Local businesses need to cultivate digital presence

By Didi Martinez | Digital Managing Editor

Local mom-and-pop shops are a beloved staple in nearly every town. Offering a more intimate shopping experience than a corporate franchise, small business is frequently considered “the underdog” as far as commerce is considered. Not afforded the mega-budget and structure of larger enterprises, these businesses appear to have the odds stacked against them if they are not intentional about how they stay at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

While the survival rate varies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Employment Dynamics reports that 20 percent of small businesses close their doors after the first year. Even though there are a number of reasons they can fail, a business’s digital footprint, or lack thereof, can signal troubled times ahead.

I see this all the time in my small town of Katy. A new business opens up, and a search for its website often proves to be fruitless for the curious consumer — no such website exists. Even worse, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they don’t have a record of an account bearing the business’s name. This, in my opinion, is a costly mistake that can easily be avoided.

“But we don’t have the budget,” I hear a small business owner say. Sure you do, and there are a variety of options that would help you gain visibility around the area at a low price. I would even argue that you don’t even need a full-time marketing and advertising person until you see your business grow after the first year. Instead, consider outsourcing your social and web presence. In the same way, magazines and trade publications seek out freelancers and copy editors, so too should businesses entertain the option of hiring out a social media and web specialist. Even if it’s just for the first year, these experts will help brand your businesses, expand your community reach and serve as quality control when it comes to how you are seen online.

While the weekly, monthly or even yearly fee for an expert may seem like an unnecessary use of a business’s budget, allocating a small fund can ultimately save money. To put it simply, it’s the difference between haphazardly paying for $3 Facebook ads and having an expert grow your reach organically (or when professionals do suggest paid ads, knowing they will reap a return).

In theory, business owners can set up and manage their website and social media account themselves. But one of the other issues I see with businesses that do this is that the quality and frequency of posts vary significantly. The truth is, establishing and maintaining an online presence is a lot of work. It requires upkeep and most importantly, time — something many new business owners will tell you they simply don’t have enough of. As a result, time, more than talent, is what business owners have working against them when it comes to DIY-ing their online efforts.

A popular business saying goes, “You’ve got to spend money to make money,” and this cannot be any more true when it comes to paying for your online presence.

Didi Martinez is a senior journalism and political science double major from Katy.