Why your small business needs a website
While you may be quite happy not having a website for your small business, there are hundreds of other local businesses in your immediate area that do have sites and that may be winning business that could come your way. If you're tired of missing out, this article
is for you.
This article may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission or payment for any purchases you make through these links.
There's a joke in online marketing that goes like this:
Q: Where's the best place to hide a dead body on the internet?
A: On page 2 of Google!
While this might seem a little macabre, for many small business websites it's a daily reality, and for any business owner without a website, being on page 2 of Google may be the same as not having a website to begin with.
Out of small business owners polled worldwide in a June, 2018 survey, 40% of business owners responding reported they don’t have a website.
A survey from 2017 of small businesses across the United States revealed that
42% of small business owners in the Midwest
28% of small business owners in the South
27% of small business owners in the Northeast
23% of small business owners in the West
didn’t have any kind of website.
Similar surveys carried out in 2012 and 2013 put the percentages of small businesses without a website at 58% and 55% so the numbers of small businesses without websites is reducing.
However, from a business-development standpoint, these numbers are troubling because in the United States alone, small businesses generating less than $1,000,000 in annual revenue are the backbone of the US economy. In many cases, these businesses are the social glue that holds many communities together.
While a million-dollar a year business might sound like a major enterprise, it’s not, at least not when it’s compared to the major corporations.
But where bigger companies are often mired in red tape, internal politics, regulations, and posturing, smaller businesses—including LLCs and sole proprietorships that employ fewer than 25 people—although smaller, are that much more agile in terms of market shifts.
How this impacts your small business
Let’s presume—as you’re reading an article about why small business owners need a website—that you own and run a small business and that you don’t currently have a website.
How doe people who don't know about your business find you?
Before you answer that question, let's imagine you need to find a local business to help you solve a problem. Maybe your car broke down or your heating system packed in.
Perhaps you want to order a pizza or find out what's on at the movies. Imagine that you don't have any apps on your phone to help with all this and that you're new in town.
Got that idea? Good.
When you're looking for a business solution, what source do you turn to for help? Whatever it is that you’re looking for, the first place you are likely to turn to to find whatever you're looking for
these days is the Internet.
Do you see now that if you want customers or clients to find your business, and if you want to generate more business over time, how a website can be a sound investment?
We search online because it’s convenient, because it’s quick, and because we’re likely to find something that meets our immediate needs.
True, a few people still use the Yellow Pages, or the local newspaper, or some kind of printed classified publication, or perhaps even local radio or television. And yes again, other people might ask a friend or neighbour for a recommendation.
However, unless you can see the billboard for the local cinema from your front door, or unless you know where to get pizza, or unless a plumber lives across the street, for most of the goods, products, and services you're looking for these days—for speed, for ease, and for instant gratification—the odds are good that you'll look online, and that when you do go online, that you will seldom venture beyond page 2 or 3 of the search results that pop up.
This means that for your local business to be seen, for your business to create awareness and inquiries, that you need to be online and that you need to be visible on the first page of search results. This applies equally whether your preferred search engine is Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Bing, AoL, or any search engine.
The simple truth is that more and more these days, potential clients and customers go to the Internet to find goods, services, and products. And guess what?
If those people are looking for the kinds of products, goods, or services that you offer but they’re not seeing you online because your small business does not have a website, those customers or clients will go somewhere else, taking their money with them.
If you want your ideal customers or clients to find your business, and if you want to generate more business over time, a website can be a sound investment.
And while having a presence on Facebook might seem like it will do to generate awareness, it’s probably not enough. We’ll get more into this in a moment, but first, let’s look at some of the reasons many small business owners give for not having a website.
The most commonly given reasons are the expense, or a lack of technical skill, because the business owner thinks a website isn’t necessary, or because they think they have nothing to say.
None of these points is a reason not to have a website: they’re excuses, and each is easily remedied.
In terms of creating visibility in your local community (meaning, within 20 miles or so of where you do business), having a website will increase your visibility with it, you’ll see an increase in calls, visits, and emails.
Once your site starts showing up in search results, your next task
is to convert that attention into sales—with those initial sales then converting again into a sustained, longer term relationship.
Sadly, many small business owners think there are other things about their business that matter more than a website, such as the length of time they've been in business or the customers they serve, but the truth is, while your business could be a 100 years old or brand new few people care.
Likewise the people you serve: it’s likely that you are not your ideal customer, and while you might care about about how long you've been in business, you are not the best model in terms of imagining your ideal customer, client, or buyer. So be objective and look at your business from your customer's perspective.
