June 11, 2010 7:57:00 AM
Peter Imes - email@example.com
#1: Reserve your domain name
A domain name is the technical term for a website address. For example: Google.com is Google''s domain name. Most obvious domain names have already been snapped up by someone else, but if you don''t already have one, you should get online right now and find a good one for your business. Whether you personally use the Internet is irrelevant. More and more customers are giving up traditional business directories in favor of a quick Google search, and you can''t afford to not have some type of presence on the Internet.
I typically use Register.com to purchase my domain names, but there are countless other sites you can use such as GoDaddy.com and Yahoo Domains. When you go to any of these sites, you will see a search box that allows you to search for available domain names. Simply think up a domain name you want, type it in and click the search button. The website will tell you whether that name is available or not.
Once you find an available address that is a good match for your business, purchase it. You don''t even have to have a website to go with the domain name right now. You just want to make sure that when you do have a website built for your business (and you will eventually want one) that you have a good domain name. These registration websites will try to sell you other options, but unless you are ready to build a website and know what you are doing, just get the domain name for now.
".com" is what we call a top-level domain. .net, .org, .info, .biz are other examples of top-level domains. Whenever possible, find a domain name with a .com at the end. They are easier to remember. Over 100,000,000 domain names have already been registered, so chances are that the easiest to remember ones are already taken. If I had a flower shop, I would quickly find that names like flowers.com, beautifulflowers.com and flowershop.com are already taken. With a little searching though, I may find that goldentriangleflowers.com is available.
Domain names are cheap to purchase, but the value in an easy to remember one is priceless. Register your domain name and then start planning to have a professional website built.
#2: Learn about social media
Social media is a term that is used to describe websites that allow you easily connect with other people online. Facebook and Twitter are examples of social media websites. I meet people every day who say something like, "I just don''t understand Facebook and Twitter." As a business owner, you should never catch yourself saying this. Facebook and Twitter are both free services that give you a great opportunity to connect with potential and/or current customers.
Social media is not for every business, but it is worth your while to do some reading to determine if it can help your business. If you are a beginner to social media, visit this link for a slideshow that explains why it is so important: http://bit.ly/bKtmrh. I read mashable.com to keep up to date with what different companies are doing with social media. You can also Google "social media success stories" to find neat things businesses are doing.
J. Broussard''s and Gifts Etc are two local businesses that are effectively using Facebook. Bulldog Deli occasionally offers some Twitter-only specials. Several local Realtors use blogging to market their services. These are just a few of the many local businesses using free social media resources to promotes their products and services.
#3: Broaden your horizons
The Internet offers you an amazing opportunity to reach millions of potential customers. These customers could be a great way to supplement your current business. A friend of mine ran a unique clothing store in the Cooper Young neighborhood of Memphis. She described the style of her products as "punk." She was quick to admit that while she had a core of loyal local customers, placing her merchandise online really made the business viable for her. She used eBay and her own website to appeal to customers throughout the United States, and, as a result, her online sales made up 50 percent of her revenues. She used the slow times of the day in her store to fulfill those online orders.
You can also broaden your horizons by realizing that the Internet offers new ways to do old things. Curtis Pediatric Dentistry is currently redesigning their website to allow parents to enroll their children and to book appointments online. This is an excellent example of a local company recognizing the value of the Internet and using it to improve their customer service.
Is your business using the Internet in an interesting way? Login to cdispatch.com, find this story and post a comment to let us know what you are doing. All of the links mentioned above are also available online.
Peter Imes is the general manager at The Dispatch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @pimes.