vector newsletter

The 10 BIG Mistakes Small Businesses Make Online.

This newsleter was originally posted in 1994 and was included as a printed part of seminars that were done at several industry group meetings and convention trade shows. The references to "dial-up users", Angelfire and Tripod are out-of-date, but this newsleter is still displayed in the archives, because most of the comments are still valid, all these years later.

    Are you finally ready to bring your small business to the Internet? If so, its time to select a web site "address", get professional looking E-mail and build your message into web pages that create a place for your business, "on line".   If you have an existing web site, maybe it isn't producing the sales, the quality of prospects or not measuring up in other ways. Lots of businesses have walked this path already. We can learn from their mistakes. Lets look at the "10 Big mistakes small businesses make online" , and find ways to avoid the same errors.  


- Don't Use a "no-name" web site address.

    Many small businesses start off on the wrong foot because they set up shop with "FREE" web site hosting. If your web site name, or URL, is on Geocities, Angelfire, Tripod, MSN or members/AOL, you are taking the "penny wise, pound-foolish" route. Rather than having your own Web address, you are borrowing someone else's. Which company would you feel more comfortable buying from -   or www.VectorInter.Net ? If you want to give the impression that you are running a tiny, unprofessional side-business from your attic, this is a great way to do it.  A strong, proper web address is easily affordable for even a one-man operation. Registration is simple and easy at any number of Domain Name registrars. Read "How Domain Names Work" in our Newsletter archives.

We felt a need to add a comment here. This advice was valid in 1994, and 2014 too. The current "temptation" is to use CompanyName.WordPress or Blogspot and become too dependant on FaceBook, Twitter or Pinterest, platforms you can't control or depend on. Use them for visibility, but ALWAYS drive traffic to your own properties.


- Don't use "no-name" e-mail addresses.

    Look like a professional small business. The additional cost (if any) to set up e-mail addresses that use/match your business URL (web site address) is tiny. When you send e-mail to potential clients, your banker or to suppliers and vendors, You want to create the best impression possible.   TibbyRichards@VectorInter.Net commands much more respect than and Tibby4Vector@Yahoo or   Any desktop can be set up to "send" and "receive" email from your existing ISP.  It's a simple task to adapt your AOL, Orange, MSN, Earthlink, or other ISP account to "alias" your new business email address.   "Name branded" email also helps with marketing and promotion tools you should be using. Read "Email, the killer Application" to learn more about "professional E-mail". By the way, the VectorInter.Net management team believes this is so important we include matching E-mail with every web site hosting contract, for no additional fee.


- Use a quality web site hosting service.

    Many small-business web sites "load", or display, far too slowly. This is a by-product of slow "Free Web Site Hosting" services that are overwhelmed with cheap traffic. Many sites take more than 10 seconds to display over a dial-up modem. Don't lose customers and miss opportunities because your web site is unresponsive. Not only is paid hosting much faster, but tech support makes sure your pages are always "up". As a bonus, those annoying pop-up ads will be gone. Shop around and find a quality hosting provider. Whether you select VectorInter.Net or not, the small monthly fee for quality web site hosting is the last place you should try to economize. Read the info at "How web site hosting works is a permenant part of the VectorInter.Net newsletter archives.


- Create interesting, engaging and informative web pages.

    You wouldn't create a product catalog or brochure that was all text and no photos. Why is a web page any different? Use pictures and graphics to emphasise your message. Photos of your products, your retail store / office, or your employees make your business feel "real" to online visitors. Keep the information on your web site current.   "Daily specials" should be updated daily, or they should be called "when we get around to it specials". Don't forget to update phone numbers and email addresses as employees or departments change. Effective pages have simple "art work". Graphics, logos, and color themes add to the "first impression" a customer receives. Your web site should be the best "marketing brochure" your business has ever created. Chances are it will be seen by many more people than will ever see a printed brochure.


- "If I build it, they will come" only happens in the movies.

    Another common mistake is assuming that if you have a web site, customers will magically appear. As soon as your web site is built, you must begin to promote it, both online and offline. A coordinated promotional effort will bring a steady flow of customers. The basic steps of online marketing are:
   >> > List your web site with the search engines. This process takes time. Learn the differences between "directories" like Yahoo! , "search engines" like Northern Lights> and "meta-crawlers" like FAST. Build your web pages to be "read" by search engine "spiders" and you will be easily found. You may also wan to read "Buying a top ranking in the search engines".
   >> > Trade links with other sites that "share" your customers, but don't compete directly. Think about "". They should trade links with "", plus "" and "". Each business would benefit from the commonly shared customer traffic, without competing in their own product line. 
   >> > Affiliate and commission sales programs encourage others to sell your product(s) on their web sites. It's not appropriate for everyone, but is effective for the right products or services. The best sales will come from relationships you build yourself. Avoid "link programs" that are "sold", they rarely work. The promoter's agenda is to create fees, not sell your products. 
    > > Build an email address list of the visitors to your web site. Encourage them to return with reminder emails, coupons and/or contest. You can read more about "E-mail, the internet's first killer Application" in the VectorInter.Net Newsletter archives.
   >> > Paid advertising banners on other successful web sites will direct traffic to you, if done properly. Joining a "free" banner exchange may bring traffic too, but adding the required "out-going" banners can make your site look unprofessional. When in doubt, don't use banners. Read "Ugly Ad banners work best"
   >> > Create a weekly or monthly newsletter to establish a relationship with customers and built your reputation as a dependable source of expertise. A well done newsletter takes time and effort, but produces results. Read "Online newsletters work for any size business".
   >> > Don't forget the off-line promotion opportunities. Your new web site address should be on every printed item the business uses. Business cards and letterhead are obvious, but what about on the side of the company car or printed on employee uniforms. The more creative the better. Find other suggestions in "How to promote your web site offline" in the VectorInter.Net Newsletter archives.