Once you're in that mindset, consider that when someone needs your goods, services, or products and they've never heard of you, then what?
If I need what you're selling, how do I find you? What's the easiest, simplest, fastest way for me to find your business right now?
Don't say 'advertising' because not everyone pays attention to ads.
Most ads in local newspapers, magazines, radio, or TV have short shelf lives and unless you have limitless resources to appear in a range of publications again and again, offering a range of messages that entertain, surprise, and delight people, few one-time ads work as effectively as ad sales reps would have you believe.
Don't say Yellow Pages because not everyone keeps a copy of the YP handy. Yes, the YP still reaches millions of households and it still works, but honestly, when was the last time you leafed through a copy?
Don't say 'word of mouth' because there are certain people who may never speak about you to me, or who I’d never think to ask.
The truth is that most—not all, I know—but most of us hear about
a product or service from a slew of different places, but these days, more and more people are likely to go looking for a solution to a problem online, usually via a website and through a search related to their problem.
Whether you run a hair salon or a funeral home, the website the kinds of people who are looking for your business need to find is your website.
The recommendations they discover on social media about the kinds of businesses they’re looking for need to be about your business.
None of this will happen if you don’t have a presence online. If you're ignoring your online presence the age of your business or the number of sales you make won't matter.
Online, several things matter:
- category visibility
- ease of discovery
- relevance and timeliness of information
- ways of contacting or ordering
- speed of delivery fulfillment, and follow-up
- social integration and appeal
Category visibility refers to the degrees to which your business stands out against other businesses offering almost identical services.
If I'm looking for a plumber and you offer plumbing services, the things that make me click or call you as opposed to someone else depend to a point on how much you stand out from every other plumber.
Ease of discovery means your website needs to be on the first page of the major search engines. Ideally in one of the top three spots. The easier it is for me to find your business, the quicker I can consider your services.
Relevance and timeliness of information means me finding the details I’m looking for or you answering the questions I'm pondering and it means you almost reading my mind. There can be no decision to click or call without you offering multiple ways for me to contact you and without you following up or responding quickly.
Ways of contacting or ordering. Are you easy to call or email? If I call and leave a message, how soon will I hear back from you?
How easy is it for me to place an order? Is the order placing process accompanied by a simple method of paying? Do you follow up with an email or a text message that confirms the order?
Speed of delivery, fulfillment, and follow-up refers to how quickly you respond, or how quickly anyone ordering from you receives their order or hears from you. Speed is of the essence. If your guarantee talks speed of reply or delivery and you don't honour your promise, how might that impact your brand?
Social integration and appeal refers to how popular you are and how you interact with followers on social media. What have past clients or customers said about you? How have you responded? Did you listen and did you positively act on any issues or problems?
The to all this key lies in looking at things in terms of the person searching for you, not on how you want to look. What matters most to the person looking for whatever you offer is how:
- easy it is to find you online
- well do you do what you do in terms of solving someone's problem
- convenient is it to find and connect with you physically, geographically, and in person
- simple is it to do business with you
- worthwhile you make it to do business with you again.
I believe a primary key to business growth into the 2020s will be
the ability of small business owners to provide managed visibility across a range of platforms, including through personalized, IP-tagged landing pages that offer customized brand interactions, either through virtual reality or through artificial intelligence.
One day in the not too distant future, if Mr. Smith is ordering pizza and he clicks on your pizza website, your page ought to be smart enough to populate his experience of your page with his name, address, and his ordering details, including a range of pizza specials that appeal to his personal tastes.
While certain shoppers may be a little freaked out by this level of detail, over time it's possible they'll learn to to feel that whoever the service provider is has the buyer's best interests at heart.
While this is all wild, futuristic speculation, my point here is that ultimately, and unless you have no intention of ever expanding your business, if your business is going to be found, your business needs a website that gives you the flexibility to adjust to market changes.
Before you dismiss this suggestion, consider that right now, you're reading an article about why your small business needs a website.
It's commonly customer experience and perception that drive what happens in the marketplace. The more you can influence those experiences and perceptions, the sooner you'll be able to direct and profit from them, and you'll do more of this when your business is both available and visible.
The simple truth is that most of us look for a solution to a specific problem on our terms, on our time, and when and where it's most convenient for us. Not on the terms of the business offering the solution.
The more you as a business owner can adopt this mindset and engineer what you offer to meet the need, the sooner you'll stand out.
Back in the late 1990s, the place to go if you wanted to look up information on a business was the Yellow Pages phone book.
Back then, if your business wasn't listed in the Yellow Pages and you didn't have a brick and mortar location, it was likely you'd have a hard time getting found.
