Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Working from an online business makes it easy to hide from the public. We’re not all social butterflies, and the internet can sometimes be rough. Besides, your website should be about your business, right? It’s not a social media page; you offer a product or service for a price. However, consider this. These days entrepreneurs are more likely than ever to operate exclusively online, meaning that their website is the primary face — maybe the only face — of their business. That “face” needs to show!
From the time I launched Hollywood Sensation Jewelry, it has been an online business. Our website serves as our front office, store, and face to customers worldwide. Speaking of faces, we use mine! I model my jewelry and include pics of my attending events for the causes I support (along with my husband, Anthony Hood, who looks dapper in a tuxedo). I do this so my customers recognize me and know I stand by my product, passion for empowering women and commitment to giving back. When customers visit my website, I want them to feel like they are buying from a friend.
When I’m interviewed, people ask me to give advice to new entrepreneurs. I always say, “Start marketing and branding as soon as possible. Show customers the face of your company.” And yes, that face may literally be yours. But even if it’s not, you need to tell prospects who you are and what you stand for as far as this product or service is concerned. Can this be done without crossing a line between a reputable business website and extraneous social media? Of course, it’s just a matter of following a few simple steps.
Know who your customers are
If you don’t know who you’re selling to, your marketing efforts will be for naught, and unless you sell oxygen for breathing purposes, you cannot sell to everyone.
Once you know your target customer, stop trying to speak to everyone. Is your target niche young and irreverent? Then your website should be. Are you speaking to baby boomers with social concerns? Let them know that you are mature and aware. Drill down as far as you can. The more targeted your niche is, the better you can show that you have the capacity and empathy to understand their experience.
Let customers know that you “get it.”
Is your business solving a problem or fulfilling a desire? Let customers know that you, too, have experienced their frustration. My whole business plan began when I didn’t have much disposable income and found a gorgeous piece of affordable jewelry. I got so many compliments on it that I thought, “I could sell this to women like myself.” Bring your personal story into the buying process.
Keep the entire website up to date
Even if nothing changes, show that someone has updated the site by addressing the month or the season. Nothing is reassuring about a site that looks like nobody has checked in for months.
Include pictures and video of yourself
Feature yourself displaying or talking about your product and services. For example, people generally like watching videos of instructions more than they like reading instructions, so make a video for them explaining how your product works. One thing: if you use pictures or videos, keep them consistent with the quality your brand requires. Amateur work for a professional product sends the wrong message. Also, use your first name anywhere it’s appropriate. Make sure your customers know who you are. “Oh, that’s Mary! And that’s Mary with her husband, Anthony. Wow, he rocks that tuxedo!”
If you blog, post often and regularly
A blog on your website is your way of putting in “facetime,” or the equivalent of showing up to the office every day. In your posts, relate current events to what is happening in your life and business. A blog can be quite a commitment, so consider what kind of standard you will set ahead of time. You need not write thousands of words a week. Stick to brief, concise posts.
If you don’t want to blog, you can still have a current events page that lets customers experience the timely function of your business. You’re not just a site. You are real people doing real things.
Respond in person and address customers as if speaking to friends
If possible, send personal responses to customer reviews, and post the pertinent ones so others can read them. Obviously, you cannot respond personally to dozens of daily messages, but including some personal details on the FAQ page could help. “I often hear this question, so I know it’s a big concern. Luckily, I’ve been through it myself, so I know….”
Unless you’re conveying legal language like terms and conditions, have your website’s writing address your customers in the same language you’d use if they walked through your front door.
Mention the good works you do
If you and your business participate in and contribute to charitable causes, devote a colorful, lively page to it on your site. Ensure that you tell your customers exactly why this cause is important to you. This shows your trustworthiness and likability, plus you inspire others to do the same.
Many companies and marketing agencies want you to make your website a “personalized” experience for your customers (and you must buy their software or services to make that happen). But all that fancy personalization doesn’t beat personality.
People like to buy things from people they like. This doesn’t change just because you operate your business from a website. Convey that you are a human being who respects both their experience and satisfaction and your products and services, and you’ll find yourself making loyal customers.