Whether you’re already the proud owner of a business or you’re looking to start one, having an effective online presence is one of the best things you can do to drive growth.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2020, 92% of adults in the UK were recent users of the internet. And Statista tells us that 85% of these people used the web for finding out about goods and services.
Therefore, taking steps to build your company’s online presence – for example, by building a user-friendly website, creating social media accounts, and taking advantage of digital marketing strategies – can go a long way to attracting customers and boosting revenue.
Yet, whether it’s a lack of digital skills or concerns over cost, there are a few things that can put business owners off expanding into the digital realm.
With that said, we’ve outlined some of the top reasons why it’s worth making the leap and taking your business online.
1. It can help you build credibility
One of the most important reasons for your business to have an online presence is to establish credibility. According to Statista, in 2019, 83% of businesses in the UK had a website, and we expect that this number has only increased since. This means that customers have come to expect some sort of online presence as a sign of professionalism and legitimacy.
Remember, the first thing that many of us do when we hear about a new company is look it up online. And if it doesn’t appear in our search results, we may question the company’s legitimacy – or even whether it’s real. With this in mind, if you don’t have an online presence, you may be putting your business at risk of being dismissed by potential customers.
But having an online presence isn’t only a way to avoid looking illegitimate, it’s also a way to make proactive steps to increase your credibility. For example, you can build a wealth of positive reviews on websites such as Trustpilot and Yelp – and showcase some of the best of these on your website.
2. It means you’re open all day, every day
An entirely physical business – like a brick-and-mortar shop – is restricted by two major things — location and time. Your customers will only be people who can physically reach you and, chances are, you’ll only be able to operate within work hours (9-5).
However, having a good online presence will allow customers far and wide to access your services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — to do things like browse products, make enquiries, and place orders. So even when you’re sleeping, your business can be bringing in revenue.
3. It can help more people find your business
Whether it’s simply searching ‘Best electricians near me’ or scrolling through thousands of online reviews, more and more UK consumers do some sort of online research before buying something. So whether you sell your products online or not, making yourself visible on the web is a great way to encourage people to become customers.
Taking advantage of digital marketing strategies can direct anyone doing research about related products and services to your website. Some popular strategies include using search engine optimisation (SEO) – which can help your website appear higher in search engine results – and online advertising, through platforms like Facebook Ads and Google Ads.
And if you run a physical business, by creating a Google My Business account, which lists your address and shows exactly where you’re located, you’ll be able to direct people to your front door.
To find out more about how you can market your products online, check out this beginner’s guide to digital marketing from HubSpot. And this blog post by Word Stream will tell you more about what a Google My Business profile is and how to create one.
4. It can help you to build your brand
Your company’s brand is more than just a name, logo, or employee uniform, it’s who you are and what sets you apart from your competitors.
Websites and social media accounts provide business owners with a fantastic space to let their customers (and potential customers) know these things. For example, does your company have an inspiring story about how it came to be, like chocolatier Harry Specters? Or is your business particularly dedicated to a worthwhile cause, like the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia?
You can showcase this sort of information in a succinct and entertaining way in social media posts, or on the ‘About Us’ section of your website.
Even the design of your website can help to communicate your business’ core values. For example, a fashion company might be more concerned with the aesthetic of its website than a company that sells plumbing equipment. But the latter might have simplicity and functionality as high priorities.
5. It can be cost-effective
Whether you’re starting a business from scratch or looking to expand your physical one into the digital realm, one of the things that can dissuade people from creating a substantial online presence is cost. Although, depending on how you go about it, it can actually be one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your business.
If you’re starting a business from scratch – an online shop, for example – then you can expect to encounter some costs for things like website hosting and domain names (you can find out more about these in our article; How to set up an online shop).
However, these costs tend to be relatively small compared to the ones you might face when setting up a physical, brick-and-mortar shop. In this case, you would have to budget for things like renting a retail space, bills, maintenance, staff, etc – which, as you can imagine, would cost you far more.