These days though, that perception is changing. Either in its printed form or online, fewer people use the Yellow Pages each year although the publications still remains relevant.
As recently as June 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Local Search Association, the printed side of the Yellow Pages, business is still worth $3 billion a year and that despite declining numbers, as many as 40 percent of people in the United States still consult a Yellow Pages phone book at least once a year.
While people living in more rural areas are still regular users, even in urban areas such as New York City, as many as 13% of people polled by the LSA reported going to the YP at least once a week.
To enlightened marketers like you, the Yellow Pages isn't an antique, it's a goldmine, but that's another discussion.
Let's be clear here: despite the many announcements of its
demise, offline advertising through newspapers, magazines, trade directories, direct mail, and the printed Yellow Pages isn't dead. Print still works and despite what you may have read or heard, these sources still matter.
However, because of the increase in popularity of the Internet and social media, more traditional methods of advertising matter in different ways.
As a small business owner, you need to be using traditional and digital marketing methods as part of your marketing strategy.
Many business owners lack the time to set up a website or simply don’t know what’s involved.
Others fear the costs or, as sole proprietors, they’re simply
maxed out and fear a website would cause sales growth they'd have trouble keeping up with.
While these are all sound reasons, might they also be excuses
for remaining right where the business owner feels the most comfortable?
However, as a June, 2014 article in Inc. Magazine pointed out:
“... entrepreneurs that have jumped to the digital side say their websites have boosted sales, cut down on time-consuming
phone calls, and brought more people into their stores.”
If you're a small business owner and you don't have a website
and have no interest in getting online, I respect your decision.
After all, it's your business, not mine. And while I respect your decision, I find it difficult to understand.
I think a website for any small business is a necessary part of the business and marketing mix.
Let's take an objective look at objections based on cost and technical knowledge:
Rather than seeing the outlay as a expense, why not view the cost of creating a website as an investment? A simple website can cost less than $20 a month to set up and maintain. Over the course of a year, that's 65 cents a day.
As for the time and energy involved in setting up a website, why avoid connecting with those people who are most likely to buy from you?
As for the technical side of things, the easiest workaround here is
to outsource what you don’t know or can't do to someone who does know and can do.
To justify the cost here, figure out how much a few hours of your time is worth. Then factor in the number of hours it would take you to successfully build a simple website.
If the cost to pay someone else is less than it would cost you in lost income, frustration, and angst, outsource the task.
If you know what you’re doing or are willing to invest time and effort in a series of tutorials, a simple, one-page website that will give you a lasting presence online can be set up in an afternoon.
But what about your social media? Doesn't that count as a website?Sadly, a few posts on social media don’t count as a website.
While you may know of a few business owners who have no website and are all over social media, it's likely they have something else going on that you don't know about of have yet to master.
I know of one person in the business coaching niche who has no website who is using social media to great effect, but he's doing so in a way that most other business owners are not. He has two Facebook pages, one of which he uses to gently usher those who want more detail to the second page, access to which is through a paywall. Simple. Effective. Profitable.
The other point to bear in mind here is that most people using social media aren’t in buying mode: they’re either looking for information, or social validation, or they're looking to browse through a field of mental bubblegum.
They’re more interested in videos of cute kittens, or in connecting with family members and old school friends than they are in looking to buy something. So, a website for your small business isn’t a presence on Facebook. Sorry.
Oh, but … setting up a website takes so much time, effort, money, and technical know-how.
While there’s an investment of time and effort, it’s worth it. You don’t need a huge website; a simple one to five-page site will do, and there’s no reason for it to cost you thousands to set-up and maintain.
Oh, but … you already have a brochure, or a pile of leaflets and newsletters. A well set-up and properly managed, basic website
for a small to medium-sized business is much more than an online version of a brochure or newsletter.
A brochure can't show a video or collect names and email addresses so that you can message useful, relevant, valuable content to people over time. A brochure is cost prohibitive to correct and fiddly to share via email and social media?
Most brochures and rack cards are a waste of perfectly good trees. Once you've printed them, any change to the content and the piece is useless. Placing stickers over phone number changes and price changes looks tacky.
Having your own simple website gives you much greater flexibility and offers you the chance to showcase content your visitors can download and consume on their terms.
Additionally, even a basic website will create visibility in the place where an increasing number of your prospects are looking for the kinds of solutions you’re offering: online.
If it’s set up properly, and depending on the number of other competing sites in your niche, in your immediate area, there’s no reason why your business website can’t rank and appear on the first page of the major search engines. Possibly listed in the top five sites. Or even listed as the top site. And in these places there is even greater visibility.
