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Professional Web Design by Lowershore.net

Does Your Small Business REALLY Need a Website?

Ten common questions and concerns
this article also appears at the Writing the Vision website.
http://www.writingthevision.com/whyhaveawebsite.htm

 

By Mindie Burgoyne

 

Our company, lowershore.net is located in a rural area on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  There are many small businesses – many that are family owned – and significant portion of small business owners that do not regularly use the computer. 

Below are the ten most common questions and concerns put to us by area business owners.   Our answers and return comments follow the questions.

Does my company really need a web site?

What is the cost involved?

I already have a web page with another organization.  Isn’t that enough?  Wouldn’t I be duplicating my efforts?

I don’t sell merchandise on-line.  Why would I need a web site?

I don’t even use the computer regularly, and I’m not that computer literate.  Would I be able to handle what’s involved in maintaining a web site?

We build our customer base through personal relationships.  Our customers aren’t computer users.  Wouldn’t a web site be a waste considering our clientele?

I have a cousin who can make web sites.  I’ve already promised him that he can do ours.

Our upcoming advertising commitments will consume all the money we have budgeted for advertising. 

I prefer the “personal touch”.  Our new clients / customers come to us because of the personal service they receive.  A website seems so sterile and impersonal.  It won’t add to “our kind of customer base.”

I wouldn’t know what to do with a web site if I had one.

 

QUESTION 1: Does my company really need a web site?

The answer to this question could be “yes” or could be “no.”  Only the business owner can answer it.

Recently I went to a very popular restaurant in a tiny Virginia town to try and sell the owners a website.  The restaurant was located right on the waterfront overlooking Chincoteague Bay.  I went just before lunchtime in the dead of winter on a weekday. I figured business would be slow and I could chat briefly with the owner.

The owner was quite gracious and allowed me to run through the basic benefits giving me her full attention – even taking a few notes.  I figured I had a good chance of closing this deal.  I finally said, “Do you think a website is something you’d be interested in hearing more about?”

This was her reply:

“We opened this place as a bait and tackle shop.  Then people wanted coffee so we provided that.  Then some asked for sandwiches, so we provided that.  Later they wanted a few tables where they could sit and chat while they ate their sandwiches, so we got tables and chairs and began doing lunches.  That led to dinners.  Then we didn’t have enough room so we added the screened in porch for the summer.  People loved the porch so much that we winterized for the colder months.  Now that it’s January, we thought we might be able to close one day a week and get some time off.  But we can’t.  We’re too busy.  We’ve never advertised and we’re tired.  If a website is going to bring more people in here – no thanks!”

This small business does not need a website.

Only you can determine if your company needs a web site.  While making the determination, you want to consider that a web site is multi-functional, and is a communication tool – not an advertisement.  If your business is organized, all of your clientele is local, and you have a back-log of customers waiting to be serviced –and you can handle that service effectively – you may not need a website.

If you often wish you could communicate effectively with a broader range of clients / customers, publicly post answers to frequently asked questions, attract new customers, break in to new markets and take the market share from your competitors – then a website is a MUST!

A web site is like your giant public bulletin board where people can get information on how to find you, where you are located, what you have to offer, why your service is unique, and what’s new in your company.  It also is easily updated and changed frequently, and is a communication forum through which your customers can communicate back to you with questions, concerns and feedback on their needs.

 

QUESTION 2:  What is the cost involved?

