What should my local chiropractor do? Or the acupuncturist? Or the pet store? What about that small church or mosque?
The web has changed the game for a lot of organizations, but for the local business, it's more of a threat and a quandary than an asset. My doctor went to a seminar yesterday ($100+) where the 'expert' was busy selling her on buying a domain name, hiring a designer, using web development software, understanding site maps and navigation and keywords and metatags and servers...
These are businesses that have trouble dealing with the Yellow Pages. Too much trouble, too much time, way too expensive. So, should local micro-businesses just ignore the web? Or should they become experts in the art of building and maintaining a website?
We're talking about people who don't like to tweak. About local businesses that are struggling to be found by people a block or a mile or five miles away. Entrepreneurs who can't be bothered to understand typography or HTML. Why does my dog's vet have such a lame website? Why do basement waterproofing sites sit moribund? Do they all have to become experts and spend the money--or sit it out and lose out?
I think there's a third way, one that gets them just about everything they need, takes an hour or two a month and costs about $60 a year. Here goes:
Step one: head on over to Typepad and sign up for their cheapest service. It's about $5 a month. Pick a 'quiet' and professional blog layout. Your first post should include the name of your business, your address, your specialty and your hours and phone number. Click the button that says "Feature this post." From now on, this post will be at the top of your blog (which is really your 'website', so first time visitors
will see it front and center. When you go on vacation or stock a new line of products or have a story to tell, just blog it.
The beauty of this first step is that for $5 you have a web server, a professional layout, no worries about design, a site you can edit yourself in no time and no hassles with weird domain names.
Next step: build a Squidoo lens about your business. List your hours and stuff. Then insert a google map of where you're located. Put in a list of books if you think your potential (or current) customers will benefit from an understanding of what you do. Insert a guestbook so your favorite customers can give you testimonials. Put in an RSS feed from your blog, so every time you update it, it will show up here, too. If this is too tricky, have your smart next-door-neighbor do it for you. You won't have to do it again.
Next step: Get a sign featuring your name and phone number. Something 1 foot by 2 foot or so. Printed on cardboard. Now, take your digital camera and start taking pictures. Pictures of your offices. Of your staff. Of your satisfied customers. Each picture should include the sign! Now, go post those pictures on Flickr. (And then put the pictures into a set and pull that set into your Squidoo lens, and post the best pictures on your blog too).
Last step: Ask your best customers to build Squidoo lenses about your business. Ask the ones who blog to mention you in their blogs. Ask the happiest of all to pose for a picture holding your sign, or to give you a testimonial for your blog.
So, you've probably invested a few hours by now. You've spent a few dollars, read a book or two on blogging. But you haven't become an expert, not by a longshot, in any technologies. You haven't tweaked a font or focused on a sitemap. Instead, you've been running your dry cleaner or writing your sermons.
Even better, no one is judging you on whether or not you're an expert at building websites. No one is choosing not to do business with you because your website looks like your cat designed it. And you're not spending big money tweaking tweaking tweaking just to get the last ounce of blood out of your site.
A month later, if someone types, migraine acupuncture des moines, into Google, they ought to find you. Or pet store 10706. The beauty of your situation is this: if only 5 or 10 new people a week find you via this ring of links and google searches, you're going to have a shot at doubling your customer base within a year. For $60.