The Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) has provided workshops, webinars, and one-on-one advising for small business owners in all e-Vermont communities. Their work reached beyond our 24 communities through workshops at regional and statewide conferences and e-Vermont webinars.
Broadband for businesses in Vermont is a huge topic. It covers everything from educating a workforce in basic digital literacy all the way through to cutting edge research and entrepreneurship based on tomorrow's technologies. This toolkit focuses on introductory information for businesses interested in making better use of online tools. Check out the following sections:
- Getting Started
- Business Website Basics
- Social Media & Mobile Marketing
- Tracking the Impact of Online Tools
- Collected Links & Recommended Resources
Finding the online tools that work best for your business starts with having a strong sense of your overall business goals and strategies. There's an endless number of online tools available and it's easy to become lost in the options if you don't have a clear idea of the functions you need these tools to perform.
If you don't currently have a business plan, check out these resources from VtSBDC for creating one:
- Click here for a printable business plan outline that can help you start drafting your own plan
- Attend a 3 hour Start Your Own Small Business workshop to walk through the process of drafting your business plan; check out the in-person schedule or sign up for an online session
- Explore www.startabusinessinvermont.net your one-stop information shop for starting a business in Vermont. It provides guides for everything from developing a business plan to obtaining financing to navigating tax requirements.
There are also resources for help fine tuning goals, checking in on your business' growth process, and reviewing key issue areas:
- VtSBDC offers a Grow Your Business workshop with both in-person and online options
- VtSBDC advisors assist businesses at all stages with free consulting, check for your local advisor here.
e-Vermont started all one-on-one advising sessions by working with a business owner to understand the needs particular to his or her business. Based on that assessment, business owners most frequently requested assistance to:
- Increase comfort levels with working online, including some basic computer skills
- Gain basic understanding of website security and business network security
- Establish a Google ‘Place Page’
- Raise awareness of no-cost tools available to small businesses (Google tools, Weebly, etc.) and identify which best meet their needs
- Establish a business website, generally through contracting with a designer; understand website functionality and design processes
- Re-design an old or ineffective website
- Understand basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how websites are indexed (e.g., meta data, description, keywords, link farming)
- Improve office efficiency through use of online tools (Google apps, mobile apps, office communication, Adobe Connect, etc.)
- Establish a focused e-mail marketing strategy
- Understand and use e-mail marketing software
- Understand and use social media marketing tools and strategies (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)
- Maintain consistent branding online and off
- Develop basic understanding of computer coding for content management, link farming, Search Engine Optimization.
Some businesses also sought e-commerce assistance to:
- Understand effective design elements and content structuring (Customers should be at point of sale in 3 clicks or less, placement of shopping cart, purchase points, etc.)
- Install analytics software
- Understand how to read website analytics and use the data effectively
- Install and use software to monitor inventory, online sales, shipping costs, etc.
- Integrate Quickbooks, or equivalent program, into online sales software
No matter what size your business is or what industry you are in, an online presence is key to your success.
Google Place Pages:
Before doing anything else, make sure that your business is showing up in Google searches through the Google place pages. You don't need a website to be a recognized 'place' for Google. Go to www.google.com/places. You can also check out this webcast on Wikipedia, Google Places & You.
There are a lot of options out there for developing a website - from free platforms to an extravagant professional design. Both ends of that spectrum present different benefits and challenges. The final decision will depend on what's the most effective tool for your business. It will also depend how much time and energy you want to dedicate to the project.
Work through the handout HERE to get a ballpark sense of what type of site is best for you.
Initial website design and development costs are often much higher than many small business owners expect. Click HERE for a printable outline that provides a brief look at pricing options for website development. The costs outlined in this document are initial one-time design costs. (Note: Handouts developed in 2011)
There are a few ways to reduce initial website design costs. Click HERE for a brief outline of options to manage cost.
Also, we recommend going over the questions listed HERE with any potential site developer - they should be able to readily answer these questions.
More Information On Website Design:
There are many other factors to consider when designing your website. Use the following link to a presentation on how to handle some of the things discussed above, as well as content requirements, project length, post-production work, driving traffic to your website, search engine optimization and more: PRESENTATION.
Website Success Stories from e-Vermont Businesses:
- Vermont Business Owners Adapt to Rapid Change
- Websites Help Farm Family Find Niche Markets
- Fairfield's Library Partners with Online Farmers' Market
- Artists & Entrepreneurs Create New Community Portal
- Small Business Center Filling Fast in Poultney
Business owners hear a lot about social media and marketing their business using social media tools, but for many it can be difficult to navigate through the ever-changing digital landscape. The resources below are aimed at simplifying social media and leveraging it to benefit your small business.
