The digital age of 2017 features a world of men, women, and children of all ages walking the streets with what is essentially a 4-inch computer in their pockets. Everyone has a cell phone, everyone has a computer, and everyone loves to consume. With information readily available in seconds though Internet searches and other web based applications, small businesses can no longer afford to be without an online presence.
Even if you do not have a website, it’s definitely an idea that has crossed your mind on more than one occasion as a business owner. This article didn’t stumble across your computer screen by accident. You probably have lots of different excuses for why your company doesn’t have a website. There are at least 50 reasons why your small business needs to have a website, but this article will highlight and outline the top 7 reasons. Some of those excuses that are holding you back will even be addressed as well.
This guide will include suggestions for some specific industries used for hypothetical examples. If your type of business is not mentioned, don’t be discouraged. The examples are all broad enough that they can be applied to any small business across all industries.
ONE: Create Effective Customer Communication
Although many small business owners would like to dedicate all the hours in a day to their company, the reality is that they can’t. Owners need to have a life outside of work. You can’t be on the job 24/7; and why should they have to be? With an online presence business owners are still able to communicate effectively with their customers from remote locations. The golden rule of any business, especially small business, is “the customer is always right.” If you take care of your customers, your customers will take care of you in return.
You see your customers on a frequent basis. You know their names, their favorite sports teams, and where their children go to school. Besides a “hello” and “goodbye” you probably even make some small talk about the weather. But do you actually know your customers’ wants and needs?
“I see my customers every day — any positive or negative feedback can be told to me in person.”
Hearing compliments from your customers in person is great positive reinforcement, but that won’t let the rest of your existing and perspective customers know what an excellent job you are doing. Let your customers post reviews on your website. Highlight these reviews on the home page, or on the side margins of all pages on the site.
Offer your customers an incentive write a comment or review online. Examples may include $5 OFF or 10% OFF coupons available to be printed or e-mailed to the customer upon completion of a review. This will not only spread the word to new customers, but also ensure your existing customers come back soon to take advantage of their new coupon.
Not all reviews need to be public either. A simple, “Contact Us” form on the website will allow customers to provide feedback directly to you. You can reply directly to these comments in private if applicable. Customers will feel more comfortable offering some anonymous suggestions, positive or negative, that they may not otherwise voice to you in person.
“If I let my customers review my business online, the whole world will see the negative comments and know about every time I made mistake.”
If a customer wants to post a negative review about your business online, chances are they will be able to do so with or without the option to do so on your website. Without a website for your business, customers will find third-party sites such as Yelp or the Better Business Bureau to write a complaint. If you allow them to post on your website, you can publically and professionally respond to their comments.
Apologize and offer a brief explanation without sounding defensive or making excuses. Send that customer some gift certificates and invite them back. Customers want to be heard, and knowing that their complaint did not fall on deaf ears will be enough for them to come back. After doing so, they may even post another review letting others know how well you rectified their situation.
TWO: Your Competition Has a Website
Your competitors are using websites to not only retain their current customers, but also acquire new customers. Their new customer acquisition may be the reason for your customer loss. Small businesses cannot afford to lose any customers, especially not to their direct competition.
Consumers love getting a good deal. If they can research the price of a product or service before purchasing, they will be happy to do so from the convenience of their phone, tablet, or computer in the comfort and privacy of their own home.
Why would they take the time driving to 3 different mattress stores if they can price out their options in minutes from their home computer? Why would they take the time to call 4 different electricians when they can do a Google search from their cell phones while waiting in line for their morning coffee?
You may have the cheaper prices; you may have the better products; but consumers won’t know this if can find what they are looking for from your competition online. Don’t believe me? Do a quick online search for “Your product/service” in “your service area”. I promise you that dozens of applicable results will come up.
“I’m familiar with my competition and I know they don’t have a website.”
So maybe one or two of you top competitors don’t have a website either. That’s unlikely, but completely possible. This is an even more opportune time for you to take advantage of controlling that market space. You can become the only game in town with a website.
Let’s say you are a florist, and you know the only other florist in town is an old man who has no plans to start a website. Other florist shops in neighboring towns or even national chains with websites will be able to provide floral services to your market. With the ease of Internet access, the competition level is higher than ever before. You are no longer competing with just one or two other local businesses in neighboring towns. Your competition is now state wide or potentially even on a national scale depending on the industry.
THREE: Create an Avenue for Expansion and Growth
Don’t get caught in quicksand. The “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality will slowly become the demise of your company if you allow that thought process to control your decisions. Having a website will not only keep your business relevant in the present, but will also allow for future growth and expansion. Anyone with Internet access now has direct access to your company, as opposed to just the customers in driving distance to your brick and mortar.
“My customers are old school, they don’t use the Internet.”
If you are lucky enough to have customers that don’t use the Internet, than that’s great! You’re business may be extremely profitable and successful without a website. That doesn’t mean that you should neglect the perspective customer base that does use the Internet. If you are a business owner with “old school customers” then you are likely old enough to remember a video rental company called Blockbuster.
In the early 2000s Blockbuster had over 8,000 store locations throughout 10 countries. Less than 10 years later, Blockbuster’s lack of ability to stay ahead of the curve caused them to file for bankruptcy and essentially become non-existent. For lack of a better term, they were crushed by their competition. I know you’ve heard people say, “I remember when that building used to be a Blockbuster.” Don’t let that happen to your company. Keep in mind; this was a multi-billion dollar international chain that could not stay in business because they were unable to adapt to the times and properly prepare for growth.
If a company at this scale failed, how can you expect your small business survive without something as simple as a website? Your existing customers are may be allowing you to keep your lights on and turn a profit for now, but the reality is small businesses must constantly be acquiring new customers to stay successful.