 Having a website involves three basic costs: 

  1. Getting the website built (the highest cost) – this is where a web developer / designer will actually build your site in a software program.  A website is nothing more than a bunch of files, both graphic and text that are woven together around a common theme.  The cost for developing the site can be anywhere from $299 to $2000 and up, depending on size and functions.  For most basic small business sites, the cost will run between $500 and $1000.  This cost is a one-time investment for a tool you own and can continue to use for communication and marketing.
  2. Hosting – Once the site is built, it must be hosted on a public server so the general public can access it through their internet provider.  Hosting costs vary.  They can run anywhere from $4 to $50 per month, based on the website functionality and the hosting provider.  Service varies widely as well.  The ideal host will offer several services bundled together for one affordable price.  Look for these services:
    1. The space provided for your site on the server should have ample room for high traffic (bandwidth).  When a site doesn’t have enough bandwidth, the web visitor finds the site slow loading and difficult to access.
    2. The hosting package should have at least one email address that can be accessed through the web.
    3. The Hosting package should have a reliable track record of maintaining high dependability.  When your server goes down, your web site and associated email is unavailable.
  3. Domain Name – a domain name is the web address where users find your web site (www.yourcompany.com).  Domain names are unique and cannot be duplicated.  The cost for registering a unique domain name is about $35 per year.

 

Additional Costs – can include:

  1. Email services with multiple email accounts.
  2. Internet marketing services – researching how best to promote your site and get the maximum visibility, drawing more visitors to your site.
  3. Maintenance services – updating the site continually, making changes, adding pages, delivering web statistic reports, and more.

 

NOTE:  Lowershore.net offers a Small Business Website with the following services and cost:

  1. Site Development - $599 for developing the site (5 to 7 pages)
  2. Hosting Package - $15.00 per month, includes hosting the site, 1 hour FREE maintenance pre month for updates and additions, 5 email accounts with the extension of your domain name (i.e. marysmith@yourcompany.com)
  3. Domain name registration – We will register your domain name on your behalf - $35 per year.

 

QUESTION 3:  I already have a web page with another organization.  Isn’t that enough?  Wouldn’t I be duplicating my efforts?

If you have a web page with your Chamber of Commerce or with a listing service in your industry or parent company (i.e. realtor.com, Teleflora, bbonline, etc.),  that is a GOOD thing!  However, that is not a web site.  It more than likely only offers contact information and a brief description of what your offer.  It lumps you into a wide category that generally includes your competitors, and in many cases, it doesn’t offer the interaction with the public that your own website would offer.  Finally – you don’t own the site or have control over it.

Your web site brands you as unique and reveals your identity.  The good news is that having that page with the Chamber or other listing service will enhance and empower your new website.  It will drive more traffic to your site and put you one step ahead of the marketing game. 

Think about it.  If a visitor is looking for a florist on Teleflora and finds five listings close to home – and one of the listings has a link to its own website – that visitor is going to go “one click further” and click on that florist’s website.  When scanning a list, people always want to know more.  Your link gives them that opportunity.

 

QUESTION 4:   I don’t sell merchandise on-line.  Why would I need a web site?

You may not sell merchandise on-line, but do you sell something special that people are looking for?  Do you ever have a customer say “I came here because you sell ________.”  For example, a store that sells a line of products or brands that are highly sought after by a faithful following, (i.e. Dept. 56, Boyd’s Bears, Hallmark Cards, Red Wing Shoes, certain lines of animal products, clothing and accessories, tools) is going to have potential customers that search the Internet to find out who sells those brands in their local area.  Will you be on the search results?  Will your competitor be?

The same applies to restaurants and lodging.  People are visiting a certain area.  Over 70% of travelers in the United States and Europe use the Internet to set travel itineraries – and those itineraries include restaurants, accommodations, and shopping.  Will you be among the choices found when they search the Internet?

In a nutshell, if you offer something that people are looking for, a large portion of people (perhaps a market unknown to you thus far) will search the Internet, because it’s fast, it’s easy, it’s global and it’s private.  A web site will put you in the running with others on the Internet.

 

QUESTION 5:  I don’t even use the computer regularly, and I’m not that computer literate.  Would I be able to handle what’s involved in maintaining a web site?

Using the computer is like playing the piano.  You can play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or a Sonata by Chopin.  Either way, you’re getting a tune out.  To maintain a web site you should have a computer, and you – or someone in your company – should be able to send and receive email.  Your web developer can help you with maintenance, changes and updates, which is generally simple and affordable.