What Is Social Media?
In order to properly leverage social media, you have to understand what it is and how it differs from traditional advertising. Click HERE for a quick guide to identifying and understanding the differences between social media marketing and traditional advertising.
Also, many of the tutorials introducing Internet basics include sections on social media, find them here.
Social Media Strategy
Wondering what to post on Facebook? How to craft an effective social media strategy? Click HERE for some tips on what to post and what content will bring positive interaction from customers.
Common Social Media Mistakes
Many business owners jump into social media marketing without first examining how it works and often make crucial mistakes that leave them wondering why their efforts have not been effective. Click HERE for a printable document that outlines common social media mistakes.
Basic Facebook Marketing Webinar
Facebook is easily the most recognizable form of social media today. With more than 850 million active users, your customers are there. The e-Vermont webcast archives include a presentation that will help you get started on facebook (direct link found HERE).
More Social Media Info
For more information on how to leverage social media and additional tips on how to use social media to market your business, you can review this social media presentation that was developed as part of VtSBDC's e-Vermont trainings and workshops.
Using a grant from the Vermont Department of Labor, VtSBDC has also developed a presentation on the basics of mobile marketing. As mobile devices become common, it's important for businesses to think ahead to how they affect marketing. See an introductory presentation HERE.
The Stay In Tune with Technology webcast can help you keep up to date with new social media developments.
Also check out how some of these e-Vermont businesses are growing their customer base:
- Social Media Means Business for Accounting Start Up
- Front Porch Forum Boosts Middlesex Business
- 5th Grader Helps Mom Sharpen Tech Skills
Knowing whether online tools are making a difference to your business is admittedly difficult, but also important. Starting with clear, specific goals (as covered in the Getting Started section) is the first step. Here are some more ideas for that evaluation process.
Check In on What Others Are Doing:
If customers expect businesses in your industry to have a website or Google Place Page, or if they expect to find you listed on a local online business directory or posting to local discussion sites, then that sets a baseline for your online presence. It's important to check in on what others are doing.
Google Alerts is one simple tool for keeping track of changes in your industry or region. Alerts let you know when new content is added for a search term that you select, for example "e-Vermont".
Keep Track of Your Time:
The website design section of this toolkit discussed finding a balance between investing your time in a web design project and investing in the time of an experienced professional to get you started. In more general terms, the real cost of "free" tools is measured in the time you have to spend using them (and possibly in your frustration levels as well).
It can take a while to get in the habit of using new online tools, find the right frequency for updates, work through the technical clitches, etc. so give yourself a grace period for getting started then check in on the amount of time they take in an average week.
In addition to spending too much time with online tools, you can also spend too little time. For many tools, you need to be actively participating to see good results.
The most commonly used search engine, Google, also offers free tools to see how your website is being used.
Google analytics can help with your website’s search engine optimization, content structure and more. To start with Google analytics, check out http://www.google.com/analytics/.
You can also research whether your website design is working its hardest for you. www.google.com/websiteoptimizer allows you to see what is working best in your online advertising or website designs.
For a search engine optimization start-up guide and to learn more about how Google is viewing your website, check out Google’s webmaster tools at www.google.com/webmasters/tools/.
For a presentation with more detail on how these tools work, use the link below. http://www.vtsbdc.org/assets/files/Googletoolspresentation.pdf.
Ask Your Customers:
In addition to tracking new customers brought in through online strategies, it also makes sense to ask existing ones if the online tools are improving their experience. Do they lead to more purchases? Make it easier to share information about your business with others? Get information to make more informed purchases / better utilize services? . . . all the different things an online presence can do.
Some social media have built in systems for conversations and polling to help you gather this feedback. You can also find many free survey creation tools online, such as Survey Monkey. These tools change so look up the most popular ones as you get ready to do your survey.
VtSBDC / e-Vermont Handouts (from toolkit pages):
- Should My Business Be Online?
- How Much Do I Need To Spend?
- Quick Tips On Reducing Website Design Costs
- How To Find Reputable Web Designers
- Presentation on Website Design
- Presentation on Using Google Tools
- What Is Social Media?
- Social Media Strategy
- Common Social Media Mistakes
- Social Media Presentation
- One-stop-information shop for starting a business in Vermont - www.startabusinessinvermont.net
- World Wide Web Consortium is developing web design standards - www.w3.org
- Complete listing of free tools offered by Google - www.google.com/sitemap.html
- The Australian Government has a comprehensive collection of information for businesses interested in doing more online - www.digitalbusiness.gov.au