Plus, by implementing free strategies like creating social media and Google My Business accounts, you can build your online presence without spending a penny.
6. It doesn’t have to be complicated
When it comes to building your business’s online presence, there are many possible routes that you can take.
Some of these – like building an online store completely from scratch – will require some in-depth study and/or the help of a professional, and can be both time-consuming and costly. But, when it comes to boosting your company’s visibility online, a little goes a long way, and there are plenty of things that you can do that are relatively uncomplicated.
Instead of building an online store completely from scratch, for example, there are lots of eCommerce platforms that provide easy-to-use, all-in-one solutions – like Shopify or Wix. They’ll help you to create your online store without any technical knowledge or coding skills.
As for other methods for increasing online visibility, like creating social media pages and a Google My Business Account, the web is full of helpful tutorials to get you started. Below, you’ll find some guides to setting up various social media accounts, and this article from Shopify will help you get your online shop up and running on these platforms.
Want help setting up your business's social media accounts?
7. It can help you offer better customer service
The importance of good customer service for a business cannot be overstated. According to these statistics from Khoros, 83% of customers name customer service as the most important factor when deciding what to buy, other than the price and product itself. And this 2021 survey by Gladly tells us that 62% of customers will recommend a business to a friend if provided with great customer service.
And while great customer support can be provided in person, expanding your business into the digital realm can open up lots more opportunities to take your service to the next level. For one, having your customer support information – like an email and phone number – clearly displayed on your website and My Google Business account will make it much easier for people to get in contact if they have any questions or issues.
Plus, you could even offer things like a live web chat or an FAQs (frequently asked questions) section on your website, to make sure your customers can easily find the assistance they need.
8. You can keep your customers up to date
It used to be that if your brick-and-mortar business was having a sale, you’d have to dress up your shopfront with promotional material – and, if your budget allowed, employ some traditional marketing tactics like billboards, flyers, or even invest in a television or radio advertisement.
However, nowadays, keeping your customers informed about new offers, products, and announcements is just an email or a social media post away. This guide from HubSpot is a useful place to start if you’re interested in learning about email marketing.
There are other ways to keep your customers informed about your business – for example, by keeping a company blog on your website. Your blog could contain engaging content about new partnerships, products, or perhaps you could interview an influential person in your field. In the words of Bill Gates, “content is king” when it comes to marketing your company, and a good blog can be an excellent driver of traffic to your website.
Take a look at Cornish surf brand Finisterre’s website for an example of an engaging blog. And this post from bloggingwizard has 60 great content ideas if you’re thinking about starting one of your own.
9. It could give you the opportunity to live anywhere
Have you always dreamed of living in a quaint fishing village in Cornwall? Or maybe moving to the roving wilds of the Scottish Highlands? If so, taking your business online could provide you with the opportunity to work from anywhere!
Of course, this perk may not apply to those with a physical brick-and-mortar or local service-based business. But, if you’re thinking about taking your business 100% online, or starting an online business from scratch, you could do what an increasing number of people are doing and work remotely from wherever you wish.
10. It can help you to contend with your competitors
If none of the reasons above have convinced you that your business needs to be online, then it’s worth bearing in mind that although you don’t need to have an online presence to run a successful business, the odds are your competitors will have one.
And with so many people researching businesses online nowadays – no matter how reliable your service or how quality your product is – if customers can’t see you online, they may be tempted to take their business to one of your competitors.
By creating a solid online presence, you’ll give customers all the information they need to make an informed decision about what business they want to patronise: yours or your competitor’s. So you can focus on making your product or service the best that it can be.
So whether you’re starting a business from scratch or looking to grow your existing one, establishing an online presence is a great way to attract customers and build trust.
If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, but you’re not sure exactly what you’d like to do, the self-employment section of our career advice page has plenty of business ideas. And our personal stories section has a range of interviews with people who have taken the leap and landed on their feet.