- Provide correct, complete, and easy to find "contact" information.

    Give your customers plenty of ways to contact you. When customers have questions, they want aa answer. E-mail is obvious, but a phone number should be listed. Toll-free numbers will encourage spur of the moment sales and IM (instant messenger) use is growing. Customers may refer to the web site, but actually buy your product/service on the telephone. Prominently display the choices on every page or have one "contact us" button available at all times. Don't forget your street and/or mailing address. Many "store front" clients say their web site is most frequently used to get store hours, directions or a phone number. Every situation is different, but view your web site from a first-time customers perspective. 


- Don't be a magician, disappearing from the stage.

    It is amazing how many small-business web sites are here today, gone tomorrow, and back again next week. Your web site must be "available" when customers go looking for it. The Internet works 24 / 7 / 365, but only if the pages are there. How do you make sure your web site is up? Start with the quality web hosting mentioned above. Assign an employee to check the site several times a day (and night). I suggest making it the default "home page" on your computer, or pay a service to notify you if your site goes down.


- Create a logical navigation plan.

    Give your customers a good road map to find the information they want. Nothing drives away visitors faster than poorly planned or haphazard site navigation. "Web site usability" is more than a buzzword. Usability focus groups should be part of the planning and design of every web site. Large companies hire research firms to test two different sites with thousands of anonymous reviewers. Small budget businesses can do the same thing with a company-wide party. Bring in the family, roommates and friends of every employee. Let them sit down and "play with" the website, one at a time. Is it attractive? Can they find the billing address? Is it easy to order 6 green, medium widgets? Don't use employees, the developers or others on the design team. They are too close to the process, become biased toward the "finished product", and overlook minor misspelled words and other little foibles.


- Remember the "dial-up modem" user.

    Interactive web sites are great. The design elements available are truly amazing, but be careful. These "dynamic" pages take high-speed web connections to display quickly. Pages with animated logos, moving news/sports and stock quotes, or advertiser messages require bandwidth. Dynamic content is popular and expected, but too much of it can slow your site down. Web pages that take more than several seconds to display will send visitors to other web sites. It is particularly important to keep your home page as "static" as possible. The deeper a user gets into your site, the more likely they are to tolerate delays for interactive features. "Why skip intro buttons were invented" explains our thoughts on "page clutter" in more detail.


- What do you do?

    Make sure your web site quickly conveys the kind of business you are in and the products or services you offer. It sounds like another no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many Web sites leave you wondering "What do these people do?" Repetitive company logos, blinking buttons and distracting background designs just interfere with the messages. A web site's "image" should remain consistent from page to page. Select a color theme and use complimentary colors and elements for contrast and accents. Photos, graphics and company logos can help make it clear "what we do". A new viewer will make a determination about you from the "image" projected at the home page. Do web surfers come inside your site, or go somewhere else?


- Consider a web site a chore.

    I've included an extra bonus mistake, but it really is the number 1 suggestion I make to businesses planning their first professionally designed, fully functional web site. Have fun and be creative. Create volunteer "employee committees" to gather "raw ideas". In my experience, the best ideas start with suggestions by front line employees in sales, the shipping department and bookkeeping. Look at what others in your industry have done successfully, but also make note of web sites that work poorly. A web site is not a toy. Don't think of it a something you purchase in a box, unwrap and put on the shelf. Involving all of your employees in its planning can pay wonderful dividends in team spirit too. Once the web site is "up", the challenge has just begun. You'll need to constantly add and grow the content available online. This is a learning cycle and not a requirement, but the internet is constantly changing, creating new opportunities to serve your customer base in new ways. Plan, up-front, to expend the energy to "stay current". It will pay dividends in new customers, more brand loyalty and conveniences.

    We can all learn from the mistakes of the "internet pioneers". The famous quote is something like, "If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it." There are so many new and exciting mistakes to be made, so don't repeat the same old, blunders on your site. Notice that I've also not mentioned "cost" or "the budget" in this list of common mistakes. Just as many businesses have spent too much money, as spent too little. Find a web site development company that can work inside your preset budget. You may not be able to afford every "bell and whistle", but with planning and forethought, the basics can be built for future expansion. The best web sites will grow and expand over time. That evolution is a sign that you are meeting customer needs and finding new ways to increase your productivity using the Internet.

   We have more to read about "How web hosting works" or "How Search Engine Spiders Work." Visit the VectorInter.Net newsletter archives.