If there are 1,000 monthly searches on Google for a term that your website ranks highly for on the first page of Google, you stand to attract up to 30 percent of those searches. This means 300 people are likely to see your site in the search results and many of them are likely to visit your website.
If a quarter of those site visitors think enough of what you offer, do, make, or sell to buy something from you, or to sign up for details, or to call to find out more, or to visit your brick and mortar store, congratulations: your simple website just earned you 75 potential clients or customers.
It's doubtful that any brochure can do that.
If you multiply 75 by a typical purchase amount of $50, your website just made you $3,750 in sales. If your website can do that consistently over time, in a year, a simple website could generate up to $45,000 in sales.
To be clear, your website might not make any money. But one thing’s for certain, even if a simple website makes half this amount, what would you rather have? 100% of $22,500? Or 100% of nothing?
These days, with online systems and simple website-building platforms, building a professional-looking website is easier and more cost effective than its ever been and each year, most online web building platforms improve.
Website building platforms such as those offered by Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace to name just three are easy to navigate, intuitive to use, and relatively inexpensive to run.
While your small business does not need a website, the fact that you've read this far shows that setting up a website is at least something you're thinking about.
Once you've taken the time to set up a small website, the scope of your overall visibility and appeal will increase.
In today's markets, with increasing competition and with extra layers of stress and emphasis, to stand out and to generate extra sales, your small business needs all the help it can get.
An attractive, appealing, and compelling web presence gives you that much-needed edge and sets you up for greater potential for success.
As technology improves and as platforms such as Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace and the like get better and better, the extra expenses incurred and technical side of things reduce in both scope and complexity. The sooner you act, the sooner you will see results.
Sadly, a lot of small business websites don't accomplish much because they’re badly set up, poorly written, and ineffectively positioned.
To be effective, a small business website needs to be attractive to both people and search engines. Its information needs to be clear, concise, and compelling. The site needs to be linked to other, relevant sites, and its internal pages need to link to each other.
The information on multiple listings-sites needs to be consistent in terms of contact details, directions, opening times, and other essential information.
The site needs to be listed on local listings and review sites, including Google Places for Business. The text on each page needs to speak to the specific needs of the reader rather than touting the accomplishments of the business owner.
The images and text need to reassure the visitor that they’re in the right place, and that this is the site for them. The site needs to be linked to social media pages and in turn, those social links need to link to something relevant.
Asking someone to like your page on Facebook for no reason is lame. If I come to your website and I’m asked to like your page on Facebook for no reason, I want to know why.
What’s in that action for me? Where’s the incentive for me to comply? Offer me something worth liking the page for (a discount coupon, a free sample, a gift with my first purchase, and so on).
The site needs to do something: it needs to present benefits to the visitor, and the business owner needs a clear idea of what they want the person visiting the website to do as a result of visiting: make a phone call; visit a physical location; fill in a form; submit their email address.
There needs to be logical flow of content, messaging, and action from one page to another.
The site needs to be pleasing to look so that the visitor’s eye isn’t bouncing all over the place.
Each page needs some degree of visual consistency and hierarchy based on some form of grid system. There needs to be a consistent use of typefaces, image sizes, colors, and page elements.
The design of your site matters. Thankfully, many of the website builders out there offer simple design training tutorials to help you with a lot of this stuff. And of course, there’s always outsourcing through sites such as Elance and ODesk, where you can find qualified, experienced professional designers who do this kind of stuff every day, saving you time and frustration.
I hope this overview as to why your small business needs a
website has given you something to think about, even if you’ve been steadfastly against having any kind of online presence.
The reasons to have a small business website outnumber the reasons for not having one, and the sooner you start the process, the sooner you’ll begin seeing results.
Your small business deserves the greatest success possible.
Setting up and maintaining even the most modest of websites can help with that goal.
Consider checking out one of the resources listed in this article to see which ones might best suit your needs. Sign up for a few free trials. Get a feel for the platforms available in the marketplace, and ask friends and business associates what solutions they use for their websites.
Somewhere out there is the website perfect platform for your small business. What are you waiting for? Go and find it.
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Marketing, branding, and social media strategist. Happy hubby, movie geek, and keen cook.
Originally from the UK, Gary Bloomer lives just outside Philadelphia, USA. Online, he's been answering questions about social media, marketing, and branding since 2009.
A talented writer, an award-winning graphic designer, and a regular contributor to the Know-How Exchange
of MarketingProfs.com (one of the Internet's leading marketing websites), he's known for giving practical, non-nonsense, BS-free marketing and branding advice.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn