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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Marketing In A Virtual World

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Before the Internet, small business owners like yourself were usually limited to a local market -resorting to expensive advertising and brochures, direct mail, cold-calling, networking at the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary. You hoped customers found you through word- of- mouth or a Yellow Pages ad.

Today, you can work with a consultant, a financial planner, or a business coach across the country as easily as someone across town. In the Internet age, prospects often find you (instead of the other way around).

This is the age of the virtual customer. Yet, although the Internet has made it perfectly reasonable to land a major client you've never met in-person, it has also created new expectations among consumers.

Prospects now "Google" around to find someone with your skills. They expect you to make a good virtual "case" for yourself. If you don't pass the test, or make a bad impression, or appear lackluster compared to your competitors, you will lose the potential client.

The only way to be truly successful in business is by establishing a good reputation. And understanding the way business has shifted in the Internet age can help you bring the potential of marketing your business into the virtual world.

The Virtual First Impression

The Internet has increased the expectation among consumers that businesses will have a credible online presence.

Many of us now form "first impressions" of people and companies via our Internet browsers. From the moment your name and business appear in a Web browser to the moment your Web site loads, your first impression often means the difference between a shot at your prospect's business, or being shut out.

Think about it. You have probably used the Internet to research a company or a person you're considering doing business with. Certainly potential clients and customers are checking you out online, too.

Prospects you've never met are forming opinions about your business at the click of a mouse. Internet first impressions are not just influenced by how your Web site looks, but also by how often your business appears or how high it ranks in a web browser.

Become an Online Center of Influence

We all know people who command rapt attention whenever they speak. Others want to listen to, learn from, and emulate them. They are centers of influence, a distinction you can pursue online by developing the following qualities:

Share inside knowledge with your target market;

Participate, listen, contemplate, and offer thoughtful responses;

Be willing to voice an opinion;

Assume leadership positions in your industry

Certainly, experience counts. But this is not the only prerequisite to becoming an online center of influence that will earn you the distinction of 'trusted advisor' within your target market.

Start by making your Web site a resource for your industry. Feature lots of useful information, including articles, links, downloadable files, customer resources, and anything else of use to your target market. Be generous and give, give, give!

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