Do Your Research

Anthony Spallone -

 
 
By now you should have a list of about 1-3 businesses or people you’re interested in working with. Whether this list came from friends and family, posts on a job listing site or a brisk walk down Main Street, the next step is to sit down and do a little research. In this video I’m going to walk you through a powerful tool you can use to help. It’s called a Basic Online Presence Audit, and it involves doing a little “investigation” into how a business is currently presented online.
 
You see - knowledge is power. The more you know about a potential client, the easier it will be to approach them. The same advice goes for anytime you go on an interview; the more research you do in advance, on things like the company history, or the background of the person you’re meeting – the more likely you are to get hired. As a provider of web services, there are a few reasons why a basic audit is such a powerful tool: Doing just a bit of research provides you a with a much better understanding of what the business is currently doing online, as well as how well it’s working.
 
This knowledge can be used to position yourself as someone of VALUE -- in other words, you’re providing a SOLUTION to fill a perceived need. Your audit is a chance for you to discover key learnings. You’ll present these as specific “opportunities” for the business! All of this works to present yourself as a someone who is an informed and dedicated professional who took the time to do his or her research. It shows you’re serious about getting the job. Demonstrating commitment is something small business owners will appreciate. Just think: in your town alone, there are plenty of local business owners who will be MORE than happy to have some help managing their online presence. So let’s get to it. First, give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to research each potential client.
 
These audits shouldn’t take too much of your time, since you’re not getting paid yet. The goal is to get just a general sense of what the business is currently doing, in terms of their online efforts. Other than time, all you need is an internet connection and something for making notes. This is to mark down any key learnings you will discover during your audit. In the Resource File for this class you’ll find a Basic Online Audit which you can also use. Let’s do a basic audit together, shall we? I’ll use a bakery in my own town as an example. We’ll start with a couple of Google searches. Then we’ll check Facebook and a couple of other places online, before putting together a Summary Assessment.
 
So first, I started my audit by searching on Google for my first potential client, or the name of my local bakery. First, I’m looking for any links that MENTION the business by name: I found three places that included the bakery’s name: the first one, the third one and the sixth one. I also discovered the business has a Facebook page. More on that in a minute. I also see that this business seems to not own a website! If it does, it’s not appearing in Google Search results.
 
I made a note of this as a key learning. If you DO find the business has a website: Notice where it appears in the list of search results. Is it higher or lower than the other links? Also, how does the website look, in general? Does it seem new, and nicely designed? Or does it look neglected, like it was built in the late 90’s? Obvious signs of neglect include outdated information, broken links and the most “Recent News” article is from 2004. For more on how to spot a good website from a not-so-great one, check our class on the topic! Next I found a couple of competitors who appear higher for the same search terms.
 
I made a note of this as another opportunity for improvement. Next, we’ll do a little investigating of that Facebook page we found in our original Google search for the business name. We want to see how well the business is presented on Facebook. For example, is the page being updated or was it abandoned? On the bakery’s Facebook Page, we can see in the space below the profile picture, there’s no general information about the business - not even its address or a phone number! Scrolling down, we see the most recent post by the business is dated December 2013. Another thing we learn is that 204 people have liked the page since it was created.
 
This is a decent number considering the business is not really active on Facebook. It shows there’s opportunity for improvement, so I made a note of this. Now I am going to take a look at their Photos tab. On the day they created the Page, back in 2010, they uploaded 5 images. Since then, no more have been added. Up to this point, I have gathered enough info to get a general sense of what the OWNER is (or isn’t) doing for the business’ Facebook page.
 
Now let’s see what CUSTOMERS have to say (or not say) on the Page. I discovered that customers actually love this place - specifically its Italian bread! I don’t know what they put in that bread, but it’s mentioned in many posts. I also learned that the business has been around for over 40 years. You can see there is potential here for more activity on Facebook.
 
 
Customers like the place and are ALREADY talking about it, so it wouldn’t be too hard for the bakery to encourage more engagement. This could help increase the visibility of the business on Facebook and even other online locations. Now let’s check out those other places where the business is mentioned online - the other links from that original Google Search. So I also was able to see that the business has a Yelp listing. Yelp is used for people to find reviews of local businesses. Let’s see what my bakery’s Yelp presence is like.
 
 
Whaddya know: same thing - customers love this place! On Yelp, there are far more photos than on Facebook and many are positive reviews. So it seems this business has had a lot of happy customers. I noted this as another key learning. To wrap up this part of your audit, click through the other links where the business is mentioned. Check each one out, see if you can find what others are saying about the business, and make a few notes in general. Once you’ve spent a half hour to an hour gathering some basic information about the business’s online presence, marking down your discoveries and key learnings along the way, you are ready to make a “Summary Assessment”!
 
 
In this last stage of your Basic Audit, we’ll try to answer three questions based on your research: What is the business currently doing online, and how well is it being presented? What are the key strengths or weaknesses of the business? What services can YOU provide for the business? So for the first question - what is the business doing and how well is it presented online - I discovered during my research that: This business doesn’t own a website. It does have a good presence on Yelp and a few other online listings, and that their Facebook page is a few years old, with basic things missing like the business’ address and phone number. I also noted the Page is not updated regularly. For the second question - what are the business’ perceived strengths and weaknesses, during my research I learned: This business has been running for over forty years, so it’s probably well-known in the local community. (In fact, I can confirm this to be true.)
 
 
It has a strong customer base with plenty of happy customers. And I also know that the Italian bread is a customer favorite. This can come in handy later when I speak with the owner to show I am familiar with his or her product. Finally, what can I offer to this business? First of all, you could create a WEBSITE that will promote the business and encourage customers to visit. Explain that this website would serve as the “hub” for the business’ online presence. The Facebook Page and other online profiles would link to this website, to direct those who wish to learn more about the bakery. You could even suggest specific ideas of what to place on the website like Photos of the famous Italian bread.
 
 
Mention adding a menu page for seasonal goodies. Suggest an About Us page with text like “Serving Chicago for Forty Years”, and what makes this bakery a special place in the community. Last but not least, place no-brainers like business hours, the address and a phone number. Mention that it’s even possible to have people visiting this website from a mobile phone, to call the business directly from the website. Depending on your clients’ niche, a mobile site could provide a huge source of potential business. Since my example is a local bakery, it would be really useful for people in the area who are using their phones to quickly find the closest bakery!
 
 
You can offer to help maintain their social media profiles. This is where your personal skills and experience come into play....as well as what you KNOW this business needs! Do you fancy yourself a killer copywriter? Offer to create the posts yourself. Got photography chops? Offer to set up a photo shoot. At this point, it should be clear WHAT the business might NEED... and it’s up to YOU to decide what to offer, in order to fill that need! You can even choose a specific TYPE of need...like photography for the website, or help with social media, or copywriting...and TRANSLATE that need into a specific service. Using a combo of YOUR skills plus WIX’S website creation and other tools for online business promotion...you’ve got something pretty valuable to offer. Bonus points for creativity! Now let’s look at some tips on reaching out and contacting these potential clients
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