Most of the people I come in contact with are online business owners looking to build their online business. Small, online business is big business and I find it very rewarding. But when I turn off my computer for the day and head outside, I’m reminded that there is an entire world that functions offline. For a long time (practically forever) the offline world has done just fine without the Internet: restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc., have all done well without a dot-com behind their name.
But periodically, one or two of these offline businesses approach me and tell me that they want to build their business (what business owner doesn’t?) and they’d like to see if there’s a way to do it online. I say there is! Here are 6 ways that offline business can promote their businesses online.
1. Website. Some businesses already have websites and do brisk business both online and offline. The first one that comes to mind is a book store that’s not too far away from where I live. They have a great venue for book browsers who are spending a sunny afternoon walking around town. And, I’ve discovered recently, they also have a dot-com behind their name and do well online, sending books all over the world. I believe any business can take advantage of the online opportunities of a website, even if they can’t actually transact business online. Take a restaurant, for example. Why not have a site with the restaurant’s hours, menu, daily or weekly features, and a little about the head chef? Have a place for people to reserve a table online or even pre-pay for a meal. Include your website in your advertising and offer an online-only special for people who visit your site (that way, you can track your web visitors).
2. Develop a group of sites. Stop thinking like a business owner for a moment and think like a consumer. Let’s use the restaurant idea again, since it illustrates a business that can have an online presence even without doing online business. If you are a consumer and want to eat at a restaurant, do you live and breathe for one restaurant? Of course not. You and your friends talk about what restaurants to eat at and narrow it down. If you are an entrepreneurial restaurant owner, why not start a site like RestaurantsInDenver.com (for example) and collect URLs to websites of restaurants in and around Denver. Categorize them in different ways (“family” or “romantic” or “Italian” or “fast food”) so that people can decide on a restaurant from one site.
3. Coupons. I’ve mentioned this idea in a past article for online businesses, but offline businesses have been using coupons since the dawn of time. If your business could do better with coupons, but you don’t want to spend a lot on a coupon campaign, consider using the services of an online coupon company like www.myvoucher.com so that you don’t have to spend any money on coupons or mailing; you just include the coupon URL into your current print advertising.
4. Yellow pages. There are offline yellow pages that people use fairly frequently but more and more people are online. Make sure that you are in the online Super Pages www.superpages.com and can also be found on sites like www.411.com or other similar online telephone book sites.
5. Google Local. The world’s biggest search engine is coming to your neighborhood! If you have not had a chance yet, check out Google Local at http://local.google.com where you’ll find maps, satellite images, and directions. You can drill down practically to street level and if you type in your city and search for something (like restaurants, for example, or hardware stores) it will tell you where some of them are. But Google also sells sponsored links for Google Local, so you’ll be sure to hit locally targeted clientele who are looking for your business in your city or town.
6. Podcasting or Vidcasting. This is like a free, online subscription to a niche audio or video broadcast. It’s like a specialized magazine you can listen to or watch and it comes to your computer regularly. You can easily become a podcaster and take part in this new and growing online phenomenon. Use it to talk about your business. If you’re fresh and funny and relevant enough, you may generate local interest and they’ll hear or see you every time you make a new show. It’s a great cheap (or free) way to talk about your business to a captive audience.