How to make your small business effective online

These days, most of your potential customers will whip out their smartphones and suss out your business before walking through the front door and spending their dollars. But what happens if they can’t find anything about you online?

They might give you a miss or, worse still, take their business to your competitor.

Yet, as recently as 2016, almost one in two Kiwi businesses had no online presence.

“Nowadays, every single one of your customers is online. So if you’re still not online, you’re missing out on new customers. You’re also missing out on a chance to maintain your relationship with current customers,” says Matt McNeil, Managing Director of digital marketing agency The Digital Cafe.

John Kettle, an apartment specialist for Tommy’s Real Estate in Wellington, agrees, saying increasing his online presence has helped him become the number one apartment agent in Wellington on Google (try googling: ‘apartment specialist Wellington’).

“In my market, visibility is really important. As real estate agents, we’ve got to be seen,” Kettle says.

“It’s all about getting my name out there to raise awareness in my core market.”

The basics of creating an online presence

At a minimum, McNeil says your business should have a Google My Business listing, a basic website and a Facebook and/or Instagram page.

“You don’t need to have a bespoke, super-snazzy website developed. There are a lot of very cost-effective options such as Squarespace or Shopify, which can provide a slick-looking site at a minimal cost,” he says.

Kettle adds that if your line of work has a go-to third-party web portal – such as www.realestate.co.nz or www.trademe.co.nz – then you should provide a professional online profile there, too.

“Think about where your customers go, and then make sure you have a digital presence at every potential customer touchpoint,” Kettle says.

Online strategy dos and don’ts

Your next step is to work out what you’re trying to achieve so that you can set up focused marketing strategies, McNeil advises.

“If your end goal is selling online you might want to put out content that’s engaging and brings your audience to your website. Then you can retarget them with remarketing ad strategies or email campaigns,” he says.

Whatever marketing strategy you choose, McNeil says, you need to make sure you’re consistent and disciplined.

“There’s nothing worse than a business that says, ‘Look at our monthly blog’. And then there’s nothing since July 2016. The customer starts to think, ‘Hang on, what’s going on here? Are these guys still in business?’” he says.

Yet it’s equally important not to spread yourself too thin. For example, you don’t necessarily need to be on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn.

“You don’t need to be everywhere. You’re better off going to where your audience is and doing it well,” says McNeil.

And while it’s easy to post the same content across all channels, that doesn’t mean you should.

“One big mistake businesses make is not thinking about context. Don’t just splash everything across every social media channel,” says McNeil.

“If you’re a real estate agent, you might publish a market analysis on LinkedIn, but your Instagram post might instead be a lifestyle picture of yourself with a comment about how you’re absolutely loving living in the suburb of Parnell.”

Boost your content

It may be free to post on social media but don’t expect a free run. Organic reach (i.e. having your post seen by your followers without paying for your post to be amplified) is effectively over for small businesses looking to leverage social media channels, says McNeil.

“You have to put dollars into it. Even if you only put in $10 a week, you’ll still reach a couple of thousand people. But if you don’t put any money into them, nobody will see your posts,” he warns.

Use the data

The other key advantage of this brave new digital world is that you can analyse the effectiveness of campaigns in real-time, McNeil says.

“Data is one of the most useful things your business can now harness. For example, with newspaper ads back in the day it was hard to tell if they were effective or not,” he says.

“Now, you can see that an ad reached 2000 people, and they clicked on that ad far more than the previous one. So, if you ignore the data, you’re missing half the point of going digital.”

Don’t be intimidated by online marketing

Finally, adds McNeil, don’t be daunted. If you run a small business you’ve most likely got the skills, initiative and resilience required to research and implement an effective online strategy.

That said, you don’t have to go it alone, Kettle says.

“If you get a specialist in, that can free you up to continue to focus on what you do best, which for me is getting out there, getting listings, meeting clients and selling real estate,” he says.

Thinking of investing in your online presence in 2020? Talk to a Prospa business lending specialist about how a small business loan could help you reach more potential customers than ever before.

