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Continuing our Business Development Series of articles, the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) posed another set of questions to their membership. The question posed discusses the first step(s) in building an online presence. As always, the answers provided can be applied by any business owner or entrepreneur seeking expert advice.The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Where should a company start when taking their first step in building a successful presence online?

1. Ask Yourself Three Questions

Before building your online presence for the first time, ask three questions: “Who am I trying to attract?” (B2B? B2C? Government?); “Why will they be coming to my site?” (Pricing information? Product demos? Expert info?); and “What is my company uniquely qualified to offer?” (Compliance advice? Expert recommendations?) Once you’ve nailed these questions, you’re ready to build a great destination.

2. Use Google My Business

Get an incredibly powerful online presence quickly and easily with Google My Business. As they say: “Google My Business connects you directly with customers, whether they’re looking for you on Search, Maps or Google+.” Best of all, it’s free. So before spending a lot of time and money building a fancy website, do this first and you’ll have a powerful presence right away.

3. Know Your Customer

You need to know everything about your customer and what they want online. Then determine what you need to be where they are. If they are all networking at conferences, be there. If it’s online, start blogging a lot more. Pay attention to analytics. I also like being old fashioned and calling people on the phone to find out what they are passionate about.

4. Think About How You Can Become a Resource

Entrepreneurs today understand that a transaction online is typically the by-product of offering useful information to the Internet user. You want to be a resource. You want pages that people will bookmark so they can come back later and use it as a reference. Don’t plan for a first-visit transaction online; plan on a third-visit transaction, which is the essence of organic optimization.

5. Start With Your Blog First

Often businesses make the mistake of focusing too much on social. In my opinion, you should start first at your website and treat it as a central hub that feeds content to your social media communities. Build your central platform before focusing on third-party platforms.

6. Keep Branding Consistent

Focus first and foremost on the message you want to send online to potential and existing clients. Develop your brand to be clear and consistent across all your Internet platforms.

7. Define Your Key Objectives

Many companies make the mistake of building a presence online just because “it’s the thing to do.” Instead, start by defining your key objectives: Are you trying to attract new customers, keep existing ones, or move potential customers closer to a sale? Are you trying to attract talent or raise money? Questions like this lay the foundation of a well-thought-out strategic plan.

8. Host a Video Channel

There are many different ways to interact and engage with your audience, but video channels are unique as they are more engaging and less common. Creating a video channel on YouTube or a video blog on your site will help you build a strong community.

9. Create a Responsive, Mobile-Ready Website

A modern website is a given for any startup to look good online. However, it’s important to create a website with a responsive design that automatically renders your product on any device regardless of its screen size and resolution, projecting a slick, ultra-modern perception of your product or service to all your online prospects. Combine this with retina-ready visuals and you’re all set.

10. Have a Personality

You have a company, a brand, and a mission, but do you have a personality? When building your online presence, give your brand a personality! Going online, it’s easy to be very corporate. Don’t forget that there are humans behind that online presence. Your company needs to act human and interact, give back, be useful and so on. If you do that, your online brand will be strong from the start.

11. Select a High Converting Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is an incentive of some kind that you offer in return for a prospective customer parting with his or her contact information, or in some cases making a purchase. In my opinion, more leads are lost than won by prioritizing other less important factors such as SEO and PPC when starting out online. Building your web presence needs to start with a powerful lead magnet that wins business.

12. Identify Your Target Market

You can’t please everyone. Identify EXACTLY who is listening and speak to them in a way that will allow them to listen and not just hear you. The exact target market may not be the market you thought it was. Identify it, speak to it, and evolve with it as your business grows. Taking a shotgun approach is a quick way to waste your time and money.

13. Build Your Identity

Don’t scrap together a site just to have one. If you build your website before you’ve fleshed out your brand identity, you’ll never feel that it properly represents your business. Define your core values and tenets before launching your site. Think about how to craft your content and graphics to match your customer profile. (What’s the right tone and personality?) Invest in knowing who you are.

14. Brand, Brand, Brand

Start with branding. Don’t hire a crowdfunded group or you’ll get what you pay for. Find a trusted resource that others have put their companies’ trust in. Branding is your most important asset. It allows others to see what you visually ‘look like’ and will instill confidence when executed correctly.