How Procrastinating About Your Internet Presence Hurts Your Local Business

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How Procrastinating About Your Internet Presence  Hurts Your Local Business

“That sounds wonderful!” the lady was saying between bites of birthday cake. Mandy had just seen her eyes light up as she’d described her local business. “Where are you located?” When Mandy told her the lady said, “Oh, I go by there all the time! I’ve never gone in, though. Do you have a website so I can see what you have?”

“We have a Facebook page,” Mandy replied as she handed the lady a business card and tried to hide her frustration. “You walk by all the time and would never come in?” she thought. “Did you not see the exact item we were just talking about in my window? Why do you need to see it online? Just come in the store already!”

She never heard from the woman again.


How Much Online Presence Is “Enough”?

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How Much Online Presence Is “Enough”?

OK, you’ve seen the statistics (and you don’t live under a rock) so you know that your local business needs some kind of online presence. Maybe you already have a website or a Facebook page, or an Etsy store.

But is it enough?

And how, exactly, do you know what “enough” is online? How do you discover that “sweet spot” that is the intersection of your available time/money/interest and the amount of new customers and revenue your efforts generate?

It may be tempting to say that the answer is going to be different for each business, but in reality it’s not. Here’s why:


This is what it’s like for your potential customers as they walk down the street with their noses glued to their smartphones. (No, not because they can’t see where they’re walking.) This image is a good metaphor for the typical online experience.

Maybe they start on their Facebook feed. They click a link on a post from a friend and wind up on a website. They see a link there that they follow. A notification comes in that someone has tweeted or messaged them, so they swipe over to that. Someone brings up that cool store two blocks away that just might have the widget they’ve been looking for, but they can’t remember the name so Google doesn’t really help. It’s too far to walk on a whim so they don’t bother… and that business loses a sale it would have easily gotten if it had been under the nose of someone 2 blocks away.

You Cannot Have Too Much Online Presence

So how much of an internet presence is “enough?” CAN there ever be enough? The store in question with the cool widget probably had a Facebook page. Maybe even a dedicated website. But neither of those were under the nose of the person who was most likely to come and make a purchase at that moment.

If you look at the image of the maze above and imagine you were trying to guide the people to the gazebo in the center, how would you do it? You can’t tell which path they might take trying to get there. So the best way to guide them would be to put signs in as many places as possible telling them which way to go.

The same is true online. The more places your business can be found the more likely it is that potential customers will find you. Not only is that like being at multiple corners of the maze where they can stumble across you without actively trying, every place you establish a presence online increases your potential to appear in search results when they are actively looking for you or something you offer.


Where Should My Business Be Online?

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
Where Should My Business Be Online?

In our last article we showed why you can never be in too many places online. Which sounds great, in theory.

But in reality you’re a busy business owner. Bigger companies often have employees whose entire job is to manage their online presence. Mostly likely, you don’t.

Before you start feeling overwhelmed, let’s take a step back. Sure it would be nice to have the resources to be EVERYWHERE online. But it’s not necessary to be effective. The important thing is figuring out how many places you do have the resources to engage in, and then which of those give you the biggest impact.

Counting The Cost

Probably the biggest bang for your buck (because they’re free) will be social media. You should undoubtedly have as many social media profiles as you can manage. Mostly, these will serve to strengthen your relationship with existing customers. But you may see some new faces from among the friends and contacts of those customers.

Pro Tip #1: Once you put in the work of setting up profiles, you can use the same content across several platforms. Use a service like Buffer (which has a free option that will work well for most small business owners) to post everywhere simultaneously.

Pro Tip #2: Try to say something every day, but don’t make it harder than it has to be. If you get a new product, post about it. Rearrange your shelves? Take a picture and share it. Something funny, exciting or interesting happen in your store? Share the story. Nothing going on? Take a picture of a product and post it along with a story about why you love it. The key is to fold quick posts seamlessly into your every day.

Pro Tip #3: Stories, Stories, Stories. Be on the lookout for stories to share, especially ones with emotional impact. See an employee doing something above-and-beyond for a customer? Share the story. If an employee does something unique in their personal life (and gives permission) share the story. The same with your customers and vendors. Always be on the lookout for stories to share.

