How startups can bridge the gap between online and offline

It’s 2018 and you know that you need a website (don’t you?). In fact, you may have bought into the virtual world so thoroughly that you’re missing old-fashioned analog opportunities.

If your business operates 100% online and you’re selling products through an e-retailer such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy, or you’re a freelancer or consultant serving clients all over the world, then it’s obvious that you need a digital presence. Customers or clients need to be able to recognize your brand and engage with it in a consistent way no matter what platform they find you on. However, connecting with local professionals, businesses, services and sales avenues could unlock additional opportunities for you. Consider the value of building connections and networking in real life to discover benefits that you didn’t know you needed and explore the possibilities of creative partnerships.

If you’re a local startup, you need both online and offline strategies to connect with customers or clients, build your network, attract attention and grow your brand. Optimizing digital channels for local search can help customers find you in real life, so don’t ignore your online presence, but don’t forget the offline experience either.

Online, you need to get a website. Even if you don’t sell goods or services online, people will Google you for information such as your location, your hours, and more detail about who you are and what you offer. You should have, at a minimum, an informational page at a custom URL that covers these basic details, and a reserved username on every major social media channel for that same business name/brand with a completed profile that points visitors back at your website. Don’t forget that Google is more than a search engine. Go into Google Maps and search for your business. Add it if it’s not there already, and claim the business profile. Now you can link it back to your website and input things such as photos, hours and contact information. You should also look into the best practices on measuring social impact as well to have a well rounded strategy.

Customers will search on a computer or mobile device to find you, get in contact with you, or research you. Make sure that you’re easy to find by understanding and owning your online presence, or a savvier competitor will sweep them away before they ever set foot in the door.

However, your website and social media profiles can’t do all the heavy lifting, and you can’t rely on every customer being familiar with the information that you’ve shared online. To provide a good in-person experience, you need many of the same things, but in a different format. You need to be easy to find, with a recognizable branded presence, so choose a distinctive name and a location with as much natural visibility as you can get. Make your signage clear and attractive, with clearly marked hours.

Signage is a great way to enhance the offline experience across several metrics. It serves a locational purpose, ideally making you easy to spot from a distance and navigate to. Consider different ways that people might approach you, much like how you have a website, a Google maps profile, and different social media profiles online, so that people can find you no matter what direction they come from. A large sign over the doorway is good for people driving some distance away but can be easy to miss for pedestrians. A sign in the window or door at head height is better but also easy to miss. Consider a sandwich-board-type sign that stands out and grabs attention.

This also leads into another function of good signage: news and special offers. You might share a promotion on the homepage of your website, or in a social media post. In real life, you need to make reasons to buy clear to customers at a glance, to draw them in and encourage them to engage. Chalkboards are a great way to update and change your offers, convey a sense of your brand’s character, and catch customers’ attention. The official VersaChalk brand offers liquid chalk markers for better control and design without losing the ability to erase and start fresh tomorrow, if need be.

Pin boards or digital display boards also offer versatility, but with somewhat less charm. You can also print signs and put them up around the store or in the window, but be careful not to clutter the space, and consider the environmental impact before going down this route.

Many of the same principles of publicity, marketing and branding apply online and offline, but the methods, avenues and styles of achieving the same goals vary depending on the channel or format. Maintain your brand, make it easy for your customers to find you, and communicate effectively with them via your website and social media, and via appropriate signage in and around your storefront.