When you walk into a restaurant, you receive service from a real, live person. Online, we often conduct business without ever interacting one-on-one with another person. And when we do, we often don’t see them face to face, because we communicate via email. Many modern businesses don’t even have a brick-and-mortar location — they operate entirely on the web, where a single marketing asset can reach millions of people globally with minimal cost. That’s why, in our modern world, it’s crucial to adopt the best online business practices so your business has the best chance of success — because while there are similarities between the real world and the online world, there are also some important differences.
Best Online Business Practices
- The internet is forever. Anything you put online, from the content on your website to your emails and posts on social media are forever captured in cyberspace, so maintain your professionalism at all times. Offensive or controversial statements can knock you down and haunt you for a long time to come. Always review before you post, and if your emotions are running high, step away for a breather before you review or post.
- Be casual while maintaining your professionalism. Customers appreciate a friendly voice, whether it comes from the text on your website or the emails you send. This is something I’m always working at. Early in my career, I developed a habit of formal business writing. It’s not the worst, as far as habits go, but I have to work at being more laid back in my business communications.
- Configure your email settings to quote the text of the original message when you reply to an email. People get dozens of emails every day and might not remember the details of an ongoing email conversation they’re having with you, especially if a couple of days have passed. Quoting the original text means that previous emails are included at the bottom of the email. That way, the details are readily available for reference and nobody has to go digging through old messages.
- Don’t spam people. It’s tempting to purchase a list of email addresses and then pummel them with your marketing messages. But you’ll damage your credibility, erode trust in your business, and annoy prospective customers. By the way, every time someone marks one of your emails as junk or spam, it erodes your email address’s reputation and makes it more likely that email providers will flag it! When I receive annoying unsolicited email, i always mark it as spam for this very reason!
- Take the time to learn new technology. Learning new technology can be frustrating and tedious, but these tools can make your work faster and easier. A few hours spent learning a new app or process could save hundreds of hours over the years to come. Don’t be shy about asking for advice: “Are there any tools that would expedite this process, or is there anything I can do to save time or money?”
- Stay focused on the goal. On the web, it’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles or get distracted by details and minutia. But everything should flow from your business goal, which is most likely to generate revenue. Avoid wasting time and resources on projects and activities that won’t move you toward your goal. For example, if you’re a consultant who only needs a couple dozen clients, you’ll get more for your money purchasing highly targeted advertising than spending loads of time or money on broader marketing campaigns (such as SEO or social media). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any broad marketing — just that you should allocate your resources wisely.
- Be transparent. The online audience is savvy; they have a universe of information at their fingertips. Avoid using trickery and deception to lure people into your business.
- Use calls to action. If someone visits your product page, what happens when they get to the bottom? Is there a banner or button that tells them what to do next (sign up, contact you, make a purchase, etc.)? When people visit your social media profile, do they know what you offer and how to learn more about it and then get it? Review everything you put online from a brand-new customer’s perspective.
- Produce content for your customers, not your competitors. Setting up an online business is so easy, it draws a lot of people with plenty of industry experience but very little marketing experience. One of the biggest and most common mistakes I see is new entrepreneurs talking to customers as if they are colleagues. Speak to your customers in language they understand at all times by avoiding industry jargon, especially if you’re in a highly specialized field.
- Don’t overdo it. Too much social media, too many outgoing emails, too many blog posts. Know what your customers want and how much they want. I recently terminated a service because they were bombarding me with notifications and sending too many emails. I easily found an alternative that was less intrusive.
- Leverage the global audience. What makes the Internet so special is that it’s worldwide (that’s why it’s called the World Wide Web). But if it makes sense, don’t forget to market your business locally, especially if you operate a brick-and-mortar location. Often, your local community will have resources and opportunities for small businesses. Take advantage of them, whether they boost your business online or off!
- Don’t forget the golden rule: be nice. I’ve actually been very lucky to have only experienced rude or mean people online a few times in the decades I’ve bene doing this work. When you’re polite, you’ll give better service, and when you’re kind, you’ll get better service.
The web is filled with opportunities for small business owners. By engaging in best online business practices, you can harness the incredible power of the internet to reach a wider audience, expand your income opportunities, and boost your business to success.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.