Given today’s economic conditions, many small businesses are doing all they can to reduce their costs. While this sounds like a sound strategy, you really have to be careful that you don’t use a shotgun approach to cost cutting. What you need to realize, as a small business owner, is that some of your spending directly influences your revenues. As a specific example, let’s talk about advertising spending. What is the main goal of your advertising budget? To get new customers in the door, right? So, by decreasing your spending on advertising, you are effectively limiting the number of potential customers for your business. In today’s economy, customers are increasingly hard to come by. You really need to be doing everything you can to reach new ones, and to keep your existing customers aware of your brand.
Since this an Internet blog, I’ll focus mainly on how the internet can give you a strong return on investment for your marketing budget. Even though we are well into the “information age”, I still encounter resistance from small business owners about taking their business onto the web. “My business is local.” is one that I hear all the time, closely followed by “Our product can’t be sold online.” Those may sound like valid reasons to not start a website, but in reality, every business can benefit from a solid, well designed, and strategically marketed website. Keep in mind the way I just described that website, it’s important.
First, the benfits of a website are almost too numerous to mention. A website gives you a storefront, where potential customers can find out about your products and services and that is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A website opens your business up to communication with other people around the globe. Not only customers can find you, but what about potential suppliers, vendors, related businesses that are in search of partners, etc… For instance, one small business in my area recently connected with a related business in another part of the country. The two businesses agreed to refer potential customers to each other when appropriate, and the have each seen a significant rise in their revenues, directly related to that partnership. A website also allows you to communicate with your customers, keeping them abreast of new offerings, sales, special offers, etc… This communication can be done in (almost) real time, especially if you integrate a blog. Lastly, a website can position your business as a “knowledge leader” in your industry. Let’s say you produce Widgets. You can use your website to educate your customers on Widgets, their history, their use, how Widgets differ from each other, and why your Widgets are the best. If a potential customer is actively researching Widgets, then doesn’t it make sense to position yourself as the Widget expert? Now you have built a sense of trust with that customer, and when they are ready to actaully purchase a Widget, they will turn to you.
Now, remember how I described that website, “solid, well designed and strategically marketed.” That’s the key. On any given day, there are something like 10,000,000,000 web sites floating around the web. Building your website yourself using a free template, and a free hosting service WILL NOT set you apart from the rest of the web. You must make sure that your website is accessible, meaning that the most relevant information for potential customers is easy to find. Your site must be well designed. By that I mean that the information must be laid out well, it must be easy to navigate, and it should be fairly visually appealing. Your site must also be strategically marketed. That means that your web developer should submit your site to search engines, build some links from other, relevant sites to yours, and generally ensure that your site is easily found.