Lesson 1: Do You Need One

 A well-designed and maintained website may seem like a luxury, but really, it’s an essential extension of your own business. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of having an online presence for your small business.


Do You Need a Website?

First, let’s clear up a misconception. A page on Facebook or other social media platforms is not the same as having a website of your own. These pages are definitely part of your marketing and advertising strategy. But they are not the front door of your online business.

You don’t own your Facebook page. If Facebook went away tomorrow (remember MySpace?), your company would too. They could also conceivably change their business model and charge you for your page. Facebook pages also don’t rank well on search engines, which is how customers find you. This is because you can’t control the keywords you use on Facebook, which are critical to ranking well in search engines. Google alone gets 3.5 billion queries from users, but you have zero control over how they will find you. A business page on a social media site is a lot like having an unlisted phone number for your brick-and-mortar business.  

As any social media user knows, attention spans are short, especially when it’s a business pitching their wares through an unwelcome ad. You also have to compete for attention with friend postings and other companies that compete with you. There is no way to get a prospect’s undivided attention like you can with a website.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a presence on social media platforms. But you need to recognize that they are not a substitute for a website and have their own limitations.

The benefits of having a website

First, having an out-of-date website is worse than not having one at all. Business hours that are wrong, email addresses that no longer work or out-of-date pricing will damage your business’ credibility more than taking it offline while you figure out how to make it work for you, not against you.

Credibility. Without a doubt, this is the main reason to have a website. There are tons of fly-by-nighters out there trying to make a dime off your customer, only to fail miserably on their promise, price or goods. A website that reflects your business’ image and brand can help you establish legitimacy, build trust and acquire leads. Because it’s not free like a social media page, a website shows you are serious about your business and its value to your customers. It also allows you to share your expertise and knowledge with a customer, building trust in the process. This is particularly valuable if you are a service or consulting company.

Always open. Unlike your business, a website works for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visitors can still view what you have to offer, find out your business hours, email you with a question, or, if you have e-commerce, make a purchase – all while you are getting some much-needed shut-eye. Additionally, a website allows someone who didn’t make a purchase in your store that day to go online and buy it after you’ve closed for the day. Even if you don’t sell online, they may email you in the middle of the night to ask you to hold the item for them.

Visibility. Think of your online store as an extension of your brick-and-mortar store or home-based operation. There are 4.5 billion Internet users out in the world. Give them a location where they can find you. A website can be the great equalizer in the marketplace, allowing you to compete with others around the world and around the clock.

Sell locally. Even if your primary market is local, a website can be of tremendous value. Nearly half of all Google.com users include their location in a search so they can find a local supplier or business for a particular product or service.

  • 97% of users use search to find local businesses
  • 28% of users purchased an item after a local search
  • 70% of users will visit a store because of what they found online

Value. Compared to nearly any other marketing strategy, a website will provide you with an excellent return on your investment. Using data analytics, you can gauge who is visiting your site, where they are from, what they are looking at and buying. You can continue to add services and features to the site as you gather more information on the usage patterns of your visitors. This will allow you to make informed choices about your advertising strategies because you will see bumps in traffic on specific pages, especially pages that you created for a particular sale or promotion.

Lead generation. Most people don’t buy on impulse. They like to think about it for a while, especially when it is a high-dollar item. That doesn’t mean you should let them go on their merry way and eventually buy from someone else. A website can help you acquire data about your customers. Even an email address can be a goldmine as you build a lead generation funnel that keeps prospects engaged and eventually turns them into a sale and loyal customers.

More sales. Whether you have online ordering or not, a website can bring in more sales. First, more prospects become aware of your business through search engines, online reviews or friend referrals. If you offer e-commerce, a website is like having a second location that is always working for you, even when you finally find time to relax on some deserted beach after years of nonstop business building.

Control. With a website, you have complete control. You own the address people use to find you, you own all the content, and you can design it any way you’d like it to be. The space for your small business may have limitations on what you can do with it as a lessee, but there are no such limits with a website. The possibilities are endless.

Improved service. Customers have questions. Most of them are asked again and again. Or a customer may have a problem with an order or want to return something. A website can automate many of these tasks, particularly with new artificial intelligence technologies that let you interact with customers online as if you were right there, doing it yourself. No more endless voicemails or emails to go through. Your website can expand your customer service capabilities without adding staff.

Competition. A website levels the playing field. No one really knows how big or small your company is. The experience a customer has on your site can be just as satisfying or productive as it is on Amazon.com. With the right search engine strategies (we’ll get to these later), you can even outmaneuver them in the rankings and be one of the first links returned for specific searches you know your customers will use.

Making a plan

The first step is knowing what you want your website to do for your business. While a website can technically do just about anything, you don’t want to invest more time, money and effort into the site than it will return to you. At least initially.

As noted, you can continually expand later as your website starts working for you. But you want to start with a clear business goal for your website.

It may be just one thing or a combination of things. Knowing the purpose of your website will help you make a range of decisions down the road easier since you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some examples:

An attorney in a small town
Your goal is to build credibility with your website and generate leads. As an attorney, you may want to focus your site on you and your experience, the kind of cases you represent, maybe a testimonial or two from clients, your hours and perhaps a form a potential client can fill out about to begin an interaction. You may also want to create a blog that covers topics that increase your credibility in the community. You don’t need to worry about marketing internationally, so your website can be pretty straightforward and even a bit conservative in design since you want to build that all-important credibility and trust with the local community. No one wants to engage an attorney who is trying to be funny or gimmicky.

A curio shop on main street
Your store offers a range of products that are either handmade or hard to find. From your foot traffic, you know that you cater to a certain kind of buyer, perhaps because you handle a line of collectibles no one else in town offers. In developing your website, you may want to consider adding e-commerce so you can sell products online. You may even want to expand your online offerings to include the really rare items in this particular line of collectibles or even do auctions. To draw customers back to your store, you could offer coupons on your site, good on the customer’s next purchase or a discount if they sign up for your newsletter or blog.

Thai takeout
While your sales are takeout only, you can streamline ordering by adding e-commerce to a website so customers can view the menu, select what they want for lunch or dinner, and schedule the time to pick it up. The customer pays online, so all you have to do is have the order ready when they arrive. Like the example above, you can also offer online discounts or feature select menu items at a temporary sale price. If you want to build a mailing list of customers, you can offer a special if they provide you with their email addresses. You could also consider offering customers a loyalty arrangement where they earn points for a free or discounted menu item every time they order online or at the store.


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