If you’re looking to expand your customer base (and who isn’t?) you’ll want to look beyond posting to social media. And if you have products to sell, you want to get as many of them available for purchase (in as many places as possible) online.

If you’re a service business you’ll want to do the same – there are many online services that allow people to book things like hair appointments, spa treatments, and all other manner of service. Use them.

For the retail businesses, don’t let the idea of shipping online orders scare you – we’ll be showing you how to do it quickly, easily, and cheaply in a future article. For now though, realize that every product you list, and every site you list it on, is a unique opportunity for a new potential customer to stumble across your business.

How To Show Up In Search Results Of Potential Local Customers

Shoppers are much more likely to be searching for a particular item than for a store that might sell that item. That’s how search works.  Meanwhile, search engines know where the searcher is physically located. They’re looking for results that will be meaningful to that shopper, so they’ll want to put your listings at the top of her results if she’s close to your location. But they will only do this if they know you carry the product she’s searching for. This is why the more places search engines find your product listed, the more relevant they think you are to that search and the more likely they are to list you first when local shoppers are looking for items you sell.

And as we’ll also see in a future article, this is just one way selling your products online leads to more live customers coming through your physical door.

Next, lets take a look at your options for listing your products for sale online and see how to determine how many of them you can manage.


Choosing Where To List Products

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
Choosing Where To List Products

As we discussed last article, listing products for sale in as many places online as possible will help bring new customers in your door. Plus, you’ll add a stream of income that could help your business weather upcoming storms.

Your options when listing products for sale online are slightly more daunting than choosing social media platforms. Because here, you’re much more likely to have to invest time and money to make it happen. This is going to take a bit more focus as you determine which avenues are beneficial and worth the investment. But as we said before, the upshot is you want to be listed on as many platforms as you can manage, both financially and time-wise.

Your options include:

  • Your own website. Offering your products for sale on your own domain ( seems like the logical place to start. And indeed, this is the one place you’re 100% in charge of the message and branding, so that’s a plus. The negatives, however, can be pretty steep. Mainly, ecommerce software (a “shopping cart” system so that people can check out and make the purchase on your site) can run you a few thousand dollars. Also, it’s going to take a lot of effort to get shoppers to your page.

    In many ways, your website is the internet equivalent of locating your physical store on the outskirts of town, all alone on a country road. Sure, you can get people to come there but it’s going to take some doing. Does that mean it’s not worth it? Of course not. If you have the money for ecommerce software, you should definitely take advantage of the one place where you can completely control your message. Just don’t expect that to be the end of your internet strategy.

  • Webstore Services. Places like Shopify or Squarespace allow you to build a webstore without spending big money up front for ecommerce software. Here, you’ll spend anywhere from $30 – $100 per month to DIY your webstore. Rather than having complete freedom (and needing a web designer) over the look, you’re able to customize pre-exiting templates. Learning the system and creating your page can sometimes be time consuming. Still, this is a much more affordable option for businesses who don’t have $2,000 – $5,000 just laying around.
  • Portal Sites. A portal site is a single website that brings together multiple sellers and businesses. These include places like Amazon, Etsy, even Ebay. (And of course, ShopOnMain). The main advantage to listing your products on these sites is that shoppers go there to shop – you’re not interrupting them or trying to lure them to you. They’re already there, looking to buy something. So it seems like a no-brainer that you’d want your stuff on as many of these platforms as possible.

    However, there are a few downsides to portals. Most have a monthly fee you have to pay whether you sell items or not. All have some sort of transaction fee on each purchase to cover the cost of encryption and other transaction-security measures. (So you don’t have to worry about your customer’s data being stolen.) Of course, even if you’re taking orders on your own website someone is going to charge you a fee to process each transaction.

    Each site varies on how much branding they’ll allow you to do. Amazon, for example, doesn’t always make it clear who a shopper is purchasing from, and doesn’t allow you to place items or information in the box to try and get repeat business, either. (Of course, since they’re currently the “top dog” many merchants use them anyway just for the extra stream of income. More sales – even if you can’t make them repeat sales – is often well worth it.)

    Our recommendation is to list your inventory on as many of these sites as you can afford. It can be time consuming, yes. However, once you get everything up on one site you can often export your inventory list and upload everything at once to other sites.

