Why Do I Need a Website for My Business?
Where to begin! Strangely enough, in today’s digital world, this is still a common question. As a web designer myself, I see the importance of a good website all the time. As someone who not only designs but also studies every website I visit, I am also very aware of the elements that make up a nice looking, user friendly and properly functioning site. The purpose of this article is to share with small and new business owners my reasoning for why a web presence is such a critical aspect of running your business. Whether you’re a two person mom-and-pop shop that has never heard the term “e-commerce” or someone who’s business revolves around a downloadable product, you need a website, period. I will discuss, in my humble opinion, five of the most important reasons for having a website. Please feel free to chime in with your comments if you agree, disagree or would like to offer something you feel I missed!
Your competitor’s have one –
Whether you’re just starting out or are just now looking into a website for your business, do a quick Google search for your competitors. Odds are you’ll find most, if not all, of them. Does this really matter? What do you think? More and more people are searching for information online before visiting brick-and-mortar shops, online outlets, etc. There is so much that can be learned by typing a simple search engine query that you are at a substantial disadvantage if you don’t have anything available for people to view. I have a story to demonstrate what I mean:
I recently visited New York City for the first time. Being a northeast Ohio native (aside from being born in Houston) and having never really traveled, I was amazed upon arriving in the Big Apple in the wee hours on a Saturday morning. At around 1:00 in the morning, my first real sight of inside the city was when we arrived at our hotel, directly across the street from Madison Square Garden. What a sight it was! At that time, when most people are at home sleeping, there was more happening on Pennsylvania Plaza than at any time during the day in downtown Cleveland. I was shocked to see street vendors selling pizza and hotdogs like it was lunch time! Our real exploration of the city began at a more normal time later that morning. As we strolled through the city, making our way throughout Manhattan via busy subway stations and hopping in and out of various taxis from the sea of yellow cabs, I could not help but notice the astounding number of shops. Everything you could imagine was just moments from where we stood. After a long day of sightseeing in the cold New York winter, we ventured off to the famous Little Italy for dinner. As we got out of the cab and began our short walk toward the restaurant we planned to visit, we strolled by dozens of other establishments. What immediately stood out to me was that each restaurant had an employee standing outside to offer passersby special offers at their location and input on why they were the best joint around. “Free wine with dinner!”, “Free dessert!”, “Best cannoli in the city!”. This isn’t something I had ever seen before and it isn’t something you ever see in Cleveland. I realized that they were doing this because the competition was so great, they had to do anything they possibly could to generate business and make sure that potential customers’ first impression of them was positive. Marketing at its finest!
The internet is similar to NYC in the sense that it is an ocean of competition. Some may argue that it is so big, the odds of actually winning customers from a website are very slim. This is always possible, but the same concept applied to all the restaurants in Little Italy. Just because they had someone outside offering a free glass of Chianti with their ravioli doesn’t necessarily increase their odds that much. That didn’t stop them, though. Why? Their competition was doing the same thing. Therefore, they had to the same thing just to keep themselves on the same playing field. And that’s why it is so vital that your business have a professional looking website for all to see! You may be just like one of the hundreds of NYC pizza joints offering a free fountain drink with a slice, but at least you’ll be keeping up.
It’s your 24/7 online brochure –
This is the only area where I advise that it is better to have no website at all than one that makes your business look bad. As I previously mentioned, there are many people who now learn about places of business via the internet. Therefore, your website is essentially a 24/7 billboard/brochure for advertising your business. Seeing as how a visit to your website is often a customer’s first impression of you, it better be a good one. This is where a great design come into play. Attractive is synonymous with appealing. If you have a downright ugly website, are prospective customers going to be appealed? No! From a consumer’s point of view, I’m not a fan of mediocrity and if I see such in a website, I attribute that same feeling to the business the site represents. It’s not just me being an elitist jack@$$, it’s psychology. If a business can’t take pride in their website, that anyone in the world can view, why would they take pride in things such as customer service? Why shouldn’t I question their professionalism and credibility? Some will argue this is judging a book by its cover. Well, that’s business. If consumers didn’t judge a business by the image it portrays, marketing wouldn’t be such a huge industry.
This is my advice: You may blend in with the countless of other websites that offer similar or exact products/services. This is always the case and a website is rarely a tool that, alone, can radically distinguish you from the crowd. The same is true for customer service. Many people take good customer service for granted. Therefore, many people won’t remember superior service. But I guarantee you that EVERYONE will remember BAD service! It is a shame that bad customer service often leaves a longer lasting impression than good customer service, but it happens… a lot. So while you may not always be remembered for your website – even if it’s well built, informative and functional – make sure you’re not remembered for having a website with quality equivalent to the outrageously rude shipping clerk at a local UPS Store (ironically, I used to work at one of these stores).
More and more people today find businesses online –
I read a fantastic comment once when reading a blog entry similar to this one. The writer commented that the phone book is being phased out by the internet. Like many consumers today, when he/she looks for a new product, the first step taken is a Google search. The most powerful snippet of their comment, though, was “If you’re not in my search, you don’t exist”. There isn’t much more I can add to this. The only thing I can share is that he’s not the only consumer holding this sentiment.
Never write off “e-commerce” –
Nowadays, there aren’t many things that can’t be sold online. If you think about it, there is more that CAN be sold online than cannot. With e-books, MP3’s, online courses, stock, images, memberships, etc., you should really ask yourself if you legitimately cannot sell your product/service online. You could allow customers to purchase online and pickup in-store, offer shipping, pay for a service through PayPal, etc. My rule of thumb is to never close the door on e-commerce.
Size doesn’t matter –
Whether you’re a one man (or woman) show or a billion dollar corporation with 10,000 employees, a website is possible for all. A small law firm with three attorneys can display a more professional image on the web than a major firm with over 200 attorneys and 100 offices worldwide. In my opinion, this is exactly why a small business has more to gain from a professional website than a huge corporation. Small businesses can live and die by their image more so than big firms that have larger public footprints and marketing departments to manage their publicity. Here’s an example: ‘Brain Found in KFC Meal’
As disturbing as it is (and I will never eat KFC again), it provides a great marketing lesson. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), a household name, is a large, established business. They can afford to pay a team to write and deliver public statements. In this case, they got real CREATIVE and issued a statement explaining that what is seen in the photograph was “a kidney, and not a brain as claimed,[that] was not removed in the preparation process…”. Now I’m not doctor but I did a dissection in General Biology II and I do know that kidneys are smooth organs (meaning they do not have the ridges and all around brain-like appearance that was seen in the image). I don’t care what KFC’s PR team says, that is a brain! The point is that if something like this was found in a small diner here in Oberlin, Ohio (or anywhere else), it would be a public disaster and, potentially, they’d be shut down.
That is the difference between small and big businesses. And the beauty of websites is that they can even the playing field.
Hopefully I was able to shed some light on why it is so important for your small business to have its own website. Like I mentioned in the beginning, please share your thoughts and let me know if you feel I missed anything worth being on this list. Wherever you go with your business and website journey, best of luck!