Why "Local Businesses" Need a Web Site Too.
This newsletter was originally part of a "Q and A" during a "Chamber of Commerce"-type lunch in 1997. The level of interest that day caused us to create a more formal presentation that was done for small business and retailer associations in Australia, then later the offices in the USA, the UK and Germany picked it up. By 1998, we thought everyone knew the value of at least a minimum-effort web site, for online awareness and visibility. We were wrong. Our encouragement of local retailers returned in 2002, with this presentation taking a slightly different form as we tested RSS feeds and "push-marketing", since the content was appropriate. This posting is back in it's original form and "out-of-date" on purpose, to show that a basic web site [plus social media] can still make a huge impact.Every retail business and commercial/wholesale business needs a Web site. That is a blanket statement. Anyone operating a business in today's competitive market without the tools available on the Internet is just marking time. It is shortsighted to ignore the Internet's effect on almost every aspect of our lives. It's how we get our mail, follow our finances and find information on any subject. As consumers, we benefit from lower prices through comparison shopping, whether the end purchase is on a web site or at the local retailer. As a business, the internet offers new opportunities to reach a greater marketplace or "super service" a smaller niche' that would not be viable in the "brick and sticks" world. Internet connectivity also offers communications, inventory control and productivity gains that can alter "How" a business operation is run.
I still talk to the occasional business owner that is convinced that their situation is different. "I don't need a Web site." they say. "My clientele / customer base is only local", or they say "I only trade with area residents or local businesses". It is hard to tell whether this business owners really believe this, or just keep repeating it, trying to convince themselves. Consulting the Internet is more and more frequently the standard way to "comparison shopping" for an ever growing list of goods and services. The internet isn't just cheap books from Amazon.com anymore. The days of potential customers calling around town to check prices or compare services are fading fast. The expectations of customers have forever changed. Without a web site, a small business won't even be in the running. The latest "retail spending" market research is showing that customers' loyalty falters in direct proportion to the savings they "believe" are available by shopping on the Web. Like it or not, the lower overhead of Internet retailers allows them to pass the savings on to the buyer. This means that the only selling advantages that traditional neighborhood stores have are:
1> Local purchases rarely include a shipping charge. < This is off-set by local sales taxes, to some degree >
2> Customers in a purchasing habit or routine < traffic disruptions, longer suburban commutes, rising unemployement and even "bad weather" can ruin this advantage >
3> "I want it Now ! < Instant gratification works for "local" retailers, if the inventory is well managed. >
4> One-on-one "friendly" customer service. < This is your only real advantage, with or without a web site, but be warned: We are working on a streaming-video/live-chat option that could soon take this away too. >
Please don't think your business is any different or immune to these trends. I'm not here to ruin your day or tell you that the end of the world started with the birth of the internet. That not my intent. This is reality in today's retail marketplace. I want you to know that the power of the Internet can support your business enterprise, reinforce the community "good will" you have built up over the years, and continue to build your reputation as the "local expert" in the neighborhood. You can read more about "The 10 Big mistakes small businesses make online" in the VectorInter.Net newsletter archive.
