Are you a digital business bozo? Nine red flags that will drive customers away

Building a small business is hard enough, but it is all the harder today because you have to hit the ground running with an online presence that works. Given that most businesses aren't tech-oriented and have hardly any digital literacy, they're in danger of being out-marketed by the few businesses that do have a digital clue. If you're in the former category you are, forgive me, a digital business bozo and, unless you get clued in really fast, you could pay the ultimate business price: Going broke. Here are 9 red flags that say "Digital business bozo ahead, spend your money elsewhere."

You don't have a company domain. Effectively selling your company and its products requires an online presence, and not having your own domain is a hallmark of a digital business bozo. Having a subdomain on a some other service is only fractionally less sad, but still just as lame. "Ah," you might say, "we've been Smith Inc. forever and was snapped up some time ago in the Pleistocene era." So? Just go for something related, such as, that you can claim as yours. It's all about branding and not having a company domain is like not having a street address.

Your email address is at Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, or some other service. That, along with the "Get a free email account..." sig, really makes you look like a digital business bozo. Image really matters! Having an email address that isn't associated with your Web domain (perhaps because you don't have one) is a huge oversight and screams online business bozo. It also does little to help imprint your branding on email recipients. There's no such thing as customers being too aware of who you are and what you're part of. If you've got a domain, get email service set up and use it.

You have a domain but no Web site. How often have you gone to some company's domain only to find there's nothing there? Sad, isn't it? It's bad enough for a domain to deliver only a 404, but when the domain is parked and the hosting provider is using it to deliver paid links and adverts you might as well be saying out loud, in public, with a megaphone, "YES, I AM AN ONLINE BUSINESS BOZO!" Seriously, it takes next to no time to get at least a simple Web site set up and, if you don't have the technical chops, there are thousands of people online who will build you a simple Web site for next to nothing.

You have an ugly Web site. Oh, you think that doesn't matter? Nonsense, you know the difference between a Web site that looks good and one that looks like something the cat dragged in. Your brother put it together for you? With what, a knife and fork? Yep, it was cheap and that's what it looks like. Look, if you're that cost-conscious (cheap) it shouldn't cost you more than a couple of hundred bucks to get something decent up and running. Go on, get your Web site spruced up. Your brother might be slightly offended, but what do you want, filial love or a successful business? Yep, that's what I thought.

You only check your email a couple of times each week. At most. Wow. If you're running a business that's just dumb and makes you a gold-plated digital business bozo. That potential client who has a question before purchasing, or the customer who has a problem after, expects service and next day is the longest they'll be happy to wait. Make the response "whenever" and they won't be happy, and quite likely, they'll not be a customer at all. Business email etiquette is now 24 hours or less and the less it is the more your customers and prospects believe you care.

You have a Facebook page for your business with lots of people "liking" it but you hardly ever update it, rarely read what people post to your timeline or respond, almost never check your inbox, and when you do you never reply. I guess that's better than not having a Facebook page at all, but really? It's not only a lost marketing opportunity, but people will see that your page is a zombie and, while they won't run screaming, they will, after a fashion, run away from spending money with you.

Your email messages look like they were written by a particularly dim five year-old. You don't use spell check, grammar is an alien concept, and the message is devoid of any sort of structure — it's just one big blob of text. To compound the messaging crappiness you don't have anything like a signature block and you often forget to sign your message. In short, with every message you're demonstrating to the world that you don't care and that you're a digital business bozo. There's no excuse for what amounts to sloppiness and disregard for your image and, by extension, for your customers. This isn't lost on them; they will vote with their dollars.

You use your business social media accounts as personal accounts and post anything and everything that comes to mind. You wear your politics on your sleeve, you link to obviously inappropriate content, make unseemly jokes, and generally behave like a teenager. Well, you're not alone, lots of small and even medium-sized business owners are guilty of not understanding what social media is all about. One poorly worded tweet, a curt response, a putdown, or a coarse remark and your followers will quickly learn who you really are. Once again, you have a brand, don't squander it by being a digital business bozo.

You're trying to do an email promotion and just haven't thought it through. You don't really know how to use bulk mailing systems and send out messages that begin "Dear {first name}". Or perhaps you put your entire mailing list into the CC field rather than the BCC field. You don't include your street address and don’t offer an opt-out link and thereby violate the CAN SPAM Act. And should anyone complain about you adding them to your list without their permission, you tell them "It's easy, just delete email you don't want." Do these things and we're likely to hunt you down with torches and pitchforks. We're even more likely to never, ever spend any money with you.

There are a lot of digital business bozos out there and their numbers appear to be growing every day. With the amount that gets written about online business you'd think these people would get a clue but, apparently, that’s too complicated for them. Would they try to run a business without telephones or trucks or any of the scores of what were once new-fangled tools. No. So why then do they keep ignoring the simple things that make them accessible, competitive, and visible? Sure, you can ignore all this "techie" stuff and be a digital business bozo; you only have your business to lose.