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Expanding from your region, online

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For regional businesses, getting your business online could open you up to an audience that never even knew you existed. That’s the importance of having a website that caters to what your audience wants.

Simon van Wyck, founder of HotHouse and managing director of OurPatch, a platform of community websites, explains that it’s crucial for regional businesses to be online.

“The first bit of advice I’d give is that [businesses] do need to be online in some way because so much activity now is online, regardless of where the people are, whether they’re in capital cities or in country towns,” he says.

He also says you need to work out what’s relevant to people who will potentially use your business.

“Think about what your users really want from your business,” he says. “If you’re a restaurant, for example, all they really need to know is who you are, where you are and what’s on your menu. You don’t have to over engineer some of these things or have to do too much. You just have to make sure you give some thought to what your customers might need and you give it to them.”

Getting to know the region began two years ago and now has about 300,000 business listings and almost 15,000 community groups.

“We recognised that rural and regional Australia had largely been ignored by the traditional publishers, by the television stations and by most local radio apart from the ABC,” he explains. “And we saw a need for a range of Internet services for rural and regional Australia and that was really the starting point for us.”

Van Wyck says they’re trying to be a “civic centre for the internet age”.

“If you look at what’s in a civic centre, there’s business news and information, community group news and information, local discussion and local events and so that’s what we’re trying to deliver to rural and regional country towns,” he says. “We’ve currently got about nearly 200 patches across rural and regional Australia. Most larger country towns have one now.” 

Region by region – like patchwork

A patch is dedicated to a particular city or town. So, for example, there’s an Orange patch, a Townsville patch and a Tamworth patch. The point is that if someone wants to find a business in a specific area, they can.

“Basically what we’ve done is build these discreet patches for each town,” he says. “So, in a patch for Dubbo, you’ll get all the Dubbo businesses, Dubbo community groups, Dubbo events, Dubbo news, Dubbo discussion and that’s the model that we’re rolling out nationally.”

The ultimate goal of the website is to “build vibrant communities around country towns and regions in Australia”.  

Regional relevancy is key

Van Wyck says regional businesses understand it’s important to be online and that it’s going to help their business, but they need help to do it – “it needs to be easy”.

There has been much said about the benefits of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and how it can help businesses when it comes to marketing. Van Wyck believes that while there are opportunities with these applications, it’s not critical for any business.

“You’ve just got to work out what you’re trying to do online, and then find the easiest way to do it,” he advises.

A lot of businesses spend time and money on social media – “I don't think there’s a one-size-fits [strategy] all and I’m not sure that everyone needs Facebook and Twitter”.

Regional businesses should think about what is relevant to their customers and go with that.

“Are you trying to attract new customers? Well, if that’s what you’re trying to do, then I’m not sure things like Twitter help. If you want another way of servicing your customers online, well then Twitter is probably a good way to do that.”  

At a glance – three tips to boost your business online

  1. If you don't have a website already, consider setting one up. It can expose your business to many people regionally, nationally and even globally.
  2. If you set up a website, ensure it is easy to navigate. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
  3. Work out what your customer wants and deliver it to them on your website.

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Published on: Thursday, December 16, 2010

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