Photos by Hillary Ehlen
As more and more of our personal and professional lives move to digital spaces, figuring out what to focus on and what to ignore can feel a bit like throwing darts blindfolded. Whether you’re the smallest of small businesses or a corporate team, Onsharp has a few pieces of practical advice for establishing — and growing — your company online.
After spending six years in South Fargo’s Multiband Tower, OnSharp made the move to Downtown Fargo with its team of 17 in August of last year.
“We were really excited to get a new space,” says Jacob Dahl, Onsharp’s director of business development. “Everything fit perfectly down here, and it was nice to get a new look. We’ve been growing and expanding quite a bit the last few years, and it’s nice to get in the action of everything.”
1. You need a strong foundation.
Dahl: The way we explain this to people is that your website is like the foundation of your home. If you don’t have a good one, all the other stuff isn’t going to last. You have to make sure it’s solid from the ground up, so that people are easily able to get where they need to go within one or two clicks.
Christiansen: One of the analogies we like to use is this: You can build a beautiful hotel on top of a mountain, but if you don’t have any roads leading to it, what does it matter? That’s where the SEO and digital marketing come in to your foundation. They’re like the safe pathways you would build that drive people to your hotel.
2. Your business may not need an app.
Dahl: While we build quite a few apps for companies, often, we advise against a mobile app project for many businesses. Why? Because in reality, most businesses just need a good, mobile-responsive site. When you’re talking about app development, there are a couple barriers to consider:
Usability – How many people are actually going to download an app if they’ve never heard of it or have no experience with it? Unless you have something you can specifically offer that meets a need you customers would benefit from — bill pay, money transfers, online shopping — people are going to go to your website to find the information they’re looking for, instead of an app.
Cost – An app is an investment. Do you really want to invest a ton of money into something that may not be necessary for your business to have in the first place? Probably not.
Christiansen: A lot of people are under the impression that once you create an app, people are just going to download and pay for it. Let’s be real: People are pretty selective about the apps they keep on their phones, and most people don’t pay to use one unless it can meet a specific need.
3. If an app makes sense for your business, it can be used in more ways than you may realize.
Dahl: A mobile app doesn’t always have to focus on your customers. In fact, we’ve had success building apps for many companies to use internally. From collecting time reports to processing invoice and more, you’d be surprised at how many efficiencies can be created for your company’s operation.
4. Digital marketing isn’t just for banner ads.
Dahl: A lot of people are under the impression that digital marketing is something you just throw money at.
A lot of times, they think of paying for banner ads and Google AdWords, but in reality, you don’t always have to pay to get the rankings you’re looking for. There’s no magic way to do this; it takes diligence. SEO only works if you maintain content on your site, post blogs regularly, and share links to your website from your social accounts and anywhere else that makes sense for your business.
5. Don’t become static.
Dahl: You have to think of your website like Windows on your computer. How often do you get a notification that you need to update? Every couple of weeks?
Your website is really the same thing, but you don’t get a notification when it’s time to make changes. If you haven’t done anything to your site in 2-5 years, you’re opening yourself up to a lot of problems. From Google ignoring your content because it’s old to visitors being turned off by outdated styles and imagery, you want to make sure you stay on top of keeping your website looking and functioning well.
6. Don’t fall behind in the digital arms race.
Christiansen: Many business owners in this area have been building their businesses over the past 20, 30, 40 years without really having to invest in their online presence. In this day and age, what once was their storefront is actually their website. And if they’re not taking care of it, it’s going to be a direct reflection on their business.
You may abe the best plumber or electrician, but if your website is terrible, that’s the first thing a customer sees. And we know how important first impressions are.
Dahl: I always use Sanford as an example. Look at how much money they invest in their online presence and marketing materials. If one of us gets hurt, guess where we’re probably going to go? Sanford, regardless of all that stuff. They do it intentionally to stay top-of-mind, and that’s what business owners need to realize: Just because business is good today doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on your online presence all the time.
Once you fall behind, it’s tough — if not too late — to catch up.
630 1st Ave. N #5, Fargo