Q: Everyone says we are supposed to grow our business digitally in this digital age. But for the average small business, what really can or are we supposed to do, other than have a great website and maybe a blog? — Bill
A: Yes, we have all heard the same advice, and I am even responsible for disseminating some of it: Use social media! Tweet (if you must!) Work your SEO! Go viral!
While it does indeed all work, it also can be a bit overwhelming, so that is why today I want to make it as simple as possible. To get ahead in this e-world, there are two essential things you must do:
1. Create content
2. Market that content.
Creating content: I recently had a chance to speak with John Jantsch, one of the sharpest marketing guys around and creator of the Duct Tape Marketing system. According to John, the single best thing anyone can do to grow the online part of their business is to "commit to creating content regularly and putting it online." This should include, he suggests:
• Blog: "When people search, they will have a better chance of finding you if you have a blog."
• Have pictures of your products on your site, Flickr, etc.
• Search engine optimize your site with valuable content, including articles, e-newsletters, etc.
Market the content: Let's take the power of great content one step further: What is the best way to get your content in front of your customers and potential customers? Let me share an e-tool that goes far beyond articles and blogs and searches, and one that far too many small businesses fail to take advantage of, namely. .. a downloadable community toolbar.
What do Major League Baseball, Jib Jab, Greenpeace, and Lufthansa all have in common? They use the easy, excellent service from www.Conduit.com to create their own custom toolbar that their customers can download and use to access their content. The Major League Baseball toolbar allows users to "access MLB.com features from anywhere on the web." Lufthansa uses their downloadable toolbar to give their customers "our best offers."
Even better: Creating a custom community toolbar at Conduit is quick, easy, and free.
Do you see how powerful this might be for your small business? Creating your own toolbar for your customers to download allows you to have your best content in front of them – all of the time, whenever they have a browser open.
Let me give you an example: The Pretentious Pooch is a "full-service doggie boutique" in Baltimore that created its own toolbar and has found it to be a very valuable and powerful tool for marketing its business and content to its customers. Instead of waiting for customers to surf on over, the toolbar allows the folks at Pretentious Pooch to always be in front of their customers whenever those customers are online.
Because the Conduit toolbar creator allows you to add whatever you want from your site to the toolbar, each is necessarily unique and so the Pretentious Pooch's toolbar offers clicks to their online store, a message ticker for news, sales, and updates, Facebook and Twitter updates, an RSS feed, and "hand-picked links."
No wonder that more than 200,000 content creators use Conduit's toolbars to communicate with more than 60 million users.
Even better: Conduit just launched an open marketplace that allows a toolbar publisher's content to be picked up and distributed on any other web publisher's custom toolbar. That means that other toolbar publishers who like your content can add it to their toolbar. That is a huge marketing opportunity.
Users can get additional content for their toolbar directly from the Conduit Marketplace or from the website of any publisher who is a member of the Conduit network. Like baseball and want to offer scores on your toolbar? Now you can. Want to add your articles to other toolbars? Now you can.
It should be clear that a custom, downloadable toolbar can be a powerful marketing tool for your small business for many reasons:
• Because it shows your logo to users every time they go online, it brands you continually.
• It allows people to see your news and updates (sales, etc) in real time. Once you update the toolbar, it gets updated across the Web.
• By allowing other people to pick up your content, and vice versa, your brand becomes better known, and your toolbar becomes even more useful.
So here you go, the community toolbar: Another great weapon to add to your e-arsenal.
Today's Tip: The news that pitchman Billy Mays passed away suddenly and unexpectedly was sad. Want to learn how to sell better? Watch some of his infomercials. Billy showed you what your need was (whether you knew it or not!) and how his product could solve the problem. It was all about helping (and selling.) He will be missed.
Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: email@example.com.And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.