|Saving approximately 60% on lead generation and boosting leads by 235% has driven Century 21 to make the switch from television advertising to internet advertising. With statistics like this it is clear that in order to stay in the game most businesses need to get on the internet bandwagon or be left behind by the competition. The days of mom and pop neighborhood businesses staying competitive by virtue of customer loyalty are giving way to customers who demand e-mail and internet access. Today’s consumers search online first, find their destination and go there and while statistics say that today’s consumer also wants a personal relationship with the establishment’s they do business with it is clear that they start by searching for the business online, they price shop for services and products and then, once they have satisfied their need to research, they begin their business relationship.
There is no doubt that small business owners need to have a web presence to be competitive, to gain new customers and to keep existing business. This is where the small business can afford to excel over the big box companies without spending a fortune in advertising dollars– a personal, homey website, timely e-mail inquiry responses and a nice fast loading user friendly format. Most consumers today send an inquiry, make a phone call and move on within minutes of not getting a response until they do get a response and that first responder is likely who they end up doing business with. The majority of today’s consumers not only have a personal computer, they have web browsing capability right in the palm of their hand – in their cell phone; phone books are becoming functional obsolescence to many.
So why do so many small businesses lack a web presence?
For the web “newbie” developing a website seems as cumbersome as a corn maze, fraught with decisions of great importance starting with selecting a unique URL the drives business, speaks of the product or service, is easily recognizable, easily findable and creates and association between the provider of service or goods and the consumer. Statisticians say it takes approximately 12 impressions for a name to stick with the consumer, so branding a URL with the business is critical. Many business owners get as far as buying the URL and then get lost in the mire of companies that offer to create a website for a small fee. Many of these inexpensive website solution providers do not actually provide a truly functional site for the fee, but rather have an ala cart menu of services leading to frustration and ultimately to un-maintained websites – most marketing experts agree that an un-maintained website is worse than no website at all. The process of making all the complicated choices seems to create a high failure rate for the newbie web user.
I find frequently that my business clients think they have a url, think they have a site, think they have a competitive internet presence because the service provider they used showed them a screen shot that looked attractive, however, when we search for their site together it is either not truly a functional site or it doesn’t even exist on the web at all, frequently , if it is locatable it is pages behind other like kind businesses because it lacks good content for crawler food and doesn’t rank highly.
When I first decided that I needed a website I hired a local web designer to create a personal and very unique site for my business and after working hand in hand with the designer I developed a unique logo that utilized my url and I was thrilled with the results – until I tried to maintain it and realized that everything was written in code and I had to pay for maintenance. Today I have a site that is based on a template, but personalized, the majority of the pages are manageable by me so I can change things seasonally, daily or hourly as I see fit. I, like most business owners, want to be able to shape my personal marketing plan for my business based upon our changing economic climate, and newer marketing trends such blogging and instant messaging or live chat.
In the current climate we are striving for business success in and with the ever shrinking reality budget, it is important to get the most out of our marketing dollars, a solid website that allows consumers to find you and want to know you is critical, so dust off your entrepreneurial thinking cap, get back in the Website saddle, and learn to interact with the new consumer online first, before they walk through the door. Remember to give them the true essence of who you are because they do want to do business with a real person or people as soon as they establish that you are who they are looking for.
By Teresa Dietrich