The information on this website is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisors. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information, Prospa, its officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

How small business owners can stay on top this silly season

It can be tough running a small business over the holiday period – while everyone around you is planning trips to their favourite coastal town, many small business owners are facing a time of either feast or famine.

Each brings their own challenges, from either organising extra staff and negotiating cash flow over shut down periods to making sure you get paid before everyone disappears for the holidays.

Here’s how you can minimise these common financial stresses for your business ahead of the end-of-year (EOY) period.

Negotiating cash flow strains

Planning ahead to ensure your cash flow over the EOY period can cover holiday pay and other expenses is vital, says Tibor Mackor, Director at Auckland-based Better Business Strategies.

“A lack of cash flow can cause payment challenges where you, as the owner, are not able to pay your staff, suppliers or yourself,” he says.

Phil Holland, Owner and Founder of Tauranga-based Love Your Business, says it’s critical you start planning early.

“If your business does close down over Christmas or it’s a quiet time, make sure you’ve reflected this in your forecast and working capital,” he says.

If you think you’re going to come up short over the EOY period, Holland suggests you:

  • Organise temporary business finance for the holiday season.
  • Chat to your main suppliers about stretching your terms during that period.
  • Get deposits from customers if you’re able to do so.
  • Minimise any unneeded expenses while you’re shut down.
  • Chase up debtors now – don’t wait or try to do it over the holiday period when they’re away.

Meanwhile, to make sure you’re on the front-foot next year, Mackor recommends you build up a buffer throughout the more prosperous times of the year to act as a safety net if needed during the EOY period.

“I usually recommend business owners save 5% of turnover and teach them to run their businesses on the remaining 95% turnover,” he says.

Chasing up debtors before EOY

When it comes to making sure your invoices are paid before everyone takes off on holidays, Holland says the key is communication and setting expectations.

He suggests small business owners:

  • Bring forward invoice dates (and communicate why).
  • Get your invoices out fast to increase the chance of being paid on time.
  • Offer a payment discount or gift if clients pay their December invoice by the due date.
  • If you have a slow payer, get in touch early and have a discussion about paying on time – set your expectations and boundaries.

To help with tardy debtors, Mackor recommends you obtain a 50% deposit on any work to be done for a client, which helps bring immediate cash flow into the business.

He also suggests making sure your invoice terms and conditions are watertight, so that payment happens when it should.

Using accounting software where your clients are regularly reminded about the outstanding amount, can also help speed up payment. “For example, Xero has a facility where you can program the sending out of a statement weekly,” he says.

Coping with extra staffing demands

If you’re a retail business, Carli Saw, Founder of HR consulting firm Strawberry Seed Consulting, who works with clients in New Zealand, says you need to start prioritising your holiday staffing arrangements pronto.

When looking to put on additional staff, she says the first thing you need to do is define exactly what role you need.

“Where most smaller companies fall down on recruitment is, they just say ‘Hey, we need staff, PM us if you’re interested’,” Saw says.

“But they haven’t really got a clear idea of what they can pay or the role they’re offering, before they go to market, and that causes confusion and delays.”

She says recruiting new staff doesn’t need to cost you hundreds of dollars on recruitment platforms such as SEEK, either.

In fact, she suggests posting jobs on Facebook, in relevant local community groups.

“There are a lot of job boards on Facebook that won’t cost you anything. You can even do promoted posts for a very low fee and target specific demographics,” she says.

To stay open or closed on public holidays

Another big financial decision you’ll have to make in the lead up to the EOY period is choosing what public holidays to stay open for, and what public holidays you’ll be pulling down the shutters for.

To assist you in your decision, we’ve created this handy infographic, which runs you through all the costs and benefits to keep in mind.

If the best-laid plans aren’t looking like enough to get you through the holiday period in one piece, talk to one of Prospa’s business finance specialists about how a small business loan might help ease any cash flow strain. 

The information on this website is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisors. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information, Prospa, its officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.