As mentioned before, the more products you list and the more places you list them, the more likely a brand new potential customer is to discover you when they’re in the market for something you sell. And this will lead to new feet in your door.

How does that work? Find out in our next article…


How Online Sales Get New Feet In Your Door

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How Online Sales Get New Feet In Your Door

In the previous two articles, we’ve touched on some ways that selling your products online leads to new customers in your store. But here we want to break it down a little more.

Local Customers Use Search

Research from 2014 found that 80% of consumers use search engines to find local products and services. That number isn’t likely to have gone down in the last 2 years. In fact, Forrester Research says that 56% of all purchases made in local businesses have been influenced by some online research. That number is expected to hit 60% in the next 2-4 years.

The bottom line is, today’s consumers are simply less likely to ever walk in your front door unless they can check you out online first.

But how do they check you out if they don’t yet know you exist?

local-businessThey’re not going to know to search for your business by name, and people in general don’t search for “local store selling __”. Instead, they type the product or service they’re looking for in the search and go from there. And as we discussed in the previous article, the only way your name will pop up in this search is if you have that product for sale somewhere online. Because Google hasn’t yet figured out how to index your offline inventory.

The good news is that once they do discover you via search, 87% will call or visit within 24 hours.

So the number one way selling products online brings new feet through your door is by allowing you to show up when local customers are searching for what you sell.

Online Customers Become Offline Shoppers

Let’s say you have a store through Etsy or ShopOnMain, and you’re making sales. Every order you ship out is an opportunity to brand your business and attract shoppers to your location.

Even if the order is going halfway across the country it has the potential to add to your local business.

  • The shopper may be familiar with your area and have friends or family that live in or visit your town.
  • The shopper could potentially visit your town herself. This is more likely with a location-based platform like ShopOnMain that highlights your location and attracts people interested in your town, but it’s also possible on any online sales platform.
  • More likely, if you provide good service the shopper will leave a positive review about your business and increase your online reputation. This is another thing search engines take into consideration when someone 2 blocks away searches for something you sell.
  • If the shopper is anywhere near you they are exponentially more likely to visit your store after establishing a relationship with you.

If it’s allowed by the platform on which you made the sale, be sure you include branding material in every order you ship out. Include information about your business and what makes you unique (tell your story!) and what else you offer that the customer might be interested in.

If you get her contact information, be sure and send her follow-up emails with information she’ll find interesting about her new product. After several information-only emails you can ask her to come back and potentially buy again.

Overcoming Resistance To The Visit

As a business owner, your life is busy. You work long hours and try to pack a lot into each day.

Your potential customers are busy, too. One thing that younger people especially (who grew up with internet access) do to better manage their time is see what a store has for sale right now before going in.

In other words, Sarah wants to buy a pair of jeans and she’s noticed a boutique on her way to work that may have some she’d like. A decade ago, Sarah would just go into the store after work and see what was on the racks. Today, she won’t do that. Now she’ll only go inside if she can access the store online and see that they have a style and size she might want to buy currently in stock. She’s not willing to risk disappointment or the possibility of pushy sales people when her time is tight. Plus, in her mind any store that doesn’t know how to use technology is suspect to begin with.

A growing number of people will literally walk past your store every single day for months and never go inside, just because they can’t check it out online beforehand. And they’re not just checking your inventory – they’re seeing what others are saying about you.


The bottom line is simple: selling products online brings more feet through your door. Are you taking advantage of this fact?



Can Being Online Hurt My Business?

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
Can Being Online Hurt My Business?

So up till now we’ve discussed the ways in which being online can help grow your local business. We’ve seen why you should be online, how much online presence is “enough,” and shown how selling your products online will lead to new feet through your door.

But we know your business is like your baby, and most business owners are very protective of what they’ve built. Which may cause some to fear the exposure being online can bring, and to resist using the internet to grow their business all together.

So let’s take an honest look at the potential negative side to your online presence.

You Can’t Control Things Once They’re Out There

If you share a post to social media, or even if you upload images to your own website, those things are now in the public sphere. You can’t control what will be said about them or how they will be shared.

