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Setting up a digital business presence

'You’ve got to be really comfortable with your website, you’ve got to understand it, you’ve got to know your way around it and you’ve got to have some say.'
Suellen, City Heart Motel

Top tips

  • Understand the importance on an online strategy
  • Know your customers
  • Take control of your website

Where to start

Suellen and Neville had been running City Heart Motel in Warrnambool for about seven years. They had a basic website for their business but weren’t actively involved in running the site. 'Because our background had been institutions—banking and government—we really didn’t know what information was out there on a business level for private business owners,' says Suellen. 'We had felt alone in our business. We didn’t know where to start.'

After seeing a digital course advertised in a Business Victoria newsletter, Suellen didn’t hesitate to sign up. The couple had been thinking about launching a new service-based small business and wanted to learn technology basics. 'I decided that I would apply the [digital] business structure to the motel as a practice run,' she says. 'Once we do start our new business we’ll start fresh.'

What is Decoding Digital? 

It’s essential for every business to have a digital presence. But it can be daunting to know where to begin to roll out an online plan.

The Victorian Government program, Decoding Digital, helps business owners create a digital strategy. It includes the basics of understanding customers’ online needs, website design and analysing what customers are doing online to make better business decisions.  

Suellen Brown and her husband Neville decided to build their digital skills with the simple four-week online course. 

How it works

Digital Decoding is an interactive program run once a week for four weeks. Each week, users log onto an hour-long webinar, on online seminar. Presenters discuss course material in real time and users can enter questions via an on-screen chat box. Users can also join in a live online discussion in another session later each week to review course material.

'As a very small business owner in regional Victoria I was concerned that it might be above my head,” says Suellen, of the program. “But the way it was structured, I felt so comfortable. The information was backed up on the Business Victoria website so I could go to that at a later date.'

Control your digital presence

The course starts by covering the basics of thinking digitally. It shows how to analyse a business and establish what kind of online presence is needed. Importantly, it helps users understand their customers. 

'We had an idea about our demographic but it wasn’t structured,” says Suellen. 'Now we know exactly who we’re aiming at.'

As the course develops, website design and implementation is discussed. 'They really pushed the concept that we needed to be in control, we need to understand what our business is doing,' says Suellen. 'We need to be able to control what’s out there on the digital platform.'

For Suellen and her husband, taking control meant rethinking how they administered their website. Prior to the course, they engaged a website provider to look after their site for a monthly fee. They would email him any content updates. 'We sacked our website provider,' she says. 'Since doing the [course] we have set up a new website, we decided our old one was no good.'

A new digital team administers the site and the couple update and edit the content themselves. 'You’ve got to be really comfortable with your website, you’ve got to understand it, you’ve got to know your way around it and you’ve got to have some say,' says Suellen.  'When we think of an idea we just do it now.'

Using online tools

Users are also shown how to launch and market a business online and use specific tools to generate new business. Smart tactics include search engine optimisation (making the best use of content to increase the prominence of a site coming up in search results) and strategically using social media.

There’s no point in going digital without tracking the results. That’s covered in the final week, when presenters give users the tools to understand what customers are looking for and what they’re doing online. 'I realise now I can track who’s looking at our website,' says Suellen. 'It’s invaluable no matter what business you’re in.'

The result

The couple is still using the course material to further develop their skills. They’re now thinking about how to attract more potential customers to their motel by offering direct online booking deals. 'It’s given us the confidence to get in and have a go at this stuff ourselves and realise that you don’t have to pay everybody a whole lot of money to do this,' says Suellen. “It’s quite rewarding too, it gives you a self-esteem boost.'