If your business is considering launching a Web site, then you've probably encountered varied opinions on the subject and you may have many unanswered questions. This 4-part Tips & Tactics series on Business Web Sites should clear up some of the confusion and help you make a more informed decision about whether or not to make the leap into cyberspace with your business product or service.
Topics in the series include: "Do I Need a Web Site?" "How Do I Launch a Web Site?" "How Do I Conduct Sales Over the Internet?" and "How Do I Get People to Visit My Web Site?"
Wave of the Future or Waste of Time?
Many people seem to be suggesting that all businesses, even small businesses, must have an Internet presence to be competitive. And considering the explosive growth of Internet service providers, Web site developers and easy-to-use software, launching a Web site can certainly be an affordable, viable option for small business owners.
You may have some thoughts about whether or not your business can benefit from the Internet. But, is your business ready for a Web site? Is publishing a Web site the right marketing medium for your business? To help you answer these questions, consider the following commonly held Internet myths.
Myth #1: You must have a Web site to have an Internet presence.
Many small business owners think that the Web = the Internet, and getting online = creating a Web page. However, having an Internet presence does not necessarily mean that you need to create a Web page and sell goods and services online. The Internet is much more than the Web, and an Internet presence in other forms can also help small businesses grow and succeed. If your business is not currently taking advantage of the following Internet business strategies, try them! Exploring these free Internet business strategies should be your initial steps in the process of launching your own Web page.
Conduct business research such as searching for trends in your market, obtaining financial projection information, utilizing resources and statistics from trade associations, locating vendors and suppliers, etc.
- Check out the competition to see who is already on the Net, what online services they provide and to get great ideas as well as terrible ideas (you'll learn from both!)
Use broadcast e-mail to provide updates to existing clients, or to send information to prospects who have indicated an interest in your services or products.
Join discussion groups/listservs to network with other businesses involved in your industry or potential consumers of your product or service.
Myth #2: You can expect to make money on the Internet.
"Workshop Graduate Generates Nearly $100,000 in Sales in Just One Month-on the Internet! Are you ready to use the Internet to promote or expand any business? Do you want to learn how to make money on the greatest marketing breakthrough of the century? If so, call...."
You may have seen similar ads or reports, making it seem that big bucks are instantly available just by tapping into the Internet. These reports are usually exaggerated, and often associated with seminars, schemes, etc. to get people to sign up for Web-related services. For every business that earns a lot of money on the Internet, there are many who don't (think: the difference between the number of people who win the lottery versus the number of people who buy lottery tickets).
The small businesses who are successful in making money in direct sales over the Internet have done so because they have a product/service that appeals to a target market accessible through the Web. These businesses have applied sound business practices and have well-defined objectives for marketing on the Web.
Also, there are many scams and bogus services associated with all aspects of doing business on the Internet. For more information on scams, see the FAQ Sheet, "Avoiding Scams" and visit the Web site of the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
Web sites as Marketing Tools: Other small businesses successfully launch a Web site as a marketing tool, rather than a direct sales medium. These business Web sites may not generate revenue directly but can certainly accomplish other business objectives, including: brand development and image building, prospect building, educating prospects and customers, customer support and service, building repeat business from current customers, etc.
Prior to launching a Web site, you must first determine what your objective is. The question to ask yourself is not, "how much money can I make on the Web," but "what will my return on investment (ROI) be?"Your business Web site ROI may not be an actual dollar figure, but rather the accomplishment of clearly defined business objectives.
Myth #3: You can reach 30 million people on the Internet.
You don't want to reach 30 million people, since they all have differing needs and buying patterns, and you couldn't service them all anyway. You only need to reach your target market effectively, so first define your target market and profile your customers. Then, determine whether your target market is likely to use the Internet to do business with you (see Business Web Sites, Part 3).
Myth #4: You can put up a Web site and watch your business grow.
Many business owners believe they need to get on the Internet RIGHT NOW! They hire a consultant to create the site and then sit back and wait for results. They give little thought to content and haven't outlined a plan for reaching their target market or for meeting their objectives (typically they aren't even sure what their objectives are!). They either don't know their Web site address or forget to tell potential customers how to find them on the net. Accordingly, few people visit the site, no one sends e-mail and the Web page becomes a "cobWeb site" -one whose contents never change.
FACT: Businesses do well on the Internet for the same reasons they are successful in the real world. Their owners work hard to develop and promote the business, provide excellent customer service and offer desirable, quality products and services to a defined target market. In addition, they set realistic goals, have a plan and know what they expect to gain from their marketing efforts.
Likewise, an effective and successful Web site works because it is implemented as part of an overall marketing plan. Web site information is continually updated, the site is maintained and results are tracked and measured. The Web site is promoted through traditional marketing methods and is designed to complement current marketing and sales activities of the business. Although business Web sites have been referred to as a passive marketing medium (i.e. put it up and let it work for you 24/7), business owners must take an active approach to promoting and maintaining the site (see Business Web Sites, Part 4).
Before making a final decision on whether or not your business needs a Web site, do your homework and plan carefully. Read through the Business Web Site series and develop your Internet business plan according to your business and web site objectives.