What is an online identity? Is it enough to have a dedicated website for your business? Unfortunately the Internet of Things generation, armed with increasingly connected devices, made us acutely aware that a dedicated website is no longer enough. A 2014 online identity means social media aptitude, web presence, beautiful design, great user experience, mobile optimization and strategically crafted branding. Miss even ONE of these… you’re missing a lot.

A startup founder typically wears many hats, but regardless, there is one title that is unshakeable: ‘Chief Decision Maker’.  As the decision maker, the mere act of dividing your time and money can be overwhelming. So when it comes down to writing a check, what areas are worth spending on?

When I was offered a position at Webonise six months ago, one of its key selling points was a sincere dedication to start-ups. As an entrepreneur and former business co-founder myself, I am fully aware of the questions running through your head right now. What’s next? Who can I trust to execute my vision? There are a million decisions you will have to make during this process, and here is why putting an emphasis on your digital presence should be one of the first.

 

1. Expanded Reach: Your online presence let’s your business be where you can’t

In the startup world, it is hardly ever about who has the best idea. Chances are somebody else has already done it or tried it. Successful companies are often born from those who can execute, put an idea into motion with a level of expertise, and you can’t forget resources, to take advantage of the market segment. Timing and efficient time management play a HUGE role, and there is never enough time in the day, or enough of you, to go around. Your online presence is an extension of you and your team. It allows you to be in multiple places at once and engage with interested parties without the need for face-to-face contact.

Don’t let them forget

When pitching an idea or your company’s value proposition, it is not uncommon to only have 30 seconds to a couple of minutes (if you’re lucky). If your pitch does what it’s supposed to do and entices the audience to learn more, where do you think they go for ‘more’? Cue the smartphone. Enticing people to visit your site before they forget about it is crucial. The ability to direct people to your responsive, mobile site, where they can instantly access more information, gives you an edge.

  • Through your established digital presence your audience can interact with your brand, learn about what you do and share information with you. On top of that, the more people who ‘see’ you, the more you learn about your audience.
  • Through Google Analytics, evaluate your audience without physical interaction. Track the demographic of interested parties, their behavior while on your site and how you’re performing in certain verticals.

A well-established online identity, done right, can tell your story, freeing you from physical boundaries.

 

2. Provide Beyond: Give your customers a reason, beyond your products, to need you

Growing into an established company is just one step towards success, you have to maintain your growth and prove your worth beyond your product. One of the best ways to leverage your site is to give your customers something more than just a product to buy or a service to consume.

Become a reliable source of information within your industry.

I caught up with Benedict Jones on the matter. Jones is a friend and founder of startup Trekkable:

“Online presence is all about using good content to attract a customer, but ultimately to be useful to them. “

Trekkable is an online hotel booking and rating system with a lens for those with mobility challenges. Employees travel around the country doing “trek ratings” for hotels in major cities, but they also use their online presence to act as an open ear to the community, looking into requested features and customizing the hotel booking experience based on what they read and hear, making Trekkable very useful to its customers.

Jones continues, No matter your model or alignment, you should invest in some sort of online presence, as it starts as simply as being the modern business card, and has an opportunity to be so much more.”

 

3. Legitimacy: Your website is your portfolio, for better or for worse

In the early stages of your company; first impressions, those introductions and pitches to important people and potential customers, can mean a lot. Assuming you make a good first impression, the next thing to do is make an even better second impression. That carefully thought-of online and brand identity should help to ensure that a third and fourth impression will follow.

Investors will use your website as a way to gauge how well established you are as a company, how thought out and consistent your branding is and how well you’ve positioned yourself to approach the market.

If you’re a company that intends to bring on partners to cross promote to customers, they will be using your website to gauge how well they think your brands can work together. Can they envision the two logos being placed in the same light? Are you professional enough to have their brand associated with yours?

Your first customers will be using your website or app to learn more about you. Since word of mouth is most likely going to be the best, organic marketing tool during your startup’s infancy, you want to make a good impression. With that in mind, nobody is going to send their friend to a website that is confusing and poorly designed. Here’s a quick check-list for you to consider:

  • Speed Tested - The slower your page loads, the more likely it is that your visitors will leave the site
  • No Broken links
  • Don’t be copy heavy - Most people probably skipped the majority of this article, that being said, sometimes as a founder, you are so wrapped up in the details that you try and dump everything on your website. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Get your value proposition across and call it a day. If you can’t get it across concisely, you may have bigger issues.
  • Be Responsive - at lunch, at a conference- no matter where you are, do not make it hard for someone to learn more about you or find you.
  • Attractive videos/imagery – Everyone loves visuals. Take Benedict at Trekkable - they frequently post Google Glass videos of the hotels they tour and trek rate, which are definitely a lot more interesting and useful than reading a random customer review on Orbitz.

Many founders, including myself, get excited about the chase, the potential to become the “Next Best Thing”. We often fail to see the importance of making the best first impressions, attracting the first customer and keeping those customers.

As a startup founder myself, believe me when I say that investing in your online presence is well worth it. In 2014, the future of your business depends on it.