December 21, 2016 by Ed Kennedy
The Time is Now: Why EVERY Small Business Needs a Online Website
If you’re reading this now you know the internet, know what a website is, and hopefully can see the value in it as a tool for communication. While the internet represents the most immediate tool for communication in our age, its newness remains of questionable value to a long-established small business.
You’ve a business with a shop sign that’s faded, but has a timeless styling. Its got that vintage quality that affirms to all passers by your a seasoned accountant, financial planner, or lawyer, tailor, cobbler – or any other profession that once did so well without the internet. Such a signs and advertisement is charming, endearing – but also not nearly suitable for the online age any longer. It’s time to talk about building a new sign.
Let’s talk Business
To be clear at the outset, the fundamentals of good business are the same ‘in real life’ [IRL] as they are online. Be clear in what service or product you offer, provide it as you say you will, and commit to delivering a quality experience and good service to you client/customer throughout. This tried and true formula shall serve a baker in the suburbs, a tailor in a rural town – and even a mechanic in the city, just as well as an eCommerce giant who sells good or services online.
To someone who right now has a IRL business yet does not have an online presence at all the maintenance of an online operation – whether as an online-only business or a component of the business that serves in complement to your IRL activities – the thought of having a website presence may seem confronting, like a lot of work, and also something that could deliver questionable returns.
By contrast, here is something that need be known and understood clearly: to not have an online presence for your bricks and mortar business – whether you are a accountant, lawyer, baker, tailor, mechanic, or in any other field – is not only unwise but can be fundamentally perilous.
Sure, you may not be a cafe, nightclub, fashion label, or a similar business that greatly depends upon daily promotion and new customers to keep the wheels of the business spinning: but by forfeiting an advantage you can be certain to make your absence of an online presence into a liability.
I’ve got History here…
You’re thinking this couldn’t be so, right? After all, you’ve ran a accounting practice for 30 years in your neighbourhood, been a hairdresser on the block for 20 years, or even cake shop that since opening ten years ago has been raved about and you’ve enjoyed solid business there – but the absence of an online component means business faces a considerable risk.
Here’s why. It may seem tangential at first ‘OK I’ve not got a website but I do have a business card and a big sign outside my office, surely that’s enough right?’ Wrong.
As the world becomes more globalised, as businesses place a premium on providing products and services that are immediate and instantaneous (think about the last time you got in the car and went to a video store rather than just stream something off Netflix) the need to provide your clients quick and easy access to your business is imperative. This means if they google you but can’t find you – odds are you’ll lose them.
What about word-of-mouth referral though? Doesn’t that count for something? Yes, absolutely. Once again; the tried and true principles of good business remain just as pertinent for the online world and eCommerce operations as it does for IRL business.
But, in the day and age where social media has a reach of over 2.34 billion around the world – even if that at first appears comparatively small in a global population of 7 billion – internet censorship, accessibility, and connection speeds mean that number would be far higher on even terms; and is only set to grow regardless.
By contrast, given its estimated only 3 billion of that 7 billion – less than half of the world’s population has internet access; the trend towards social media use is even more compelling.
Around the world, most people are far more likely to just message a friend right away on Facebook, or send them a photo on Snapchat of the product they are looking for. So, if you don’t have a website or any online presence?
That means it is going to be far harder to obtain referrals by word-of-mouth. To repeat: you are missing out on business if you are not an online business (in all respects and in all regards) because if people can’t find you and point to your sign ‘online’ they will not point to you at all.
This is all the more true with the ongoing expansion of apps like Google Maps and Google Now, that aspire to offer direct and seamless links from a search enquiry to contact details. So, if someone searches ‘accountant’ in their suburb – then even if you are the next Fibonacci – without a website you’ve essentially zero chance of being the first recommendation Google provides.
You may now be thinking ‘OK, I’ve not got an online sign, but I do have a landmark location for my business’. Even if you have a business in the epicentre of a major city if you don’t have an online website it means people who walk by but are unable to stop in right then – from someone who needs a tax return done to someone who likes the cakes you sell but dosen’t need to buy one until the weekend – will look to your website for further info.
If they hop on and find you’ve no website, and no following on social media – including the many clients or customers that would otherwise stand ready to say good things about you e.g. ‘John Smith has been my lawyer for 10 years, he is a good and honest man who always provides a fantastic service’ – then you are truly missing out.
OK, but Where to Start?
Step 1: Start with a simple website.
In today’s online era a website is essential your phone book listing. It need not be fancy or full of all the bells and whistles that you’d regard as intimidating. If you are good with computers you can setup a simple one with Namecheap and WordPress. If you’re not all that skilled with PC’s ask family or friends, or colleagues at your business how you could above setting up a website.
In turn, you need not even do anything with it once its setup if you don’t want too – but just ensure you have something. A crisp and attractive website that clearly details what your business is, what it offers, and where it is located/how it can be contacted. That is all you need.
Thereafter, blogging, ongoing advertising, even things like podcasts and videos on YouTube are all an option if you find yourself seeing positive growth and enjoying the online work. Undoubtedly, while these ventures are not rocket science, they do require a advanced skill set so if just starting; start small.
Step 2: Make plans for social media.
Unlike a website, where the foundation of it can be setup easily, social media is a diverse arena. A photographer should use instagram, a writer should use twitter – but what if your both? – using two may not be ideal.
This is where good social media building and management is important.
Such a strategy is best left to a forthcoming article – and building a website shall keep you busy in stage one of online growth – but it is something worthwhile thinking a little a bit about at the outset.
Step 3: Keep reading
Finally, if still stuck this author has a eBook that goes into more detail here. For those looking for a step by step blueprint for getting their business firing online, its a resource that is simple, straightforward, and easy to follow (read: techno jargon free!).
Ed Kennedy is a journalist and web designer proudly from Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Ed via email@example.com or on Twitter @Edkennedy01