How to Build a Website, Go Viral and Develop Your Digital Brand Here are three steps to establishing your small business's online presence.

By Matthew McCreary

Westend61 | Getty Images

If you want to turn your small business into a big one, at some point you're going to need to go digital. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. retail ecommerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2017, adjusted for seasonal variation, but not for price changes, was $119 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent from the third quarter of 2017." There's even more money to be had online, whether that's from becoming a social influencer, turning online ads into brick-and-mortar sales or something else entirely.

But getting started can be tricky. You're an expert in your business, but just because you know how to provide a great product or service doesn't mean you know how to get strangers on the internet to buy it. What do you need to make a great website? Where should you focus your energy when developing your online presence?

In this article, we'll walk you through three must-haves for any small business going digital: building a website, establishing the brand on social media and creating an email list. If you can do just those three things, you might not become the next online empire, but you'll at least be off to a good start.

Related: Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company

1. How to build a website

Making a website seems impossible for some, especially those who do not consider themselves tech-savvy. But you don't need to be Mark Zuckerberg to create a landing pad for your customers or audience. Web builders such as WordPress or Squarespace can make it relatively simple.

That's the key: stick to simple.

You might think that a simple webpage is boring, but look at the Entrepreneur page you're reading right now: You don't see a bunch of crazy flash objects or pop-ups. Instead, you see white space. You see images with 3:2 ratios (3 pixels in width for every 2 in height) and black text that's easy to read.

This simple style allows us to create content easily, which keeps us consistent. Entrepreneur doesn't post one article every couple of weeks -- we write and publish new pieces every day, so the site is always fresh when you come to read it. In the same way, you don't want to throw all of your resources into a single page that you'll never be able to update or add to.

You need persistence and perseverance to create an online presence, just like you do to establish your business. But you're only going to make it harder for yourself down the road if you try to do too much at the start.

Plus, be honest with yourself: You probably don't enjoy going to websites that have a million cool features and none of them load on time. According to a 2017 Entrepreneur piece, consumers expect a page to load in two to three seconds. If the page doesn't load quickly enough, many people will abandon the website before they ever see what you have to offer.

This advice goes double if you are selling a product or service on your website. Many entrepreneurs and small businesses like to be able to have an official site, where they can post links on social media or email. If you're going to do this, though, you have to optimize your marketing funnel to effectively move them from being interested in your product to checking out.

Companies lose billions every year from customers who abandon their online shopping carts. They get cold feet at the last second, get distracted, etc. There are a million reasons why this might happen, and you can't control them all. However, you can make the process as simple and fast as possible so your customers have less time to re-think or lose interest.

If you've done all of this, you've got the skeleton of a successful website. Just to recap, here's what you need:

  1. A simple webpage that loads fast.

  2. Content you can create or edit quickly.

  3. Sales funnel that allows customers to check out easily.

  4. Method of getting customer information for your email list.

All of these go together. If you create a webpage that provides an easy experience for users, they are more likely to buy, which makes them more likely to give you the information you need to create a long-term customer and brand advocate. And the good news is that you don't necessarily need to hire an engineer to do it.

Related: 10 Options for Hosting Your Startup Website

2. How to establish your brand on a social media platform

Read this again: Establish your brand on a social media platform, not every social media platform. If you run a small business, are a solopreneur or have a small team who can't hire a social media person, let alone an entire team, it's foolhardy to try to go viral on every platform.

Instead, do some research on where your target audience tends to congregate and focus your efforts there to start. For many businesses, this is Facebook, but it might not be for your business.

Regardless of which platform works best for you, there are a two important characteristics of a successful social presence.

  1. Consistency. You're probably not going to go viral with your first tweet, YouTube video, Facebook post, etc. Even if you do, one post simply is not enough. Social media influencers and powerful brands know that they need to keep making content constantly if they want to stay relevant. Make a schedule for posting -- this will be different, depending on your platform -- and stick to it. Even if you don't see results right away, stick with it. Learn and get better as you go along. You'll grow as a social media user and your audience will grow with you.

  2. Approachability. People want to know that you will listen. If a customer has a complaint, he or she might reach out to you on social media to ask about a solution. The way you react in those moments will define how many of your potential customers see you. So try to make sure you always put your best foot forward -- you never know who might see your post or what kind of following they have.

Related: 4 Reasons to Leverage DIY Website Builders

3. How to develop an email list

Email marketing is still very effective, which is why so many of our contributors swear by it. If you don't have an email list yet, there are several ways to get started. Colin Darretta says he built a million-person email list in a year using eight strategies. Here are four of them:

  1. Incentive sharing through rewards, recognition and gamification. No one will share your email list unless you give them a reason to. By motivating your audience financially to share your list, you can build brand advocates quickly. Darretta cites theSkimm as a great example, where you can gain status, money and prizes for sharing.

  2. Contests and giveaways. Darretta says the key is to use the giveaway to find "new readers who most closely resemble your existing base." Otherwise, you might get a bunch of new customers who won't engage with your business. To do that, use data to pick contest partners.

  3. Content swaps. If you want to get new customers, you need to expose new people to your content. That's why it makes sense to partner with other businesses, posting their content on your newsletter or website in exchange for getting your message on their offering, even if you worry about those businesses poaching your existing email base.

  4. Cross newsletter mentions. You don't have to just publish other businesses' content on your pages if you don't want to. Instead, you could simply partner by promoting or mentioning one another on your respective pages. Being cited as an expert on a related blog or email list can drive conversions.

Another contributor, Matthew Toren, has eight tips you can use to build your list. However you do it, you're going to need to use the same principles we used with our webpage and social media page. Be consistent and keep it simple. That way, you can focus on bringing your audience value and keep them coming back. You can't drive sales with your email list if no one is opening your emails.
Wavy Line
Matthew McCreary

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor, Contributed Content

Matthew McCreary is the associate editor for contributed content at

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