This may seem a bit scary, and in fact it is true that occasionally people get offended by things they see businesses share and say negative things about that business. However, this is the case with any advertising or promotion you do for your business, online or off.

Most people, however, understand that there are some bitter people in the world who say bad things just to cause trouble. When you realize this, every negative comment becomes an opportunity. Because it’s not the original negativity that hurts businesses, it’s how those businesses react.

But the truth is, businesses all over the world build their online presence on a daily basis, and only rarely does this lead to trouble for the business. When it does, it’s almost always because of how the businesses react to negativity rather than the negativity itself.

Online Reviews Have An Impact

Some business owners are hesitant to be online due to the possibility of negative reviews. After all, you can’t please everyone and every business is going to have a dissatisfied customer at some point. If that person takes to the internet to complain, you’re toast, right?

No. Not at all.

Just like negative comments on your posts, how you react to a negative review determines its effect on your business. In fact, in many cases a negative review that is answered honestly and helpfully can boost business more than just a straight positive review. Because it shows people you’re real and willing to help when the inevitable problem arises.

Case in point: New Years Eve, 2015 was a traumatic night at Kilroy’s Bar N’ Grill in Indianapolis. One of the patrons that night left the following review:


Is this the kind of thing that makes you break out into a cold sweat? It has the potential to destroy a business, right? Well, if Kilroy’s had ignored it, perhaps. Instead, the manager posted the following reply:


Normally, you’d think telling off a customer is a bad thing, right? But in this case the customer was so clearly over the top and wrong, that the reply had a galvanizing effect. The post went viral, and people all over the country began expressing support for Kilroy’s. Media picked up the story, and business shot up. This negative review became the best advertising Kilroy’s could ever have asked for.

You’re Getting Reviews And Being Discussed Whether You’re Participating Or Not

The main thing to realize is that whether or not you choose to participate in the conversation, you’re being discussed online somewhere. Sites like Yelp or other local review sites don’t need your permission to display reviews by your customers. And patrons are free to discuss their experiences in your store on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site.

Case in point: In 2008, Dave Carroll was flying United Airlines with his band. He’d checked his guitar – a Taylor worth $3,500. When he claimed his luggage at his destination, he discovered his guitar had been severely damaged. Repeated attempts at compensation or redress with United were rebuffed and ignored. So Carrol wrote a song called, “United Breaks Guitars” and posted it to YouTube.

The song became an instant viral hit, and United stock fell by 10%. Why? Because the company thought it could ignore Carroll and his social media post. If they’d been on top of things and immediately made the situation right they could have turned the story positive, perhaps like Killroy’s bar did this January. (Of course, it can be argued that once you ignore and rebuff a customer complaint for 9 solid months the genie is out of the bottle.)

The Bottom Line

While there may be a slight possibility that your online presence could hurt your business in some way, those risks are easily mitigated by simply paying attention and treating online complaints just like you would in-store ones: Handle them quickly and show the world what your customer service is made of.

Avoiding being online because you’re afraid you’ll generate negative reviews is only burying your head in the sand. Reviews are out there. Occasionally one will be negative. Would you rather let it stand, or actively engage and give yourself the opportunity to display your great customer service to the world?


How Stories Build Your Business

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How Stories Build Your Business

The internet has been accused of destroying local business through relentless commoditization and ever-lower pricing pressure. You may even cringe when a customer walks into your store and pulls out a smartphone, knowing that they’re looking for a better deal on what you offer.

If you ever get a chance to talk to those shoppers, however, you may have discovered that it’s possible to convince them to buy here and now rather than saving perhaps a few pennies. How?

By telling them a story.

Stories-ruleWant proof? Consider this: One of the most commoditized products in America is the egg. After all, eggs are eggs. Sure there are brown eggs vs. white ones and they may even have a different flavor. But for the most part when you’re buying eggs you’re looking for the size you want and the lowest price.

Unless you’ve heard about the way hens are treated at many commercial farms. It’s a bleak existence, packed into tiny cages, sitting in their own filth with no room to stand, much less turn around. Often inside a huge warehouse-like barn where they live their entire lives without ever seeing the sun, smelling fresh air or feeling grass.

What’s It Worth To Feel Better About Your Purchase?

