Quick: Enter "balloon animals Washington DC" into Google search. What pops up on the right side of your computer screen? Does the screenshot on the left look familiar?
The business world can (and does) discriminate against young business owners. With few exceptions, for example, kids cannot get bank loans. We cannot even crowdfund! Kickstarter's rules require every project to be run by someone over the age of eighteen.
But happily, as you can see, the internet does not discriminate based on age. On the web, a kid-owned business can easily come out on top. Go back and look at your search page. Balloon Zoom has result after result, all on the first page, beginning with the first mention in "Best Balloon Twisting in Washington, DC - Yelp."
Most of our adult-owned competition is found on the second page of results. Some of our competitors have even purchased ads. You can see the little green "AD" beside their listings.
Luckily, you don't need to pay for advertising, or hire anyone to get your business featured on the right side of anyone's computer screen. You only need patience.
Here's our three-step method for climbing to the top of the search page.
1. Open a Google My Business Account
Since you've been reading our blog posts, and following our advice, you already have a Google account. You got one automatically when you got your email address on Gmail.
The same username and password are used to sign into every Google service, including "Google My Business." Go to Google My Business, sign in, and create an account. Put in your company name, your hours, the free GoogleVoice telephone number you created after reading Noor's post on kid-friendly telephones, your website address (if you have one), and photos that tell your company's story. The more photos, the better. You don't need professional photos. Most of ours were taken with a smartphone!
Because many people run businesses out of their homes (not just kids!), Google My Business does not require business owners to publish an address. So, please don't. Remember, you do not want people to know where you live. Safety is key when you're a young business owner. As you can see, Balloon Zoom is listed simply as a "Washington, DC" business. Also remember not to put your last name or other identifying information (such as the name of your school) on the web. Our website describes us as high-school and middle-school students, but doesn't name our schools.
The last step in this process is verifying that you are the business owner of a real business. To do this, Google will telephone, or send you a postcard. We gave Google My Business our home address, and waited for a postcard with a verification code. When it arrived, we followed the directions and, voila! We were done.
2. Let Your Customers Know You are On Google!
Google, unlike Yelp, encourages business owners to ask for reviews. So let your happy customers know that you're on Google and ask them to help you out. After completing a job, we often send out a simple, personal email that looks like this:
Dear Miss Smith,
We hope that your family enjoyed the balloon columns! We're writing to ask if you would be
willing review us on Google. We appreciate your help! Here is an easy link to help you:
Anna, Leila and Noor
Make things as easy on your customers as possible by sending them an easy-to-follow link to your Google+ review site, like we did in our sample email. You can create a short URL here. Google My Business has a lot more information on how to get reviews here, and every review is important: Your business will have stars by its name only after it gets five reviews.
And because those eye-catching orange stars set your business apart from others, you want those five reviews! Which listing would you click on first? One that has five stars? Or one that has none?
3. Work on Your Website While You Wait
Unfortunately, it takes time to get those reviews. While you're waiting, work on your website: Title every photo, write new content, and use headings and captions that include the words potential customers will use to find your business. The more content (words and photos) you add to your pages, the easier it will be for people to find you when they search for what they need.
Photos with titles (called Alt text) help you two ways: The titles are 'found' by Google when someone searches for something, such as 'balloon columns Washington DC'; and the photos themselves will show up on Google Images.
As you can see, Balloon Zoom has eight of the first eleven images on Google when someone searches for 'balloon columns Washington DC' -- The entire first row of images, and the first and third image on the second row are ours. And each of those photos takes customers looking for design ideas right to our website. A good photo is worth a thousand advertising dollars!