Developing a professional online presence is key to success both in business and in the job market. If you have a business that seeks to attract customers online, there are few ways around having a website. For job seekers, ensuring your Internet presence is professional can be even more important -- stories abound of employers looking up applicants on the Web and on social networking sites, then finding derogatory material.
Here's what you can do to develop a web presence that will reflect the image you'd like to project. With a little work, you can set things up so clients are impressed and eager to buy, while employers are eager to hire you.
Start out by picking up your own domain name. YourName.com is the most obvious and the best choice, but if your name is common you might have to settle for a variant instead. Simply having your name as the domain name makes it more likely your web page (or mini-homepage) will come up when someone puts your name into a search engine.
Additionally, there are some hidden benefits for job applications. Owning your own domain name means your email address will look that much more professional. More than four out of five employers will trash a job application if the email address is unprofessional -- stories of "email@example.com" or "firstname.lastname@example.org" getting the "round file" trash bin treatment abound.
It's much better to have email@example.com on your resume and application. When a prospective employer goes to check you out, the first thing they'll type in is johnsmith.com to see what your website looks like.
Put Up a Website
What you need to do is pick up some website hosting and put up a website or a mini-homepage. Even if you're no good at all at web design, there are services out there that will let you create a page in seconds.
Now, for business owners, you'll want to hire a professional web designer and craft a full and engaging page. An "instant web page" service will not do the trick. You'll want a web presence that's commensurate with a successful business. If you deal with an international clientele, you'll even need to arrange professional website translation such as Simple Translation so your marketing speaks to them in their language.
Job seekers don't need to go all that trouble. In fact, an elaborate business-oriented website can be a turnoff for potential employers. They want an employee, not an entrepreneur. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you'll be much happier on your own, and employers know it's only a matter of time before you do strike out on your own.
Instead, a simple website with a few pages and links to your CV and social media profiles is quite enough. Keeping it simple and elegant means there's nothing for them to justify rejecting you in the early stages of a job application, while having a page shows you've got the initiative to take care of your image.
Clean Your Social Media Profiles
It's almost a cliche these days, but keeping your social media profiles "business-friendly" is not something you have a choice about. Assume that anything linked to your name on the Web is public -- Facebook's steadily-shrinking privacy settings have shown us that even if it's marked "friends-only," in the future that fig leaf of protection may vanish.
Therefore, only write or post things on social media you're OK with the world seeing. If your friends are in the habit of being friendly in ways that aren't appropriate for clients or employers to see, use a separate profile with a fake name for your private life. While you should always follow the rules, if this profile gets deleted, who cares? It's stuff you didn't want "hanging around" anyway. Better yet, delete your profile entirely and stick to face to face interaction, instant messaging, texts, and email.
Build an "Incidental Presence"
When someone searches your name, what will they find besides your website and social media pages?
If you've posted comments on blogs, participated in forums, or otherwise interacted on the web under your own name, chances are those elements will rise to the top.
You can use this effect to craft a web presence that projects exactly the image you want. Start posting comments in places that are relevant to your business or your job, and do it in a way that's professional and authoritative. The same goes for other kinds of Internet participation. Make it a habit to use "real name" accounts when you're going to post something that would reflect well on you if seen by a client or prospective employer.
Creating a professional web presence can be as fast as putting up a "5 minute" instant home page, or as elaborate as a professionally-designed business site with SEO and backlink campaigns. Either way, a well designed web presence is an important part of doing business today.
Alex Pejak is an economist passionate about market research and career development and interested in topics related to business IT.