Recently, my wife and I decided to be a local tourist. We took a couple of days to go visit local historical sites that we had never seen before.
Our trip took us into some very small North Dakota towns where we decided to spend the evening. We found our lodging using a smartphone.
The next morning it was time for breakfast. Imagine our disappointment when the online results took us to a café that was being rebuilt. The next town did not show anything available but we took a chance that the gas station might have something. When we pulled into town, we noticed there was a grocery store/bakery. The sign on the door said it would open in about 10 minutes. So we waited. The result was some tasty baked goods, coffee, orange juice as well as the hot dogs, buns and potato chips we wanted for lunch.
We asked the owner why she wasn’t online. Time was one issue. The second issue was being accurately shown on the map. There was a listing for her store but, as the town did not have a zip code, the location was in another town 16 miles away. Her business was listed in a city website directory but it didn’t have any information about what was offered or hours of operation.
We used our smartphone two other times on the trip, both times for directions. The results were correct once and incorrect the second time.
So what’s my point?
Your business, whether large or small, must have an online presence. At a minimum, you must get on the map in the correct location. You should also ensure that someone can get some idea of what you offer and when you are open. All of these basic items can be done from a simple static website. Yes, this was a tourism situation but I think I am like many other people using my phone to search in my home community as well as when I am traveling. And younger people depend even more on mobile devices.
An alternative might be working with your community website to get that basic listing but, remember, you have no control over that site. Making changes can be difficult and if no one regularly maintains that site, your information can be out-of-date and of little use to the consumer.
The idea of developing an online presence can be a scary prospect. To help you understand why it is necessary as well as the language and basic elements you need, the Power of Business and a group of Extension educators have developed information to walk you through the process. You can find three free resources here. While some of the information is industry-specific, most of it is generic and can help any business owner.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t let customer pass you by. Let them know you are there with your online presence.
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.