Build that online track record…
When you’re starting in business, trying to win those valued first few customers and turn them into advocates can feel challenging. Equally, proving your concept without those precious early adopters – sometimes referred to as ‘raving fans’ who can evidence your worth and their success – can also be an uphill battle.
Although some people go into completely new sectors, many start-up entrepreneurs choose the industry in which they have worked for years or have gained skills or experience in, through work experience or education. So are you making sure that expertise is working to your advantage now?
We’ve identified an area that many are missing out on – building an online reputation. We’ve written about how ‘reputation is everything when it comes to business’ from the perspective of how easy it is for a crisis to wreck this. But here we are talking ideas about how you can build the reputation of a new business – or even a new product or service that takes your organisation in a new direction – quickly and with confidence.
When you consider that the first thing most people do these days when finding out about a specific company, product, service or individual is to investigate them online, how much time have you invested in making sure your online reputation is bang on the money?
We’ve come up with 5 areas that (nearly) everyone should master when you consider how important a business’ online presence is.
1. Get LinkedIn. The first go-to for search engine for professional networking – make sure your online profile is up-to-date, concisely communicates what you’re doing now, and lists your key relevant achievements. It’s also easy to set up a company page – but make sure you have the resource to keep it updated with new content. Other social channels can be equally important such as a business’ Facebook page or Twitter feed but all in good time – however, there’s absolutely no excuse when starting-up not to have your personal profile nailed from the outset, and equally updated regularly with progress and as milestones are reached etc. Make sure you spend time sharing or liking news from your network – they’ll be more inclined to do the same for you when you talk about your ambitions and achievements.
2. Warm up some fans. A quick online search with certain keywords quickly throws up the most influential write ups on that topic or subject on the top pages. Even if it’s early days, a quick PR launch of your business can reap rewards by creating the starting point of your company history. This may only target a few sector or trade media, or indeed a few important regional titles – all dependent on your business strategy and target market. However, it gives you the opportunity to get across your business story and if done well, you might even get some good backlinks to your website which can push your business up the Google rankings – making it easier for more people to find you. By engaging early with the media, you’re also showing that you’re investing in a relationship with them – this can pay dividends when you consider the next point.
3. Profile your expertise. Many media outlets are on the look out for objective, informed comment and articles from industry experts. In some cases, they are simply crying out for interesting, expert and available spokespeople. A proactive PR agency can help give you the chance to comment on some industry news – but make sure you respond quickly. If you give them what they want, it means that when you have your first big contract or news that you want to shout about, they’ll be more inclined to write about it – and positively. In addition, how better to showcase your knowledge than writing your opinion on an industry trend or challenge and providing some top tips. This can be shared on your website (in a blog) or on social channels – like a LinkedIn Pulse article. But it needs to be objective – resist the temptation to promote yourself or sell your business! The association of having a bylined piece published on a credible news site is more influential than a paid-for ad any day. There’s a disproportionate influence of a third party piece of coverage – independent, credible, it raises awareness, changes perceptions and drives action. It also demonstrates momentum online, building that digital track record.
4. Build PR into your sales process and contracts. There’s a huge commercial gain to having customers talk positively about you – the word-of-mouth influence and impact of joint PR may be difficult to quantify precisely, but it’s value is well accepted. Make sure your early engagement with prospects – as they get close to signing – include discussions about PR. This includes their willingness to talk initially about the reasons they chose to work with you (we call this a contract win press release) and then secondly, a few months down the line, the benefits that have been achieved (otherwise known as a case study). And don’t avoid the detail – make sure project KPIs are well documented so that the valuable metrics that journalists want for their story, can be discussed.
With half of businesses failing by the end of their fifth year, those early pillars of PR success online remain critical to building and then gaining momentum. So during those early months and sometimes years, remember the mantra: reputation is everything when it comes to business. Given we’re bang in the digital era, which is frankly changing the normal rules of business, online reputation and building that positive track record will be so important in securing success.