn't online", "I'm only a local business", "I'm too busy already" are irrelevant. If you want your business to be taken seriously, you need an online presence. You do not have to be selling any of your goods online; you just need it to support your business' identity. It can be as simple as a one-page site that has the logo of your business, pictures of your products, and how people can contact you to buy your goods.
You can get domain names (the address of the site) for free or for very minimal cost nowadays. If you don't have the funds to have a web designer make the site for you, then try out a website package like Mr Site www.mrsite.com or Getting British Business Online www.gbbo.co.uk where you build the website with their step-by-step instructions.
Your next step is Facebook. Love it or loathe it 750 million current users are on it and waiting to hear about your business. Again, it is completely free to join and set up a business page. Business pages are different to your own identity on Facebook so you don't have to worry about your customers seeing your holiday snaps that you loaded onto your own personal page! You even get your own web address like www.facebook.com/mscupcakeuk.
Your goal with Facebook is to get as many people as you can to 'like' your page by clicking on the 'like' button. Once someone 'likes' your page, every time you post something on your page a new product or new opening hours it comes up in their personal 'news feed'. I have found it to be the easiest way to communicate with my customers on a mass level, much more effective than email newsletters. You will get the most interaction when you post a picture of something especially food-related!
Once you get a handle on Facebook, your next step is Twitter (again free). Twitter is simple. You create your own user name, like @mscupcakeuk, and you have 140 characters to write a message. Think of it like Facebook, but all you get to do is update your status. The goal for Twitter is to have as many 'followers' as you can get. In turn you get to 'follow' other people to hear what they have to say.
You can write a message directly to someone or you can put out messages for everyone to read. I find Twitter is the best way to follow trends, interact with press, large firms and even celebrities. And if you mention that person's Twitter name in your posting, they are told about it, regardless of if they follow you or not. Watch and listen on Twitter before you start posting, so you can get a feel for its general etiquette.
I can hear some of you right now "What a bother! I don't have time for this". But it only takes a few moments each day. I now have over 6,000 people actively online telling other people they like our products. Not bad for a business that started from my home just a year-and-a-half ago.