 

QUESTION 6:  We build our customer base through personal relationships.  Our customers aren’t computer users.  Wouldn’t a web site be a waste considering our clientele?

Your current customers may not use the computer much – that is possible.

A worthy concern should be about the potential customers that do use the computer and CAN’T FIND YOU.  Statistics prove that 65% of the population in rural areas uses a computer at least once per week, and 85% in metropolitan areas use a computer.  These percentages have NEVER decreased.  It is likely that they will continue to increase.  A website keeps you in sync with this trend.

Another interesting statistic:

The fastest growing sector of the American population getting computer literate is between the ages of 50 and 75.  This sector also includes those with the highest percentage of disposable income.

A website helps you target that using population.

Another thing to think about …. 75 years ago, the American population felt that the telephone was an expensive luxury and not crucial to business growth.  That sentiment continued for 30 years.  As social communication trends changed, and expenses decreased – businesses changed to insure profitability.  Use of the Internet will only increase in the next ten years.

 

QUESTION 7:  I have a cousin who can make web sites.  I’ve already promised him that he can do ours.

Is your cousin a qualified web developer?  If so, you’re the lucky one.  Be sure to impart a sense of urgency in getting the site completed.  If he or she makes websites as a hobby, you’ll want to consider the following: 

  1. A website can be compared to a means of transportation.  You could ride a bicycle or drive a Mercedes – either way you can get around town, but one is much faster, more efficient, will take your farther faster, and will be a much more comfortable ride.
  2. The flashy graphics and catchy text you see on websites is only about 20% of what goes into developing the site.  Behind all those pretty pages are codes and tags, specifically written to attain a higher placement in search engine, making the pages load faster and be more user friendly.  Most beginners lack knowledge in the proper usage of codes and scripts, nor are they up to date on search engine optimization.  If you have a pretty web site, but no one can find it, you lose an enormous amount of marketing power.

 

QUESTION 8:  Our upcoming advertising commitments will consume all the money we have budgeted for advertising.

It is important to recognize that a website is NOT an advertising investment.  It compliments and empowers your advertising efforts.  Ads are the property of the advertising vendor, and are a revolving cost to a company.  You buy an ad for a specific amount of time – and then the ad is gone.

 

A website is a marketing and communication tool that belongs to you.  You control it and you can use it continually.  It is a company asset similar to a telephone or fax machine.  You buy it one time and only pay for the service to use it.  Websites reach a growing customer base that up until now has remained hidden to you.  It also services your current customer base, giving them more options to communicate with you.

 

Once you have a website, you can print your web address on all of your advertising, offering potential customers and clients an opportunity to find out more.  A website in today’s world is also a stamp of credibility to the public that hasn’t yet met you.

 

The following quote is an excerpt from Small Business Magazine – October Issue 2003.

“Customers and other people who come in contact with your business expect to find a reputable businesses on the Web, so don’t risk your credibility by not being present.”

 

QUESTION 9:  I prefer the “personal touch”.  Our new clients / customers come to us because of the personal service they receive.  A website seems so sterile and impersonal.  It won’t attract “our kind of customers.”

This statement is commonly made by specialty shop owners and real estate agents.  Real estate agents will add “I already invest high dollars in space advertising.”  This is probably one of the most frustrating objections for us.  The business owners that express concerns such as this one are the nicest people we meet – and usually sound business people.  They know how to treat a customer or client with special care.

However, they don’t understand that all kinds of people use the internet to access information.  The internet, unlike advertising mediums does not target a set demographic.  Magazines, Newspapers, Television, Radio – all are demographically based.  Family Circle will always target young women between the ages of 25 and 35 that have young children.  Country music radio stations target a specific audience as does Cable news programs or shows like Sesame Street. 

