Friday, October 9, 2009

Does a Micro-Business Need A Website?

Does Your Micro-Business Need a Website?

In Three Words: yes, Yes, YES!

Whether you’re an accountant in Anchorage or a zookeeper in Xenia, your business needs a website. In fact, if you don’t have a business web site you’re missing a terrific marketing and promotion opportunity no matter what you do or where you are. And your competition is going to eat your lunch.

Selling Goods and Services

Most small businesses sell goods or services. If you own a termite exterminating business, you’re marketing a service – bug killing. If you sell little miniature furniture for doll house collectors, you’re selling goods – products. Either way, a web site is going to serve as an online billboard 24/7/365. And lots of people around the world are going to see that website and want to purchase whatever it is you’re selling.

What About the Cost?

In order to have a website you’ll need access to the information highway by way of a web hosting company. These companies maintain gigantic servers (just big, old hard drives, actually) that contain the web sites of thousands of small businesses just like yours. So is it pricey?

As with all technological advances, prices continue to fall within the website hosting business thanks to improved hardware (servers, routers and other gizmos about which you need to know nothing) and the proliferation of web hosting companies. In fact, all you need is a server (about $1000 for a good-sized one), some spare closet space to store the server and, guess what, you’re a web hosting company. Not a very good one, but a web host nonetheless.

However, stay clear of the unknown quantity – the web host that may be here today, long gone tomorrow, along with your web site, database information, the whole shebang. The fact is, you can find high quality, reliable web hosting services from a company that’s been around for years. Go with a company that has a track record and a long-term presence on the W3.

Now, cost. You can get a bunch of disk space (storage space for your site) and bandwidth (accessibility to and from your customers or clients) for less than $7.00 a month! You spend more than that on a couple of latte grandes on the way to the office. Staking your claim on the world wide web is the best, least-costly investment you’ll ever make to grow your business.

Do the math. Call your local newspaper and ask how much it will cost to run a small classified for a month. For the cost of that single, 30-day newsprint classified you can maintain a professional presence on the web for an entire year. In the battle between bang and buck, the web beats traditional print and other media advertising hands down every time.

In fact, you can cut print advertising costs significantly with a website clients can visit. Let the site do the selling. Let the print materials provide the map to lead buyers to the website. (See below.)

Yeah, but what about building a website? I’ll bet that’s going to cost a bunch.

Not at all. In fact, a good web host will provide an extensive tool kit that contains everything you need to construct, manage and grow a website – and it’s all FREE.

And it’s simple. You don’t need to know jack about HTML code, cascading style sheets (CSS), SEO, SEM, XML or other alphabetic mish-mash to create a professional-looking website in just a couple of hours. The entire process employs templates so you pick and click your way to site creation. You choose the colors, the design elements, the type face, the content, the site structure – you can do it all simply by going with a web host that provides the tools you’ll need.

Okay, but if I build it will they come?

Not if you keep it a secret. Once you’ve got your site up (easy), tested for bugginess (also easy) and launched (break out the champagne), it’s time to let the world know you’re here, you’re near and you’re open for business. How?

By placing your site’s URL (universal resource locator, also known as your web address) on every piece of marketing collateral you put out there. Got a business card? Add the URL. Stationery? URL. Marketing brochures? You got it, add the URL. If it’s printed on paper, it should include your site’s URL.

Also, remember that classified ad that was going to sock you in the wallet. Well, with a website, you can keep that classified short and sweet:

Tax problems? Call 555-1234 or visit us at

Boom! You don’t need to sell the service in print. Simply direct prospective clients to your website where you can go into great detail about all of the wonderful services or products you offer.

I don’t want to sell my services outside my local area so isn’t a website kind of a waste of money?

Au contraire. First, most of your traffic (site visitors) will find your URL by way of your print advertising, so you’re already focusing on the local market. Second, search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask enable you to localize your search engine listings. This way, you aren’t selling carpet cleaning services to someone half way around the world.

You can keep it local by including your town’s or county’s name in your keyword list. Keywords are those words search engine users enter to conduct a search. For example:

carpet cleaners tampa florida (You don’t have to use capital letters; the search engine understands that you’re looking for a carpet cleaning service in Tampa, not in the UK.)

