It's Time to be Online

In actual fact, you're already lagging behind. It almost doesn't matter what type of business you are in; if you sell something that can be ordered, delivered, or even reviewed online then having and managing an online presence is imperative to your business. Having an online presence will give you a competitive advantage, and allow you to sell to a far wider market. Simply having a website is no longer enough.

The worldwide web, the internet, social media, the sheer level of consumer connectedness, is affecting the way we decide what, where and when to buy. People in stores, maybe even in your store, price-check on their smartphones. We all do it. If we're not checking prices we're reading customer reviews. The scary thing for small businesses owners? If you're not managing your online presence - and make no mistake, everyone has one - then you have no idea or control over what people are saying or reading about you.

The retail world is shrinking; customers can just as easily check prices in Ontario and Hong Kong, as they can with your competitor next door. They can buy almost anything online without leaving their home. This is not a trend it's a reality and it's here to stay.

To be competitive you need to be in touch with your customers on multiple levels through social media. Larger corporations are already reaching out, making connections, offering discount coupons, building loyalty. How are they doing this? Through smartphones, tablets, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram. Pinterest and dozens of other social media portals - wherever their potential customers interact online. If your business is not connected wirelessly to your market, you are losing ground fast. A Business Development Bank of Canada study reports 84 per cent of the population is connected to the Internet and on average they own 2.6 devices. Two-thirds of those on the Internet use social media and 41 per cent buy products and services online. Of course, that's still a minority - a heck of a big one though!

If your online presence doesn't permeate all levels of social media, you are slipping behind your larger competitors. The level of intimacy they have with your customers is almost embarrassing in its depth and accuracy. Don't panic just yet though. Until recently it was expensive to have IT professionals collect, monitor and analyze this data; now many providers such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook provide this information. If you want more sophisticated analysis check out YouTube for tutorials, or talk to your local SEO firm for their help and advice.

And, it's not just about having a presence, selling online is going to be a vital survival strategy for businesses across Canada. If your business is in a small town, think about the global market out there: it's waiting for you to reach out to it with your service or product.

Make 2018 the year you broaden your market into the homes of people across the world. That may be a scary thought, especially if you are not particularly computer literate - but not doing it may be even scarier.

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