Websites: Big-Business Value for Small-Business Owners

Still think you don't need a website, or that yours was a waste of money? Pshaw! Read my latest column below, which was originally published in The Harrison Report on Sept. 2, 2010. Marketing guru/freelance writer Allen Mogol contributed to the research of this column. Shop Talk

Written by Carla Rose Fisher
Thursday, 02 September 2010 13:46
Websites: Big-Business Value for Small-Business Owners“I spent all this money on my website, and it hasn’t brought me a single sale.” For small-business owners with sparkling, newly launched websites, this is a common lament. You’ve invested time and money in your website. Why, you ask, after three days — or three months — hasn’t my site paid for itself? Have I wasted my investment?

Probably not. Your website is a long-term investment. Instead of expecting your site to pay off immediately, consider that it takes time to attract and persuade a new customer to buy. A website can begin the process, but not necessarily seal the deal. A website can also remind your existing customers that you’re there for them 24/7, placing you on par with bigger businesses, and also let them know about new products, services, discount offers or special events. Your site can help keep you in the forefront of peoples’ minds when they need you, but may not necessarily result in an instant sale.

You actually may be getting business from your site without knowing it. If you ask your customers how they heard about you, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear how much of a traffic-builder your website has become. Especially if you’ve got video: Forester Research tells us you are 53 times more likely to appear on page one of Google’s search results if you have video on your website. And any good site designer these days will input keywords into the site’s coding to maximize its chances of being easily found on search engines.

5 key benefits websites offer:

1) Credibility. If your bank, favorite cable channel or preferred charity didn’t have a website, you’d wonder about its professionalism and reliability. By the very act of having a website, you’re telling your current and potential customers that you’re legitimate, current and committed to be there for them, not just now but down the road. When you meet someone in a business setting who makes a good impression, don’t you want to find out more about what they do? If he or she doesn’t have a web presence, it’s natural that you’d wonder about your new acquaintance’s level of expertise.

2) Convenience. Does that restaurant you’d like to try have vegetarian options? Is it wheelchair accessible? Busy consumers are used to getting instant answers not just when deciding where to eat, but when deciding on colors for their kitchens or where to buy school supplies. A website allows potential customers to get answers or even make purchases at their convenience, no matter what time of the day, often saving them the parking and traffic headaches that come with heading to actual storefronts. Whether refillable pencils or paint samples, a website transforms your business hours from 9-to-5 to 24/7.

3) Browsing. When potential customers are investigating a purchase, product photos online can result in a visit to your store when those customers are ready to buy, no matter if it’s tomorrow or months from now. It’s modern-day window-shopping. I recently watched an employee at a tea shop set up a stand in front of the store, offering free samples to dozens of passersby. Over 10 or 15 minutes, close to 50 samples must’ve been given out. And not one sampler walked into the store. A waste of time and product? Absolutely not. The product is delicious, and the shop made lots of impressions among tea drinkers that will likely pay off in the long run.

4) Reach. Let’s say you own a children’s furniture store. That’s usually the kind of store that potential shoppers will check out online first, before making in-person visits. They won’t go miles out of their way, not when they can go online first. And they likely won’t decide immediately. Your website is your chance to persuade customers to travel to your business, rather than go to the nearest one. Just know that the visit might not happen for weeks or months, as most people tend to research purchases — mostly through online reviews — before visiting the store to investigate further.

5) Branding. This may be the most important benefit of all. Your website is an ideal tool you should be tying in with all your other marketing efforts. In fact, you’ll increase site traffic by taking every opportunity to let your customers know you’ve got a website. Place your URL on fliers, your storefront display, business cards, coupons, menus, bags…virtually everywhere you promote your business. A website doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it’s part of your overall campaign. But you’ve got to make it known. Lots of companies Harrisonites do business with make sure their web address is prominent whenever they send out a postcard about a sale, an invoice for a previous purchase or a catalog promoting its whole line. Reminding customers about their websites gives customers a chance to find out more, and might persuade them to place an order or pay an in-person visit.

Carla Rose Fisher is a freelance writer and web consultant who specializes in marketing for small businesses and startups. If you know of a newsworthy small-business happening in the area or want more info on creating a web presence for your business, e-mail carla@saidandsung.com.

Need a writer for your website? Visit saidandsung.com to view my writing samples.