Many small businesses still feel the need to ask themselves the question, “Do we need a website?” For many whose work requires constant interaction with and on the Internet, this question can seem very surprising. The answer to the question is, in all cases imaginable, “yes.” Almost always, the business in question hasn’t yet considered the full implications of an effective web presence, and how much growth you can generate just through getting online.
But how and why is a website useful for your small business?
24/7 Worldwide Access
Before the advent of the Internet, it was almost unthinkable (and impossible) for a small business to have any kind of presence outside its home country. Now, people from countries across the world access the Internet through the same portals and search engines, meaning there is often no discrimination between a website run by a company based in one country as compared to another. A website also doesn’t require someone to be there to pick up a phone or stand behind a shop counter. Your door is permanently open to orders and queries.
Compared to other media, websites give you unparalleled control over the way you present your business to the world. Information about new products or services can be shared instantly and easily by updating your website. Additionally, you get greater control over the way your business is run by integrating your website with information systems already in place for your company.
As discussed above, a website opens up many new opportunities to your business by sharing what you have to offer with the entire world. However, there are plenty of new opportunities closer to home too. A website linked with location-based search services such as Google or Bing Maps means potential customers nearby searching for a business like yours will be able to instantly see what you can give them.
The importance of brands and branding has increased in a major fashion as commerce has moved more online. Effective branding was previously largely the preserve of larger companies able to afford the kind of advertising that is necessary to build a brand. For smaller companies in territories without substantial local television and radio markets, such as the UK, getting the kind of advertising needed to build a great brand was an impossibly expensive task.
Now, it is almost the first task of any business getting online to decide what their brand will be like. The Internet is a somewhat more democratic realm than the real world – everyone browsing the Internet is presented with websites in similar ways, with larger companies having no real ability to build the internet equivalent of a prestigious flagship store, or to run the internet equivalent of a Superbowl half-time commercial. As such, an effectively branded business on the Internet can explode in popularity almost overnight – customers don’t see the few people, perhaps in an office smaller than they would like, who are behind the website, much as they don’t see the hundreds of people behind the website of a larger company. All your customers see is a well-made website that gives them the information they want and the services they need. Getting yourself established in your sector is much, much easier.
This is another arena in which the continuous availability of a website shines. For a customer to make a query, complaint, or request for support, you no longer need to always be in range of a telephone, or even at work. A website-based customer service form means remarks from customers are saved and logged for you to respond to when you are able. Additionally, customers appreciate the extra peace of mind that comes with having customer service correspondence written down.
Better Than Print
Print advertising has far higher sunk costs than running a website. A print campaign requires graphic design, copy writing, not to mention the costs of either placing an advertisement in the press or having material printed. The sunk costs of a website don’t run much further than actually getting it designed and produced. Website hosting fees run on a monthly or quarterly basis, so if your business finds that it needs to tighten its belt, it is easy to move to less expensive hosting – not that web hosting comes close to the cost of printed material.
The added flexibility is incredibly useful as well. Companies are often more conservative than they need to be when it comes to promotions in print advertising, as once printed they are (de facto) committed to what it says. Online promotions can work with the rhythms of your business.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of the Internet’s status as a mature medium is how much credibility customers attach to websites. When hearing of a new product or service, the first reaction of many people is to put it into a search engine to find out more information. Particularly for younger people, a lack of results will often mean they lose interest and look elsewhere for something that is online. And again – the Internet is a democratic medium. You have the opportunity to present your business as strongly as any billion-dollar corporation. It’s worth taking it.