“How can I direct customers to my website?”
Come up with a marketing plan. Whether you are a long time business owner or an owner who is just starting out, you have the skills and ability to get customers in your door. Execute a plan of targeting and acquiring new perspective customers. Online access will give younger generations information about your business that they would be otherwise unavailable unless they just happened to stumble into your store one day, which is an unlikely scenario.
You have done advertising before, just not digitally. Use some of the same images and advertisements that you have used in the past from of your direct mailing or print ads. Instead of printing 50,000 copies to mail or deliver door to door, that image can be placed on your website.
Contact your local Chamber of Commerce. Annual memberships are typically very affordable. Many local Chambers send our newsletters and also provide a member directory on their websites. You can have them place a link to your website on their directory. You can even ask if they can include a link to your website in their digital newsletters. The purpose of these organizations is to help small local businesses to succeed, and they are often a great resource for the growth of your company.
FOUR: Increase Sales
“A website won’t make me any money.”
A website can help generate more sales for your business and be more convenient for your customers, regardless of your industry. Businesses can sell products and services through an online store. If you are selling tangible products an online store can allow customers to purchase items outside of your regular business hours. Customers can also purchase items during your business hours, without having to make a trip to your physical location.
You may even find that it is more cost efficient for your company to sell products online as opposed to in stores. You can devote less employee hours and time to helping customers in the storefront if those sales are being supplemented online. Your employees can instead focus on other tasks rather than having down time waiting for customers to walk in.
“I’m selling a service, an online store does not apply to my business.”
So you may not have an actual product that you can ship to your customers for them to purchase on an online store. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t generate more sales online selling your services.
Are you a restaurant owner? Let your customers reserve a table through your website. Set up an online take out menu where customers can submit their “to-go” order for pick-up. Do you own a dry cleaning business? Use your website for customers to sign up for your home pick-up and delivery service. Massage therapists, plumbers, yoga instructors, painters; the list goes on and on.
All these service based small businesses can use their websites for customers to set up appointments for service. You can even collect a deposit via credit card.
FIVE: Track and Monitor Customer Interests
Do you know what products or services your customer base loves the most? Maybe you think it’s whatever sells the most, or whatever has the highest profit margins for your business. Maybe it’s neither. If you have a website, the analytics can show you which pages on the website and specifically what links to products and services your customers are clicking the most.
“I already know what my customers want, a website can’t help me with that.”
You may offer something that your customers didn’t even know was an option during their visits to your stores. Based on these analytics, you can appropriately adjust your pricing in order to maximize profits on your most popular viewed items.
Your website might offer a service that is clicked on by 90% of visitors, implying that this should be a top seller. However, you may learn that this service has the lowest purchase rate of all the products you offer. This information could be an indication that this service is not appropriately priced. Interpret the information any way you feel is appropriate, but without a website this information will not be available to you.
Furthermore, If you have a “search” option on your website you may learn that customers are searching for products that you don’t offer. For example, let’s say your company makes customized hats. Your website may offer dozens of different hat styles to customize, but your customers are searching for a style that you do not keep in stock. Now you will know that this hat style is one that needs to be offered as an option for to your clientele to customize.
SIX: Build a Customer Database
Allow your customers to create a personalized account on your website. This account can allow customers ease of access to their favorite products and services. Customers can access their order history and seamlessly re-order with fewer clicks throughout the site.
The less work your customers have to do to place an order, the more likely they are to purchase. Personal customer information such as credit card numbers, billing and shipping addresses will all be saved to their accounts so purchases can be made in virtually seconds.
“Are there any other benefits to customers creating an online account on my website?”
With your customers’ permission, you can use their e-mail address associated with their accounts to send them weekly or monthly e-mails. Third party websites such as Constant Contact allow businesses to mass e-mail their customers for an affordable monthly subscription based on the number of customers in your database. These customizable messages can be used to send your customers coupons or other promotions that direct them into your store, or directly to your website.
Constant Contact also uses analytics to track how many people opened the e-mail, how many people clicked on the links in the message, and how many people forwarded your e-mail to another person. All these information is highly valuable from a marketing perspective.
SEVEN: Generate More Profits
Even philanthropists would agree that the number one common goal of any small business is to make more money on the bottom line. Using a single outlet such a website can provide your company with the versatility to:
- Create effective customer communication
- Provide an avenue for company growth
- Increase sales
- Stay ahead of your competition
- Monitor customer interests
- Build a customer database
At the end of the day, all of these bullet points will effectively generate more profits and put more money in your pocket. As we previously outlined, failure to create a website can do the exact opposite; your company will lose money until you are no longer able to stay in business. This is the sad and unfortunate truth of the world that we live in today.
If your company does not have a website, there is still good news for you. The fact that you are reading this article at least acknowledges you must have had some reservations about your reasons for not having a website. I would imagine that by now you are clearly convinced that your small business needs a website.
“I’m old school. I don’t know how to run or operate a website.”
Hire someone. Yes, employees are expensive, but they are the driving force behind your business. The employees that your customers see and interact with on a daily basis are just as important as the one who will be sitting behind a computer screen and keyboard managing your website. You may even be lucky enough to promote an employee from within the company who is qualified to run your website. That employee can continue doing their regular duties, as well as the added responsibility of managing the website. This added responsibility should come with an increase in pay, but it will still be less expensive than hiring someone completely new.
If you weren’t convinced earlier, I’m sure you are by now. Don’t let another day pass without taking steps in the right direction to getting your website developed and active. This could be one of the best decisions you make as a business owner.
Be sure to frequently check back to IncomeSchool.com for more tips and guidelines for running a successful small business. Good Luck!