Guest Post by Lance Trebesch
I’m not your typical rural businessman. Though my office may be located in the countryside these days, I actually began my career managing and growing startups in Silicon Valley. I spent more than fifteen years in the “heart of the concrete jungle,” helping companies turn their promising new businesses into successful, national companies. However, while the work I was doing was rewarding, the stress and pressure of life in the fast lane began to take their toll on my family life.
|The TicketPrinting.com office in Harlowton, Montana.|
So in 2007 I decided to make a change. Tired of city living, I packed up my things and moved out to Harlowton, Montana where I took an executive position at a new web-based company called TicketPrinting.com. Though I was a bit worried that rural Montana wouldn’t be the easiest place to run an online business, I was confident and excited for the new challenge – and new life – that awaited me.
Six years later, I’m proud to say that the chance I took was worth it. TicketPrinting.com and its sister company Ticket River have been very successful, and the experience of growing these companies in the Montana countryside has taught me a lot.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is just how crucial online marketing can be to any rural business. When you’re living in a sparsely populated area, advertising and promoting your company over the Internet is the key to bringing in new customers. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a plumbing business or an online ticket retailer – if you want to succeed, you need to use the Internet to your advantage.
This can seem pretty daunting for any business owner who isn’t familiar with how the web works, but it’s really much easier than it looks. Plenty of small rural businesses have successfully set up an online presence, and there’s no reason your company can’t do the same. You just need to know how and where to allocate your resources. To that end, I have a few tips that I believe you’ll find useful.
- Create a strong website. Think of your website as your company’s base of online operations. It’s the first thing people will see when they search for you online and because of this you want it to look as appealing and trustworthy as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer – if you randomly stumbled across your website online, would you want to shop there?
The best way to get a business-ready website is to hire a professional web developer to create one for your company. However, if you’re working on a limited budget you may want to consider using a professionally pre-developed template instead. Regardless of which path you choose, I recommend that you check out this comprehensive guide on setting up a website before you get started. It’s a long read, but it will tell you everything you need to know about setting up and optimizing an online presence for your business.
- Practice Good SEO. SEO, or search engine optimization, is the key to getting your company noticed on the internet. Optimization involves generating instances of relevant keywords that are either hosted on your website or link back to your website. The more instances of keywords you have, the higher you’ll rank on web searches for those keywords. And the higher you rank, the more likely it is that a customer will click on your website instead of your competitor’s.
There is a lot of theory on the best practices for optimization, and in fact many people have made doing SEO for companies their entire career. Doing this properly is either a very long or very expensive process, depending on whether you choose to outsource the work to an SEO company or not. At the very least, though, you should do this: Pick out a list of 15 or so search phrases that people might use when browsing for a company like yours, such as “plumber Montana” or “affordable plumbing in Montana.” Incorporate each of these phrases exactly into the content of your website several times. For a more in-depth look at SEO, here is a free comprehensive beginner’s guide from SEOMoz, popular online SEO community.
- Set up an Online Store. The best thing you can do for your small business is to give customers the ability to purchase your goods online. Setting up shop online opens up a massive new market of customers who might be interested in your product but are unwilling or unable to drive to your location. With a shopping cart function installed on your website, customers can place an order whenever they want from wherever they happen to be – which is great for business. Rather than spending the money to develop a store function for your site on your own, I recommend purchasing a “Plug and play” store function from a web developer.
- Advertise in Online Classifieds. Millions of people turn to online classifieds every day to help them purchase a product or service. Tap into this market by placing classified ads for your company on Craigslist and the websites of several local or even regional papers. These posts are cheap, or sometimes even free, and will help draw attention to your company.
- Run an AdWords Campaign. Going back to the topic of keywords, Google AdWords offers businesses a creative and cost effective way to advertise for your business. You simply need to pick out a key word or phrase to sponsor, and every time a search is run your ad will appear as a “Sponsored Result” on Google. Businesses only pay a small fee whenever someone clicks on an ad, which makes these campaigns very cost-effective and ideal for rural companies.
- Get Social. Set up a profile for your company on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Even if you don’t use these services often yourself, they will provide an outlet for your customers to interact with one another and will increase your company’s credibility and exposure. Social media is all the rage these days, with nearly 60% of small businesses reporting that they have either a Facebook or Twitter account. Used properly, these networks can help you generate more exposure and cut back on your other marketing costs.
- Sponsor an Event. The great thing about sponsoring a charity or an event is that it gives you two types of exposure – both in person and online. Choose an event that will list you as a sponsor online. Once you’ve been acknowledged, you can share your charitable activity over your social networks and on your website to show potential customers just how much you care about the community. There’s no better way to generate positive press.
|Lance Trebesch, not|
your typical rural
The Internet is an essential marketing tool for any modern rural business. Consequently, it should be embraced rather than avoided. Though it might seem confusing at first, once you set up a strong online presence for your company I guarantee you that your business will increase and all the work you put in to your online marketing strategies will pay off.
Lance Trebesch is the CEO of TicketPrinting.com & Ticket River, which offer a variety of event products and ticketing services. After working for nineteen years in Silicon Valley, Lance found that the key to happiness is helping customers worldwide beautify and monetize their events with brilliant print products and event services. Listening to his customers and learning about how they plan their events – which range from concerts to fundraisers – has helped him gain insight and expertise that he is always eager to share.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.