Does your business have a successful online plan?

5 steps to start your digital engines.

It may sound strange, but we all know it to be true: people like to take photos of their food. Even so, when a small lunch delivery start-up launched a photo competition on the social media application Instagram, they were blown away by the positive response.

“It took off. People really get involved,” says Nicole Daboul, co-founder of The Living Lunchbox, which delivers healthy organic lunches to offices around Sydney.

Dubbed Insta-Love, the premise is simple: customers take a photo of their Living Lunchbox delivery, tag it and post it to Instagram, tantalising the taste buds of their friends and followers. The most creative photo each week receives a free lunch.

The Living Lunchbox – the brainchild of Daboul and Bondi buddy Tyler Atkins – now has about 7000 followers on Instagram and more than 2000 on Facebook; remarkable considering the low-cost start-up is only four months old, has a set menu and currently only delivers in the Bondi and inner Sydney area once a week on Tuesdays.
 
“The interest in the brand has grown,” says Daboul. “We get people asking, ‘Are you in LA?’”

Daboul says a website is currently in development amid plans to grow the brand – a brand which, although fresh, fun and funky, comes across as well managed, professional and engaged with its customers.

The Living Lunchbox is a prime example of how the online world has changed the way small businesses market themselves. 
 
“The reality is that all businesses should have an online presence,” says David Gregory, CEO of the Small Business Mentoring Service, a not-for-profit organisation sponsored by the Victorian State Government. With unused phone books increasingly tossed on recycling heaps, he says even the local fish and chip shop needs to make sure it can be found on the internet.

“It isn’t necessarily so that all businesses need a website or a blog or a Facebook page, but they do need an online presence,” he says.

Gregory says an online presence could simply be a listing on sites such as Yellow Pages Online, True Local and, importantly, Google Maps. Such listings allow customers to quickly locate or contact a business or read a description of its services.

“Nowadays, Gen Ys in particular will be walking down the street with their iPad and booking into a restaurant that they could be five minutes away from,” he says.

"When done well, a digital strategy can transform a small business." – Peter Crocker, Flying Solo

What constitutes a successful online presence?

Whether it’s through a business website, social media application or online listing, businesses need to clearly determine the type of audience they would like to target as well as the message they will use to attract that audience, says Peter Crocker, director of marketing at micro-business website Flying Solo.
 
He says business owners need to convey five key pieces of information online:

1.    What do you do?
2.    Who is it for?
3.    How is it of benefit?
4.    Why are you different?
5.    How can people contact you and/or make a purchase?
 
“Be sure to inject some of your own personality,” says Crocker. “The world does not need another website full of generic phrases, stock photography, jargon and bland corporate speak.”

For most small businesses, a successful social media strategy is often the key means of driving traffic to a new website, especially in the early days before search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies have had time to take root. 

“When done well, a digital strategy can transform a small business,” says Crocker, adding the web is not just about attracting new customers and sales, but also about better servicing existing clients and increasing customer loyalty.

A well thought-out social media strategy is the easiest and most effective way of engaging with customers, but with countless platforms to choose from, business owners should be selective when it comes to which applications they choose, starting with one and getting that right before launching into another.

To be successful, Crocker says businesses need to work out where their target audience spends time online as well as the type of web content the business can provide. The strategy should also include goals and a realistic and consistent schedule for posting content to the social media site.

“If you’re a photographer or have beautiful product images then Pinterest is great,” he says.

“LinkedIn tends to attract clients in the corporate world and professional services. Facebook can be great for building a community around your brand and inviting interaction.”

Crocker says building an online community takes time and if business owners go down the social media path, they need to commit to keeping their pages updated, relevant and engaging. It is pivotal in creating a strong brand image. He says failure to do so is worse than having no profile at all. Gregory agrees.

“There needs to be a consistency across the board and that’s probably the area that people don’t do particularly well,” Gregory says. 

He says the word “social” is there for a reason.

“It is meant to be social, it is meant to be engaging, it’s meant to be something that is a two-way street. It’s not meant to be like the brochure you receive in your letterbox. If you adopt the brochure approach, you’ll disengage at a great rate of knots.”