If this bothers you, now imagine that on your next trip to the supermarket or even local farmer’s market, you’re introduced to a business called “Happy Eggs.” (I just made that up, so if that is the name of a real business I apologize!) Happy Eggs come from a free-range farm, where the hens are allowed to roam in a real chicken yard, they’re fed high quality food, and you see pictures of the owners and employees kids playing with and petting them.

Happy hens producing Happy Eggs. Now the question becomes, how much more would you be willing to pay for these eggs over the sad, caged, commoditized eggs?

That is how stories insulate your business from the commoditization of the internet. And the local marketplace, for that matter.

People want to shop with people they can be proud to support. People who share their values, or have cool personalities, or entertain them in some way. Conservatives love to eat at Chick-Fil-A because of their family values, while progressives are flocking to Target because of their policies on equality. No matter which side of those issues you come down on, there’s a list of stores that agree with you.

Stories Attract Your Tribe

When you tell stories about your business and about your products, you attract the kind of people you’ll most enjoy doing business with. Chick-Fil-A isn’t too upset that LGBT rights supporters don’t eat there, and Target isn’t particularly sorry that people who want to enforce strict gender roles aren’t shopping in their stores. Rather, both businesses are enjoying growing their businesses with like-minded customers.

Of course, those are just examples from recent news – your business and your story doesn’t have to be political at all.

For example, one of the businesses on ShopOnMain recently shared the following story to the owner’s personal Facebook page:


Now be honest – if you lived in her area, wouldn’t you love to take your kids to her for their haircuts? We heard her story and encouraged her to post it on her business page, and we shared it on ShopOnMain’s social media. Because it’s a great example of who she is as a person and how her business is run.

YOU Make Your Business More Valuable

And it’s a great example of how stories can build your business. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that in the age of internet comparison-shopping, stories may be the ONLY way to build your business. Someone else is always going to have a lower price on a similar item – even if it’s something you make yourself, someone out there makes something similar.

But nobody else is YOU. No other business is YOUR business. And when people find out just what makes you unique and special, they want to do business with you. And often, they’re willing to pay just a little bit more for it.


If you have a story about your business, share it to social media with the hashtag #MainStreetStories and we’ll share it to our accounts as well! Let’s tell America why Main Street is worth shopping on!


How To Tell Stories About Your Business

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How To Tell Stories About Your Business

Stories grow your business, and give you a way to compete against lower prices. But you may be wondering, how do I tell stories? I’m not a writer, or a good storyteller. How can I use stories in my business?

First of all, we’re sure you tell stories every day. Whether it’s to customers, friends or family members everyone relates things that happen to them or things they see on a daily basis.

If you think about it you can probably come up with a recent example of a story you told someone. Maybe it was about something the cashier said to you when you bought your groceries, something your kids or pets did… See? You told that story.

Now think about what made you want to share that story? Most likely it was because the situation evoked some kind of emotion in you. It made you laugh, made you angry, made you happy. Maybe it was just sharing a new fact you learned, in which case you shared the emotion of discovery.

People Love Stories Because They Love Sharing Emotion

Even the most reserved among us respond to a good story. There’s just something about the human condition that loves experiencing a shared emotion.

So the first rule of telling stories to build your business is that you’re looking for stories with some emotion. But how much emotion are we talking about? Do you need to wait until someone breaks down crying before you have a story worthy of sharing?

Nope. In fact, you’re much better off with every day stories. The customer who decides to pay for someone else’s order just to be nice. The employee who worked extra hard at school and still gives great customer service. Anything that makes you smile, feel good, frown, feel angry, chuckle or sniffle is a story you need to be telling about your business.

Example: Humans of New York

Brandon Stanton moved to New York in 2010 to be a photographer. As he was trying to get attention for his work, he began snapping images of people he saw on the street. Frustrated with the difficulties of breaking into the business in such a competitive market, he began sharing his images to a Facebook page he created titled, “Humans of New York.”

According to the HONY website, Stanton says, “Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I’d include quotes and short stories from their lives.”

Sometimes the story he shares is a single sentence. Sometimes it’s longer. But those stories have led to 17.5 Million followers, a bestselling book and a very valuable brand.

We highly suggest you follow HONY on Facebook – you’ll be enriched as a human by reading the stories while you see how easy they are to share.

