The internet is a vast store of information and data. It is an incredibly useful business resource which can save you time and money.
The briefing covers:
- What you can find online.
- How the internet can save you money.
- Online networking.
- Researching competitors and using search engines.
1 Finding people and businesses
The internet can help you forge useful new contacts with individuals and businesses.
1.1 Your business can use social networking media.
1.2 Social media makes it easy to connect with new people.
- They can help with recruitment by providing word-of-mouth recommendations.
- For instance, you can send a message to your contacts explaining that you are recruiting for a particular role.
Your contacts can pass your request on to their networks in order to try and find someone suitable.
- You can also create a network of customers or employees.
For example, Facebook allows you to set up a page for your business which people can 'Like' to stay in touch with your company.
- Avoid the temptation to use your network to openly advertise your business.
This is often frowned upon.
1.3 There are many ways to recruit new staff online.
2 Purchasing online
The internet makes it easy to compare prices for different items and place orders.
2.1 When you know exactly what you need, you can use comparison sites to check prices at multiple retailers quickly.
2.2 The internet is the ideal place to track down unusual or niche items.
- A simple search of what you are looking for often turns up a small retailer who can help.
- When dealing with an unknown supplier for the first time, search online for opinions of their business.
- Online auction sites like eBay are good sources of one-off and specialist items.
2.3 A great way to make informed decisions when purchasing items for your business is to track down online reviews.
- You can search online for reviews.
For instance, to find a review of a printer, just type 'review of [printer model]' into a search engine.
- Amazon has thousands of reviews written by customers for products it sells.
Ciao! is another useful site for user-written reviews.
- For reviews written by professional reviews, Which? is a good place to start.
You have to pay around £10 per month for full access.
- Reviews may also be available on the websites of relevant magazines.
For instance, for laptop reviews, try computer magazine websites.
2.4 You can purchase business travel quickly and easily online too.
- To find good value flights, search aggregator sites like Kayak and Skyscanner.
These sites do not sell flights, but search websites which do in order to find the most competitive prices.
- You can often save with a flight and hotel package.
Try Expedia, Opodo, eBookers and Travelocity. Train travel can also be booked online. All UK train company websites sell tickets for the whole network.
3 Join the conversation
The internet enables anyone to publish articles, stories or comments online.
3.1 Blogs forums, and social media sites allow individuals to talk about absolutely anything.
- A blog is like an online diary.
Anyone can create one for free using services like Blogger, WordPress or LiveJournal.
- A forum is an online discussion area.
Most forums allow anyone to sign up and join the conversation.
- Social media (see 1.1) are usually free to sign up to and enable you to monitor and join conversations as they are happening.
3.2 There are almost certainly forums and blogs relevant to your specific industry.
- To find forums, use a standard search engine.
For instance, to find a plumbing forum, you could type 'plumbing forum' into Google.
- Many discussions take place in discussion groups.
You may have to join these in order to take part. Try Searching Yahoo! Groups or Google Groups.
- You can use blog search engines like Technorati and Google Blog Search to find relevant blogs.
3.3 You can monitor blogs and most social media platforms for mentions of particular subjects.
- For instance, people may be writing about good or bad experiences with your company.
- You may want to check for mentions of your main competitors.
- allows you to set up saved searches.
- You can also use to set up a saved search for mentions of your company in the news.
- These services will email you each time a new item appears containing the term you entered. Using Twitter search (http://search.twitter.com) enables you to search Twitter for relevant terms in 'real time'.
3.4 Do not be afraid to take part in online discussions.
The internet is full of information which could be valuable to your business.
4.1 It is easy to find out about your competitors online.
- Check your main competitor's websites regularly.
Remember to sign up to any newsletter they offer.
- Search blogs, forumsand social media to see if they are mentioned (see 3.3).
- Careful searching may allow you to identify some of a competitor's clients.
You could then get your sales team to target them with special deals.
- Sites like Alexa will give you indicative traffic levels for a competitor's website.
For example, you can see if their site gets more visitors than yours.
- For more in-depth information about visitors to a competing site, you could consider purchasing data from a company like Hitwise.
4.2 You can get information about other businesses like new clients or prospective partners.
- Online credit checking services like Experian and Equifax allow you to assess the creditworthiness of potential customers.
- The Companies House database is online and fully searchable with details of company directors and accounts.
4.3 There is a wealth of legal and regulatory information available online.
4.4 Organisations and businesses often make research findings available free of charge.
This can help you take advantage of economic or industry changes.
Government information sites
Directgov is the main government information resource.
- B allows you to view tax information and file returns online.
5 For your website
There are lots of online resources that can help improve your own website.
5.1 Find pictures in online image libraries.
- You can find free photography on stock.xchng and Flickr.
Not all images on these sites are available for free use, so always check the terms for each photo carefully.
- iStockphoto (www.istockphoto.com) and Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com) make millions of images available at a low cost.
They have powerful search functions to help you locate the shot you need.
5.2 Republish content from other sites.
5.3 Get search engine optimisation data.
- Sites like Keyword Discovery and WordTracker can show you what people type into search engines.
- You can then optimise your own website for the most common terms.
6 Using search engines
Search engines are the main way people find information online.
6.1 There are some basic search operators which can produce a more specific set of results.
6.2 Use the advanced search.
- Most search engines offer an 'advanced search' page. These will allow you to narrow your results further. For instance, you can search only a specific websites, or websites located in a particular country.