Given the increasing prevalence of Internet in peoples' lives, event the smallest shops can compete against the largest firms. But the smartest shops are the ones that win...

 For most small local businesses, the Internet is game changing. It used to be that most contractors won or lost based upon the size of their Yellow Pages ads, but given the increasing prevalence of the Internet in peoples’ lives, even the smallest shops can compete against the largest of firms. The smartest shops leverage the power of the Internet.

 You might have noticed when searching for a local service like “Salt Lake City flooring” in Google that a map and the names and addresses of a number of nearby companies appear near the top of the listings. You might have also noticed that some of these listings have a link that says something like “8 reviews” or “place page.” If you click on that link, you’ll be taken to a page that Google has created with information about the business such as a description, their phone number, business hours and a link to their website.

 Businesses that do not manage their Google Places page run the risk that their Google Places information may be out of date or incorrect.  A story published by the New York Times in September 2011 notes several businesses that were inadvertently marked as closed, which cost those companies thousands of dollars in business.

 Claiming your listing is actually quite easy, so no need to stress out. You’ll begin by going to On that page, you’ll find a section that says, “Get Your Business Found on Google” and a button that says, “get started.” Here’s where it gets a little tricky – on the next page, you’ll be asked to login with a Google account. For most people, this is a Gmail account.

 The first bit of information that Google will ask you for is the primary local phone number that your business uses. You’ll enter that in and Google will do a search for your company. If you are lucky, they’ll have your business’ information pre-populated. Check this information for accuracy. If the information is incorrect, change it. You need a physical address and not a P.O. Box for this to work. If you work from home, use your home address, which you can hide from public view on a later screen.

 Google gives you 200 words to describe your business in the description field. Make sure you are as descriptive as possible. Mention the major cities or areas you serve in addition to the types of flooring you offer. In the field that says “Category,” use broad categories as well as custom categories like “real wood flooring” or “commercial acid wash floor.” You can list up to five.

 You’ll next need to upload some photos. The ideal series of images is a logo, photos of your past projects, and photos of your employees or offices. The idea is to humanize your Places page. The best image size for Google Places is 220 by 155 pixels. You also have the option to upload videos to your Places listing at this point. If you have them, this is highly advised.

 Double check all the fields and click on “Submit.” This will take you to a screen where you’ll be asked to verify your listing. In most cases, a business will be given two options: Google calling you or Google sending you a postcard. It is always preferable to have Google call you as the verification process only takes a couple seconds. In some instances, Google will only give you the option of receiving a postcard, in which case keep a sharp eye out.

 With your Google Places listing finally verified, pat yourself on the back. You are now a step ahead of your competitors.