Meanwhile, take a look at the HONY story in this video:

Now think about the stories all around you every day. How did you start your business? That’s a story. How did you choose it’s name? That’s a story. Why are you in your current location? Another story.

What happened in your business today? Was traffic slow, so you spent your time rearranging the shelves? Guess what? That’s also a story. Snap a picture of the new arrangement and post it to social media.

Tell Stories Every Day – They Add Up Fast!

Today, Brandon Stanton has thousands upon thousands of stories on his website and social media pages. He’s built an empire one story – and one day – at a time.

If you tell one story every day on your social media, even just 5 days a week, you’ll have 20 stories in a month. You’ll soon notice that your content is getting shared a lot more, you’re receiving a lot of new followers. Over the course of a year you could have shared 240 stories. That’s 240 chances for people to emotionally connect with your business.

And every time one of your posts or tweets gets shared, guess what? Your business gains a little more authority and credibility in the search engines. And as we discussed in the very beginning of this series, that will bring new customers through your door. 

And that’s well worth 5 or 10 minutes a day, isn’t it?


If you have a story about your business, share it to social media with the hashtag #MainStreetStories and we’ll share it to our accounts as well! Let’s tell America why Main Street is worth shopping on!


How To Tell Stories About Your Products

by Lisa Packer 0 Comments
How To Tell Stories About Your Products

Julie is the wife of ShopOnMain’s CEO, Joe. She and Joe live in a rural area of Kentucky, and one day she was in a neighboring town to do some shopping.

In one particular store, the owner told Julie she’d recently been in New Orleans on vacation. While she was there, she ate in a restaurant that served the most amazing dip as an appetizer. She said it was so good she asked what was in it. The waitress told her it was made with a local product called Captain Rodney’s Boucan Glaze.

This dip was so amazing, the Kentucky store owner contacted Captain Rodney’s and ordered it for her store. After hearing this story Julie just had to try it. She and Joe also fell in love with the sauce, and they’ve been buying it ever since.

That’s the magic of product stories.

Simple Is Effective

They don’t have to be elaborate, or long or have a ton of details. But if there is anything you find special, noteworthy or interesting about a product your customers will think so too.

Some Ideas For Product Stories:

  • How did you discover this product?
  • What is unique about this product?
  • How is this product made? Is there some aspect of making it that would seem interesting to shoppers? Note – this doesn’t have to be a unique feature, just one that other products don’t talk about. More on that below.
  • What experiences have you, your staff, or your customers had with this product?

What Stories Are Worth Telling?

schlitzIn the early 1900’s, Schlitz Beer was at the bottom of the heap of beer manufacturers. They hired Claude Hopkins (a legend in advertising even then) to turn things around. At the time, all beer companies were basing their advertising on how “pure” their beer was.

Hopkins took a tour of the brewery and discovered the elaborate process involved in purifying beer. The brewery manager told him that everyone brewed beer this way, but that didn’t matter. No other beer company had told the story of the process to consumers.

So Hopkins created a series of ads that simply detailed the process – told the story of HOW Schlitz made it’s beer pure – and ran them. Overnight, Schlitz became the #1 selling beer in America.

So why didn’t the other beer companies tell the story, too? Show that they did the exact same thing as Schlitz? Because it was too late. Schlitz had claimed this story in the public’s mind and anyone else trying to tell it sounded like copycats.

The point is, a story doesn’t have to be unique to your product. It only has to be something that hasn’t been told by another product – or at least not told in such a way that it caught on.

Which leaves you a lot of room to work with.

Where Do You Tell These Stories?

Everywhere you possibly can! But here are some suggestions:

  • In the product descriptions when you list the product for sale online
  • In Facebook and other social media posts
  • On your blog if you have one
  • In emails to customers
  • In face-to-face conversations with customers
  • In signage on your shelves
  • In any advertising you do for your store
  • And anywhere else you can possibly think of!

Stories are how humans connect. The world is starving for stories and connection. If you can begin to tell stories about your business and your products – one short one a day, day in and day out – you’ll build a business that people can’t resist. One that they’ll flock to, support and defend. One they’ll become evangelists for.

In other words, stories are the key to your success in the Internet Age.