5 ways to take your Internet presence to new levels in 2012

Small businesses took a big hit over the past three years. More than 750,000 jobs were lost in 2008, and the economy hasn't fully recovered from the financial crisis. Now that small businesses are recovering from the initial shock of the economic downturn, many small business owners can turn towards expanding and growing their businesses.

Here are five ways you can use the Internet to your advantage, no matter how large your customer base.

Ecommerce

The Census Bureau states that ecommerce is becoming a larger part of the American economy. In 2009, ecommerce sales rose by $3 billion to $145 billion. It still is a rather small portion of the overall U.S. economy at 4 percent. Yet, a 4 percent increase in sales can be a boost to any business.

Ecommerce can save you time and energy. The Internet is on 24 hours a day, long after your storefront or factory closed at 6 p.m. Fees for Web hosting to maintain your website are relatively cheap. For a simple website design, some top-name sites can cost as low as $7.50 per month with a volume discount.

Advertising

Advertising on the Internet is another way to get your small business noticed. Even if you just pay for a slot in your local newspaper or television station, every bit of visibility helps. Rates will vary for Web advertising, usually by how many hits come to various sites. The more times a website is viewed and visited, the higher advertising rates will be.

One example comes from Duke University's independent daily newspaper. The Chronicle has a going rate of $12 per thousand impressions on their website for 2011-2012. A minimum order is for 50,000 impressions. That means a business would pay $600 to show up on the Chronicle's website 50,000 times. Sales managers for various websites in your locality or your niche would have rates for advertising. Buying more ad space is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Shop around, decide what businesses you want associated with your ad, and do a cost analysis of how it would affect your expenses versus profits.

With Web advertising, it's a good idea to start slow. Buy one ad for one particular site. If you find an increase in sales and your business marketed itself successfully, consider expanding to more markets and more websites. As computers, the Internet, and mobile devices utilize the Web even more in 2012, perhaps it will be time to invest some of your money into expanding your Internet horizons.

Blogs

Blogging about your business is another way to increase your presence on the Internet. A blog simply takes an investment of your time. Write regular posts, which don't have to be an daily occurrence. Let your customers know you are human. You can even post photos of your business and employees. Give people a personal touch with your blog that is different from the normal, everyday workings of your business.

Social networks

Social networks are like blogs. They are trendy, have been around for years, and continue to expand. There are many social networks beyond the two most popular with which to promote your business and make connections. The Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab Semantic Web Agents Project (MINDSWAP) from the University of Maryland has a list of of hundreds of social networks and their primary purposes. Find one that is suitable for your needs that may go beyond the most popular choices.

The Virginia Employment Commission states that nearly 90 percent of all companies will use social networks for recruiting employees. Imagine what you can do for expanding your business opportunities.

Comprehensive presence

If you're going to take your Internet presence to new heights in 2012, go all the way. Don't just have a website and stop. Create connections. Get to know potential customers and clients. Your Web presence doesn't have to be a full-time job. Starting out may seem a little overwhelming. You might want to talk to other small businesses and get a feel for how they have fostered their company websites. Once you get the hang of it, you will soon you learn that a vibrant website can be a dynamic part of your small business that you can't do without.

More from William Browning:

How to write an effective press release for free publicity

Tips for networking your small business

How to have successful video marketing

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