Starting a new business on a shoestring? Can’t afford to shell out a grand or two, or more, on a website? Waiting to see how it’s going to work out first? Hoping to get a business startup grant to help pay for a well-branded online presence?
Well, there are some things you can do for free that will get the ball rolling, establish your online presence and even drum up some business. And your efforts won’t be wasted when it comes time to build a real website on your own domain name.
- Create a Facebook Business Page. Facebook has helped more people get comfortable with the internet than anything else.Unlike your personal Facebook profile, a Business Page is not private. It can be seen by anyone whether they have a Facebook account or not. Google will find it.You do need a personal profile to set up a Page. If you don’t use Facebook, get a young relative to help you.Fill out all the information you can about your business, including a phone number. Get your friends and relatives to “Like” and share your page – maybe saying something like: “My cousin Ernie is building really nice doghouses. Check out his page!”
A little money on Facebook advertising can go a long way, as it can be so well targeted. For example, a few dollars will get your ad shown only to women in Pictou County between the ages of 35 and 64 who like dogs. But first you need a Facebook Business Page.
- Take pictures of what you do. Move right in and take closeups. Your cellphone will do for now. Just start, and do the best you can. Share them on Facebook.
- Make videos, if it’s appropriate, and start a YouTube channel! Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google? Yup, and Google owns YouTube. Excellent quality videos can be made just with cellphones, or directly with your laptop’s webcam.
- Get testimonials from happy customers – even if you only have one or two. Ask them to say something nice about you and what you do. Get it in writing, and ask permission to use their words online and in brochures. If you can get a photo to go with a testimonial, so much the better!
- Set up a Google Business Listing. Start here. You will need a Google account. If you have Gmail or a YouTube account, you already have a Google account. You can add photos and contact information, and get people to leave reviews.
- Advertise locally online. In Nova Scotia, Kijiji.ca has pretty well replaced classified newspaper ads. Get to know how it works. Go the free route or try spending a little money and see what results you get. In other places, Craigslist is the site to use.
- Start working on a website yourself (or with help from someone who loves you very much). There are several free options, including WordPress.com, Weebly and Wix. If you like to write and can see yourself blogging regularly, or if you plan to create many pages, I recommend setting up a free site at WordPress.com. When the time comes to move up to a fully-hosted website, you can export what you’ve done. And you’ll also be ahead of the curve because you’ll know how to use it.Whichever option you choose, you’ll figure out how to describe what you do, which will give you a headstart when you’re ready to take the next step to build a professional website.
- Making things to sell online? Start with Etsy. An e-commerce website is much, much more complex (i.e. expensive) to set up than a “brochure” website. Eventually, when you do build your own website, you may want to just integrate your Etsy shop into it.
So there you have some ideas to get you going.
And when you’re ready to build a professional website under your own domain name, consider contacting me. By then you’ll know much better exactly what you want and need.