Business and Website Synergies:
Real World Meets Virtual World
There are plenty of brick-and-mortar business owners who don’t recognize the value of a store web site. They’re doing well, lots of foot traffic, improved margins every year – so why take on the headache and expense of a web site? It’s just one more thing to worry about, right? Wrong.
A web site that promotes your real world store can not only boost profits, it can eliminate routine chores that currently eat up a lot of time. When you own your own business, time is money.
The cost of a fully functional, secure, commercial web site aren’t what you think they are. With a little help (actually you can do it all by yourself) you can have a web site up and running in just a few hours – a web site complete with a secure checkout, a blog, product pix and all of the other bells and whistles you expect from today’s web sites.
The costs are surprisingly low if you go with the right web host – the company that will rent server (computer) space that’ll hook you in to the world wide web. Prices as low as $7.00 a month get you plenty of disc server space and a box full of free site building tools – free. So, for less than $100 a year, you can have a web site open 24/7 selling your goods and services. Cost should not be a factor when deciding on whether to build a site or not.
Working in your store each day takes up a certain amount of time for administrative chores. You process credit card orders, make deposits at the bank, keep track of inventory and expenses – all activities that take away from the one thing you should be doing and that is taking care of your customers.
With a web site, payment collection is automated, order print outs can be printed for fulfillment, deposits to the business account are automatic – it’s not exactly passive income, but it certainly won’t double your real world workload. It’ll save time.
For example, let’s say you plan a “special customers” sale available to your most highly-prized clients. A computer can help you get the word out quickly and inexpensively. That’s what auto-responders do. They notify customers by e-mail of this special sale or special event. No postage, no running to the post office and no expensive ad in the local newspaper. Instead, you send out a personalized invitation to your best customers to notify them of the impending sale.
Save time and money through the automation of many administrative functions. On-line purchases can be completely automated so that purchase price is deposited into your business account, a shipping bill and label are printed automatically and, if you use drop shippers to handle order fulfillment, all necessary information to process the order is sent to the shipper. You don’t have to do a thing.
Saving time by automating routine functions via a web site is a great way to improve your margins – additional sales without additional labor.
Using Your Website to Promote Your Business
The critical factor, here, is to create synergies between your store and your web site. And there are lots of them.
Use your web site to conduct polls and surveys to see what your real-world customers like and don’t like about their shopping experiences. Low cost promo with high end potential. After all, real world or virtual world – the customer is always right.
Develop sales leads using an on-line form. If someone in town is looking for a good price on a new furnace, you’d want to know about it, right? Well, a web site can give you name, address, telephone number and even the customer’s needs. How convenient is that?!
Use give-aways to collect e-mail addresses. These are called “opt-ins.” You give the site visitor a free pamphlet, a downloadable e-book or a printable 20% off coupon and all the visitor has to do is give you his or her e-mail address. As your e-mail list grows, so, too, does your potential customer base. Each one of these opt-ins has a relationship with you and you can stay in touch with auto-responders, keeping your company’s name and services in front of the customers.
Promote special sales and events on your site’s home page. Provide “how-to” information to keep customers coming back. The possibilities are endless. Think of a web site as a salesperson who never sleeps, never calls in sick and never complains about your management style. And all of that for less than $7.00 a month? Talk about a bargain.
Use Your Business to Promote Your Website
A web site has a certain cachet – it’s an indication that the store owners are sharp business people. And because the cost of building and operating a web site are so low, a web site is a low-cost, badge of prestige and you want as many people as possible to know you’re on-line.
Once your site is functional and all of the bugs have been worked out (pretty easy to do) it’s time to use your business to promote your web site, developing synergies that lead to sales.
First, make sure your web site URL (address) appears on all business stationery from letterhead to business cards and from invoices to adverts in local, traditional media. By telling people where to find more information about your business, your web site becomes an on-line billboard along that ‘
Information Highway’. Customers who see your URL in a newspaper ad may choose to make a purchase on-line rather than drive clear across town or across state.
Design an on-line campaign to drive more people to your web site. Announce in your local newspaper advert that customers will receive a printable coupon for 15% off when they visit your web site. Of course, while they’re on-line visiting your site, entice them to make an on-line purchase, as well.
And don’t forget giveaways. T-shirts, bumper stickers, pens and other free stuff that display your web site’s URL will all generate more site traffic and, therefore, greater business efficiencies.
Explain to real-world customers that all transactions can take place on line or in person. Your web site should be a seamless extension of your actual business, enabling buyers to make purchases and payments, ask questions and even process returns. There’s plenty of software that will enable you to do this – free checkouts, free inventory managers, free shipping software – it’s all there making your job and your customers’ buying experiences easy.
Another reason to maintain a web site? Let’s say you run a local deli offering specials of the day. Your regulars will appreciate the ability to log on and see “what’s cookin’” today. Web sites are very easy to update, so use your site to keep customers up to date on daily specials, menu changes, new product lines and other helpful information. If your URL appears on all business-related paperwork, more and more people will find their way to your site. And, if they find useful information on the site, they’re more likely to visit your store one town over.
Selling Pizza in
A web site provides a world-wide presence so if you run a pizza place in
Dayton, you won’t have much interest in orders from – even if they want the super-deluxe special. How are you going to get it there in 30 minutes or less? Zimbabwe
If you’re business is strictly local (it doesn’t have to be, by the way) you can use various search engine filters so that only people within a certain range will actually visit your web site, which will cut down on questions from Zimbabwe regarding the status of their order.
Localize your listings with Google and Yahoo so you’re reaching those customers who might actually visit your store or order something because they’ve been to the store before and know they can count on your quality and service.
However, don’t rule out expanding your little enterprise globally. Let’s say you run a small town hardware store. Most of your business comes from local residents looking to buy a wheelbarrow or a hammer. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ship a hammer to
. In fact, that’s one of the coolest things about having a web site. Zimbabwe
One web user was looking for those plastic cases used to protect baseball cards. They’re called “screw downs” in case you didn’t know. So, instead of driving from one sports memorabilia store to the next, the buyer Goggled “screw downs” and found just what he was looking for eight states away. The buyer never would have even heard of Ed’s Sports Collectibles, or made the purchase, if old Ed hadn’t built a web site.
So, a web site can save time by automating routine tasks – everything from processing sales to answering FAQs. This frees up your time to devote to in-store customer care.
Next, you can build marketing and promotion synergies between your brick-and-mortar and your virtual on-line store, using one to promote the other.
Finally, you can do all of this for very little money. You don’t need a big, fancy expensive web site design firm and the cost of hosting a feature-rich web site are low – often less than $7.00 a month.
Now the question is – what are you waiting for? Promote your business and your products around the corner and around the world by building synergies between real and virtual worlds. You’ll be amazed at the jump in sales and just how easy it is to do.