You can also localize the content of your website to appeal to the needs of local residents. Your air conditioning business probably won’t pull well in Yellow Knife (it’s in northern Canada) but it will generate business if you operate out of Corpus Christi where temperatures routinely hit the century mark during the summer months.

Localization allows you to target a very narrow demographic in the great scheme of online things. On the other hand, if you’re selling products, and you start getting orders from Istanbul, are you going to say ‘no’? Absolutely not. Just add a bit for the extra postage.

So, whether you want to keep it local or go global with your business, the best, least expensive way to do it is via the web, and a solid web host you can count on to be there for you next week, next year and forever.

The Prestige Factor

A professional-looking website (remember, you can build it and they will come) adds substance to your existing business. It adds that cachet of success and gives site visitors (or store visitors) the impression that your business is bigger than it actually is. You’re not just Bob’s Tuxedo Rentals down on Main Street.

You’re also on the world wide web. This is sometimes called the prestige factor, creating (branding) an image that appears to have more substance than your simple, brick-and-mortar tuxedo rental store.

Okay, so how do I use my new website to best advantage?

Lots of ways. First, you can use your website to keep in touch with individual customers and your entire client base. For example, instead of trying to reach Ms. Jones on her cell, just drop her an email through your site. Simple, easy, effective.

You can also market to your entire client base through regular email updates or even a monthly or quarterly newsletter. The more often you put your company name in front of a potential customer’s nose, the more likely that nose will eventually buy something via the web, or by way of your store downtown.

Announce upcoming sales (exclusively for our valued customers), introduce new products or service offerings, provide advice and suggestions that drives traffic to your store – you can even send personalized birthday greetings if you can capture birthdates from existing clients. A website is a marketing bonanza.

You can also use your site to collect invaluable information on the buying practices and preferences of your client base. Provide a feedback form on your site (again, easy) to learn what visitors like and, more importantly, don’t like about your site. Collecting this marketing data will better equip you to adjust your product line, add new services, lower shipping and handling costs and identify the desires of your buyers. And you just can’t put a price on that. (Well, actually you can – less than $7 a month!)

Another good use of your website is to announce job openings – and even allow potential employees to apply online. Let’s say you own a couple of fast food franchises in Fresno. Employee turnover is always a problem. They come and go and finding new employees is costly using traditional means, i.e., the newspaper classifieds.

With a well-designed site you can announce job openings, pay rates, locations, benefits packages and more – much more than you could ever cover in a small newspaper classified.

The Keys to Online Success

So, whether you’re a start-up or a well-established business in the community or region, a website will boost sales and keep you in touch with your consumers. Just remember:

  • Go with a web host that’s been around longer than last Tuesday. Go with a host with at least a five-year track record of providing hosting services. Longer is better.

  • Choose a web host that provides software, tools and services FREE. This alone will save you literally thousands of dollars in start-up costs.

  • Select a web host with 24/7 tech support – preferably U.S.-based tech support – for fast repairs and quick answers to any questions.

  • Start small. You don’t need every bell, whistle, jim-crack and gee-gaw available to website owners. Keep it simple, start small and as you learn more about e-commerce, your site will eventually include additional features and contain more substantial information.

  • Don’t worry about search engine optimization (SEO) and don’t pay an expert to optimize your site. Search engines aren’t your primary means of driving traffic to your business. Most visitors will find you through your print materials – business card, brochures, etc. – so ranking high in search engine results isn’t critical to the success of your business or your new website.

  • Peg your URL to everything clients or customers see or hear about your business. If you’re running spots on local cable or radio, be sure to include your URL in all advertising. This way, you pique customer interest through the traditional media and make the sale on your site.

  • Update your site. You can find plenty of sources of free content online. Give site visitors a reason to stop by again. And again. Hey, just include a daily horoscope (FREE) and you’ll start to see repeat visitors (especially Leos, for some reason).

Here it is, the bottom line: for the cost of a single, one-month insertion of a classified in the local newspaper, you can maintain a website and a web presence for an entire year. And it never closes, it never complains or calls in sick, and it never asks for a raise.

If your business doesn’t have a website, you’re missing out on one of the best, most cost-effective marketing tools available to the small business owner. So what are you waiting for?

Your competition across town already has her site up and active. And you’re sitting here reading this. Time to get moving.

Time to build your business website.

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