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Does your business
a Web site?
Not every small business believes that they need a Website. Is it because they do not see a purpose or because they do want to make the investment?
The very busy owner of a handyman business — he's fully booked for the next three months — tells me he's not interested in hiring employees and growing into a multi-person company. He just wants enough work to earn a good living, and he has plenty of work. His business grows by word-of-mouth. Customers don't need to find his office; he works at their homes. If ever there was a business that did not need a Web site, this was it. Not true. He is actually not taking advantage of allowing the website to do some of his work for him and relying on old fashioned sweat and tears to make his business a success while using the Internet would streamline his time and allow him to produce the same amount of income with less time on the job and more time with his family or relaxing.
Maybe "no" . . .
I've heard many small-business owners say they think they "should" get a Web site. They're not quite sure what they will do with it, but they've been told they should have one.
In most cases, they're right. A Web site can be an important marketing tool for almost every small business, but there are a few exceptions. Not many, but a few.
Everybody knows the guy downtown with the hotdog cart. If he only has one hotdog cart then no he does not need a website but the moment he has two carts then he needs a website. Sure he can park that one on the side of the opposite corner but he is now after parties, events, and special occasions where he can rent the cart out.
If you have as many customers as your business can handle and you have no desire to grow larger (as with our handyman), then there's no point in marketing on the Web. Not to gain new client anyway. However, not having a website for other reasons seems like you are not taking advantage of the most powerful tool for building your business. If not to gain new customers, you can always use a website to show of your portfolio to prospective clients and give them an idea of costs involved and quality of work they will get. Using the website for a tool will save you a lot of time and energy driving out to show your portfolio only to leave after a few hours with no agreement to do the work they are looking for because they were not mentally prepared for the sticker shock.
Alternately, if you are really certain that potential customers won't use the Internet to find your product or service, then you can safely skip the Web. One example might be a convenience store, where drive-by awareness literally drives all customer traffic. For most businesses, that assumption is getting tougher to make, at least in the United States , where 158 million people have Internet access and over 500 million was spent online last year. Especially when you consider that the online merchants sold more this past holiday season than the brick-n-mortar retailers.
Usually, a big "yes"
There's no question that a Web site is more mission-critical for some businesses than others. Companies trying to reach customers in different locations (think hotels or tourist attractions) or who have products that can be shipped to customers far away (think flowers, handmade dolls, telephones, etc.) obviously need to have an online presence.
But local businesses (dry cleaners or shoe repair shops, for example) also can benefit from a Web site that shows their location, lists their services or offers special promotions.
And woe to those who think they don't need a compelling Web site because they serve other businesses rather than retail consumers. Many businesses search for new suppliers online — and order from them that way, too.
In short, if you want more customers, you should be online, regardless of your industry.
Your online marketing tool
For most small businesses, a Web site is rapidly becoming a basic requirement of a marketing plan. A site can help you reach one or more of the following goals:
· Help customers find you in the offline world — your office, your storefront, your phone number.
· Persuade customers that you have the right service or product for them.
· Sell products online, even across different marketplaces, to retail customers or other businesses.
· Share relevant business information and special offers with customers.
Read on for some tips on how your Web site can deliver on those goals, and for a look at some small-business Web sites that really work.
A simple site helps customers find you
The simplest possible Web presence is a one-page site that tells people how to find your business in the "real" world. It should include:
· A good Web address that relates to your company name.
· Your business address, complete with directions and a good map.
· Your business phone number, along with fax numbers if relevant.
· Hours of operation.
· A clear and enticing description of what your business offers to customers.
This simple Web presence is most appropriate for businesses that serve local customers (a dry cleaner, doctor's office or plumber, for example) and that aren't actively looking to expand their customer base (as with a fully booked dental practice).
For better marketing, create an expansive site
If you're interested in active marketing for your business, you can expand your Web site to make it a more robust online marketing tool.
In this scenario, the Web site's job is to convince customers to take that next step: Buy the product online, call you to place an order or set up an appointment, or drive to your office or storefront. Your site is essentially your online marketing brochure, one that's more effective than a printed marketing piece. Web sites enable customers to dig deep into the information they care about, without overwhelming them with the stuff they don't want or need to know. That's hard to pull off in a paper brochure.
You can approach crafting the Web site as you would any other marketing brochure. Use color, graphics, photos and words to get across four key things about your business:
· What you provide for customers.
· What kind of customers you focus on and can serve best.
· How your business is unique from others who provide the same product or service, so customers can decide if your solution is the right one for them.
· The personality or brand essence of your business — what your company stands for.
For more tips on how to design an effective Web site, check out two other columns, "6 ways to rev up your Web site" and "Spice up your Web site."
A site that draws customers: Doctorkid.com
Take a look at the Web site for the San Diego Pediatric Dental Group. The site does a great job of conveying what you need to know about the practice: The front page tells you what the group does (pediatric dentistry and orthodontics) and which customers it focuses on (infants, children, teens). It also tells you what is unique about the practice: It's fun and comfortable. The design of the site itself is fun, with a glowing rocket ship and space theme, and the front page tells you it offers children's videos and Nintendo games. Dr. Dixon says the theme of the Web site continues a space theme that began in the group's office decor. "Parents feel good coming into the office; so do the kids," he says, and the Web site is designed to create that same sense of fun and ease.
As you tour the site, you see photos of each dentist; all are smiling and look relaxed and pleasant. They aren't wearing white smocks or uniforms, just informal suits or street clothes. The site could benefit from a map showing how to find their offices and some information about office hours, but overall, it does a great job of creating a compelling view of the kind of practice it is.
A site for manufacturers: Spring-Fill.com
You don't need to be in a consumer or retail business to reap the benefits of a Web site. Your customer could be another business looking to the Web for products and services.
Vermont-based Spring-Fill, a wholesale business selling decorative shredded packaging materials, has put together a Web site that's very clear about what the business produces (decorative packaging fill) and the target customers (packaging distribution companies, particularly those selling to florists) it serves. The site explains what is unique about the products (they specialize in finely shredded decorative fill materials that can be customized for your business), gives clear photos and product descriptions and tells potential customers how to contact them. Spring-Fill's Abdool Khan says the site was created about two years ago to augment their marketing efforts at trade shows and through direct mail.
While you don't get quite as much sense of personality from this site, that's typical for many wholesale businesses, whose sites put less focus on brand essence than do businesses that sell directly to consumers. (I'm not sure I agree with that strategy, mind you, but it does seem to be common.) Nevertheless, you do get a clear sense of what is unique and compelling about Spring-Fill's product line, and distributors can figure out how to reach them easily.
So yes, for good reasons
Unless you have all the customers you can handle, a Web site can be a good marketing investment. Find a domain name that's appropriate for your business and beef up your marketing arsenal with a compelling Web site.
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