How much website does your business need? If you’re a specialty seller or information-based company, it could be “all you can get, and then some more, please.” However, even the smallest, most compact business can use a website presence. Lots of small businesses make the mistake of not having a website, or having one that’s too short on necessary content. While the answer to that starting question will vary as widely as do businesses themselves, it’s never, ever “none.”
For many businesses, a website has an obvious value, putting product or service information online, or even direct sales or service access. For companies selling specialty merchandise, having an online storefront and thus a worldwide customer base can mean the difference between success and failure. But what about businesses that don’t have an obvious need to put their business online? Businesses that are exclusively local and can only deal with walk-in or community customers? Shops like shoe repair and clothing alterations, diners, auto repair, construction trades, cleaning services, even doctors and dentists – these are not businesses that would seem to get any value from an online presence.
However, they would, and do. Even for a business that has no product it can ship and needs the customer to come face to face with the proprietor, a web site is an essential marketing, promotional and customer satisfaction tool. I’ll be so bold as to say that I can’t think of a business type, in any situation, that would not benefit from having an appropriate web site. Even if only a few times a year, it will make the difference between a customer choosing you or moving on, and bringing in those customers will make the site pay for itself. Many businesses will see significant upticks in calls and visits with a good website on line.
A web site can be as simple as a single page as long as it presents essential information like your business name, location, hours, services and brands you sell or service – the details customers would ask on their first phone call. It’s like having a permanent full-page ad in the newspaper or phone directory, and it’s accessible 24/7/365 by potential customers. When new customers are looking for your specialty, the site will come up in search listings and present you as a viable option, with all the information customers need to choose, find and contact you. They don’t have to make a choice based on a business name and a phone number, then call to find out if you are what you appear to be, when you’re open, etc. It’s all right there. This is how a majority of people find new sellers and servicers these days, even for very ‘old-school’ businesses.
A web site also provides an anchor in the complexity of the web so that your business is not totally dependent on the various review and business listing services, few of which allow much control by the business owners. It’s good to have a business page and reviews on Yelp, MerchantCircle etc. (and Patch!) but the second place potential customers will look – if they can – is at the referenced web site for the business. If they can go past the often-incomplete, sometimes out-of-date information in such listings and find a welcoming, detailed web site answering their questions and presenting your business information, you’re a lot more likely to get a call or a walk-in.
An attractive, single-page or simple three-to-five page web site, tailored to present your business in its best light and kept updated on essentials like hours and service details, can be a workhorse promotional asset for any business, even the smallest one-person shop. It also opens the door to a coherent online business image, with business-domain email instead of a generic address, and is a springboard to every other online feature you may have admired in other business sites. (We’ll talk about what a coherent image is, and why it’s important, in a future installment.)
Your own website also lets you choose a domain name that makes it easy for customers to find and remember you – there are few promotional elements that pack more punch than a memorable domain name! You also have complete control of the information presented to site visitors. That means you don’t have to depend on those third-party listings, whose errors or incomplete information may have cost you many customers over the years.
Which brings us to the final point: While a good but simple web site can be an asset, a lousy web site of any size can be more damaging to a business than even unfair online reviews or error-riddled online listings... or worse than no online presence at all. A simple site can offer more opportunities for trouble than a more comprehensive site, since fewer elements have to carry the message. Creating a web site is much more about the content than the design or technical issues – something many amateur or low-cost web designers overlook. A very plain presentation of good material is far better than a dazzling display of empty blather... but best of all is a stylish presentation of well-done content.
Besides all of the above, the best argument for a business web site is that it’s cheap – far less expensive than most other forms of promotion and advertising. It’s hard to get more bang for your promo buck than establishing a good website. Initial cost need not be more than that of one printed flyer or door-hanger; the annual cost can be from nearly free to less than the expense of a single small weekly-paper ad.
There’s no reason for any business – your business! – to pass up the many benefits of its own, self-defined online space. Whether your business is new or old, it’s not too late: the power of the web is waiting for you.
James Gifford is the creative director of NitroPress Creative Services in Tolland.