As a small business owner, what do you fear as your biggest challenge or challenges in keeping your company on the right course in 2013?

For some, it is the task of keeping customers supplied and happy with the latest in products and services. For others, it is the chore of making sure they hire the best staff possible, seeing to it that everyone has a defined role, not to mention contributes to the team. Still others, worry about revenue and the ever-challenging economy.

So, what would you say if someone asked you about being worried over your online reputation?

Is it a major concern, somewhat of a concern, or does it barely register on the scale as far as what keeps you up a night as a business owner?

In the event you answered the latter, perhaps you haven’t been staying on top of the Internet in recent times. Take note that even the slightest slip up with a customer, employee, competitor or other individual or company can leave you in a sticky situation.

With 2013 off and running, keep these tips in mind when it comes to your online reputation:

1. What is said does matter

Whether you truly have a beef with an individual or just say something off the cuff, careful where such a remark may end up. Per example, one of your employees might have a run-in with a customer, leading to a few words being exchanged. While you may not have had anything to do with it, that employee represents you and your business. The customer takes that remark and goes on a rant on Facebook, telling the world that consumers should not do business with you and your company. One individual doing so may not seem like much, but imagine the fallout if that comment is seen by countless individuals, including some who were debating whether or not to give your company a try. Always make sure that not only you know what can and can’t be said, but that your employees follow suit

2. Pictures don’t lie

Unless a photo is doctored, it usually is spot on to what took place. So, you and your office staff decide to do an office get-together to celebrate everyone’s hard work. A few drinks start flowing, then a picture or two taken at the event make their way onto the Internet. Before you know it, your online reputation is called into question by some of your present customers, potential customers, and even some competition. The overall thinking may be that if you used poor judgment at the office event, will you use poor judgment when it comes to assisting your customers? Always think before you speak or post a photo online, considering how it may come across to others;

3. Don’t be left out in the cold

Unbeknownst to you, other parties may be posting data and imagery about you and/or your business online. Unless you check your name/company name through a Google search from time to time, that information/imagery may be sitting on the Internet while you are totally oblivious to it. If you don’t have the time yourself to review your profile, there are service providers out there that will not only do that, but can work to lessen the impact of negative data on you or your business. The goal is always to rank positively on search engines, especially given how many more consumers are turning to the Internet to browse and buy goods and services. A Safe Home Products survey reported that 96 percent of consumers stated they shop online for convenience, while 91 percent of consumers go online shopping for research purposes. With a large volume of consumers on the Internet browsing and buying, leaving your online reputation to chance is quite a risk.

If this is the year that you take your small business to new heights, also make sure that your online reputation can back it up.

About the Author: Dave Thomas covers small business and career topics for various websites, including the importance of online reputation.