I'm commonly asked to discuss the advantages to be found in using the internet, Email, and other web-based productivity tools to competitively grow smaller businesses. A personal, but accidental "sales experience" is the best "How I found a new customer" story. It's a good story because of the traditional "happy ending", without being too self-serving. On a social visit to Chicago, in the USA; I had occasion to help a friend by going to a local sign shop to pick up a previously ordered large canvas banner. The business owner's son was running the cash register, and because of my business card he asked, " Do you make web sites?" We began a casual discussion of his desire to study web design as a major in college the next fall. We finally got to the question "what does your dad's web site look like?" He sighs and tells me that "Dad doesn't think he needs a web site, as his sign business only deals with "local stores" like your friend's place". As I looked around this storefront, I saw a product mix of business cards, magnetic signs, "Employee of the month" plaques, window stickers and a new service, those hand-painted window signs. You know the type, they announce "2.9% financing, NOW !!" in automobile dealership windows. When "Dad" came out of the back, the son introduced me, commented on what I did, and that I had reinforced his interest in a college major. OK, I must admit to being an opportunist, but I couldn't resist. I ask "Dad" if he could handle the workload if I doubled the number of orders he had in a week for.... Oh, lets say, simple business cards. "Well, I could handle that no problem" he says. If I increased his sales of magnetic signs by 50% and added about two new storefront painted sign jobs a month, he assured me he was ready to handle that too. The son started to smile. He figured out my "hustle" about 4 seconds before his dad did. I told them both I would take the sign and leave, without any more "salesmanship", or we could all spend 15 minutes in front of the office computer. I promised I could show him how to increase his business. You know what I did? I sat down, started with the Google home page, and typed in "Business Cards" and the cities name. There were a million suggested links, but not a single one that was located in his city. Not a single one! The son clicked 3 or 4 random links and found that they could match the "discount price" being offered. We did the same with "magnetic signs". The end of the story is this. After some weeks of thought, "Dad" had us build a web site. The son started taking Jr. college classes about web design and now updates the daily changes inside the broader shell we designed to allow for the updated web pages. The best part of the story is that the son's education is a tax deductible business expense (in the USA tac code). < Well, not really all of it, but the graphic arts, web design and business classes are deductible. Every pence, or penny can help, you know.>
If you are ready to explore the options available to your small business, here is a very simple step by step outline of what you will need to do.
First, Select and register a Domain Name for your business. Pick something logical or catchy and don't be surprised if your first choice is taken. The address you see as www.VectorInter.Net is called a URL. The term comes from the early days of the Internet and is short for Uniform Resource Locator. < To learn more, read "How Domain Names work". It's one of several resource available in the VectorInter.Net newsletter archive.
The "Second Step" is building a web site. Every web site you have ever seen is just a collection of individual pages grouped together in one place. Some sites are more elaborate than others, but building an effective web site for your business isn't nearly as expensive as you may think.
The next step is to learn the basics of E-mail usage. More and more of your customers expect to have "you" available anytime. E-mail can be a powerful marketing tool, and done right it can greatly increase customer loyalty and retention. We've outlined some very basic "E-mail marketing plans" elsewhere on this site. The use of "instant messaging" is growing, but requires a more detailed discussion and thought process than we'll cover here. As soon as your web site is "online", take steps to make sure you are "found". Put your new web site address on everything. Your phone number is on your business cards, Letterhead, advertising and the company van, right? The web site address needs to be there too. Add your URL (web site address) with the listings of the popular search engines. If a potential customer enters "sign maker" and your town name in any search engine, you want them to see your web site listed. This is an increadably simplified version of the timeline, but it gives you an outline.
Finally, Let me mention the need to use dependable web site hosting. Make absolutely sure that the web pages you have worked so hard to organize are "ALWAYS available to your customers. This is not the time to "get cheap" or lazy and try to use "FREE" web site hosting. Learn "How web site hosting works", so you can make an informed decision. Imagine sending a product catalog in the mail to more than 60 million people offering them free shipping during the busiest time of your sales year. Now, imagine those customers trying to take advantage of the offer and finding the web site is inaccessible. If a tarnished image wouldn't send your heart racing, then the cost of the catalogs, mailing, and the lost revenue probably would. That situation is exactly what happened to Toys "R" Us� during the Christmas season of 1999. Oops!! Web sites crash and fail for several reasons: server failure, programming errors, software problems, human error and others. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to crashes because they generally are involved with web-hosting companies with less than state-of-the-art equipment. Please don't confuse cheap, with inexpensive. While it's impossible to be 100% safe, it is possible to find hosting companies that are more reliable than others.
We hope you will contact us at the VectorInter.Net office nearest you or send an email to Info@VectorInter.Net . Let us help you take full advantage of the sales/promotional tools available to you on the Internet. We may also be able to show you inventory control, internal communication and web-based productivity tools you may not be aware of. Any discussions of your specific situation require "no-obligation" and are confidential.
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