Let’s assume that your small business is local and you like it that way. Your clients come from the city or area where you are physically located and your personal service insures that they are repeat customers. Let’s also say that right now you don’t have the time, money or energy to physically expand into other markets. If you don’t have any grand plans, why do you need the added distraction of a website?
To be blunt, your small business needs a website because you are now expected to have a website.
The business environment has changed. It has changed in direct relation to the change in computer and smartphone growth. Twenty to thirty years ago all you had to do was make sure that your business was listed in the telephone company’s yellow pages because that is how people found local businesses that they had not yet used. Then maybe you would run an ad on a local radio station once in a while when you had a sale. The local community was a close-knit group and word-of-mouth was a valid advertising medium – and still is with the addition of social media.
Now our communities are not nearly so homogeneous. The population is much more mobile, moving in and out of a geographical area at a fairly high rate compared to those in past years. Yes, you still see a group of customers that you consider to be ‘regulars’ but you are probably finding that a larger portion of your sales are people relatively new to your area.
Another change you are finding in your customer base is the level of knowledge about your product or service that the customer has when they walk in the door or call on the phone. Internet searches are taking the place of browsing through stores. There are still ‘professional shoppers’ who enjoy visiting multiple stores and comparing physical items or customers looking for special in-store-only sales but more and more shoppers are doing their research sitting in their home office or on their computer tablet sitting on their couch. Using the Internet they can find what they want faster and cheaper – no driving to multiple locations required. They can then call your store and ask for the availability of a specific manufacturer’s model number before they burn the gas and fight the traffic to drive to your location.
If your business is not on the Internet, whether it is a local-only business or not, you are going to lose customers to your competitor – because they will have a website. Some communities are urging their members to ‘Buy Local’ but that doesn’t mean that they are urging them to drive around to local businesses. They are saying that if you have the option to buy at a comparative price from a local outlet, keep your money local. If your business does not have a website it is invisible to everyone except the people who happen upon it while going somewhere else.
A Final Admonition: Yes, your business needs a presence in the Internet. But before you get the kid next door to build you a website consider the fact that this website will often be the first contact a potential new customers will have with your business. Your website must be professional, it must be accessible and usable on any Internet-connected device, it must have obvious, logical navigation and it must have a purpose. You must ask yourself what you want the website visitor to do when they arrive on your website. You must ensure that they have a clear path to accomplish that goal and you must have a way to measure whether or not the goal is being achieved.
Business websites are a modern-day necessity. They can make a tremendous difference in customer acquisition and product or service sales. On the other hand, a poorly designed, out-of-date and inaccessible site can and will prevent website visitors from ever entering your physical store.