 

The internet targets everyone in almost all demographics.  And those demographic shift and change.  Ten years less than 50% of the population used the internet.  Five years ago, primary users were people who worked in offices in jobs that were above the median income level.  Three years ago the fastest growing demographic for internet use was minor children.  Today it is retirees.  7 out of every ten people you meet in America uses a computer at least once a week.  “Are your potential customers the other 3 who don’t?”

 

There are over 8 billion web pages indexed in the Google search engine.  The top three commercial markets on the web are Technology, Real Estate and Tourism.  Technology businesses know they need a website.  If you’re in real estate (even an individual agent) YOU NEED A WEBSITE.  If your business markets to travelers (accommodations, restaurant, specialty shopping, tickets, travel wear, recreational products, travel gear, animal care, children’s activities) YOU NEED A WEBSITE.  Statistics show that 7 out of 10 people will go to the internet for information before they purchase real estate or set a travel itinerary.

 

A website usually is rather impersonal – and that’s a good thing.  When people use the internet they want information not a personal relationship.  The information will bring them to you.  You create the relationship. 

 

A website gives you a higher number of potential customers to create a relationship with.  If internet users don’t find you on the web, they’ll seek out your competitors who have websites.

 

QUESTION 10:  I wouldn’t know what to do with a web site if I had one.

The answers to the questions and concerns above should expand your knowledge on what a web site can do for your company.  But consider this in addition to what has already been covered:

Try to understand the mid-set and culture of this group of people that uses the Internet to find information:

There are two reasons people search for company information on the web.

 

  1. They are looking for information on you, who you are and what you offer.  They may have heard about you from a friend, seen your advertisement, billboard, business card, or heard that you carry something they’re looking for.  If they know who you are and they search the Internet to find out more about you – and find no website – they may assume you are not large enough to support a website, or aren’t interested in them as customers.  (To the web user – no web site is like not finding a company listed in the phone book.  You have to wonder … why?)
  2. They are looking for a product or service that you offer:  Obviously, if you’re not listed, they will pursue service from some company that is listed.

 

SUMMARY

 

A website is a marketing tool that costs you ONE TIME and continually repays you by giving your company exposure for as long as you keep it available.

A website greatly expands opportunities to communicate with potential clients and customers that you may not yet be servicing as well as current customers.  It gives your company a mark of credibility with that continually growing portion of the population of Internet users.

 

A website at its basic level can offer the following benefits, and possibilities for expansion are endless:

 

bullet Who you are as a company – your origins, reputation in the community, successes you’ve achieved
bullet What your company has to offer – products and services
bullet Information on how to find you geographically
bullet Different ways to communicate with your company (phone #’s, FAX, email, physical address)
bullet Special offers and upcoming promotions, new additions to products and services
bullet Company news
bullet Public displays of testimonials from other customers about your company.

 

When you consider the continual growth in numbers of Internet users and the growth of companies that are on the Internet, some of which may be your competitors, it could cost you NOT to have a web site.

   


 

NOTE:  Lowershore.net can offer you a well designed website and put your company on the WEB in fourteen days.  The cost is $599 for the site, $35 for the domain name registration, $75 for six months of hosting which includes 5 email addresses and 1 hour FREE maintenance per month for updates and additions.

Expanded price list includes the following:

One Page Website (general information page)

$299

Small Business Website (5-7 pages)

$599

E-Commerce Website (on-line shopping and ordering)

$1200 and up

Flash Introduction (animated introduction for your site)

$250

Hosting (includes hosting site, 5 emails, web traffic stats, 1 hour free maintenance per month)

$15.00 per month

(charged in 6 mo. Incr)

Domain Name Registration

$35 per year

Internet Marketing Consultation and Application

$75 per month

 

 

Please visit our website at http://www.lowershore.net/services.htm  for additional information on products, services, web packages and pricing.

 

© Copyright lowershore.net, 2004.  All rights reserved.  Used only with written permission.  No content from this article may be used without the expressed permission of lowershore.net.  Please email for reprint permission.

 

 

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