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Does Your Small Business Really Need a Website?
by Andrea Harris

Do you really need a Web site for your small business? Youíre busy, donít want to bother, donít want to spend the money. But then thereís that nagging feeling that you ought to have a presence on the Web.

Before you spend any money on a Web site ask yourself these questions. The answers will help you understand first, if you need a Web site, and second, how a site can enhance your business.

Do your prospective clients use the Web to look for your type of products or services?

These days, people use the Web to find just about everything, even the ubiquitous kitchen sink! (Thatís exactly where I found mine when I had my kitchen remodeled.) If you offer a professional service your clients will expect to find you on the Web.

Do you sell or offer a service that people research before they buy?

Chances are, youíre not offering something that people buy on impulse. For example, if youíre a consultant, prospective clients will want to research your background. A Web site gives you an opportunity to explain your services and highlight your results via case studies.

Do your competitors have Web sites?

Imagine that a prospective client is considering hiring your business and is attempting to use the Web to compare your services to the competitionís. If you donít have a site, it makes you appear less established and professional. Itís like not having a business card.

Are your competitors larger than you?

If your business is very small, or youíre just starting out, you may want it to appear larger than it is. The Web can help you level the playing field. A well-crafted, highly professional Web site gives the appearance that your business is large and established.

Do you spend a lot of time explaining your business to prospective clients?

Perhaps youíre a technology consultant specializing in a complicated area of business. You find yourself explaining exactly what you do over and over again. Instead, post a clear, concise statement of what you do on the Web and youíll head off those clients that never needed your type of service in the first place.

Is it important that your business project a highly professional image?

Perhaps you work at home in your bathrobe. Who needs to know? They wonít figure it out from your professional Web site. In fact, a well designed site can project whatever image you want for your business, whether itís ultra-conservative or young and hip.

Do your clients themselves have Web sites?

If they do, you can bet that they consider the Web to be an important business asset and would think it strange if you donít have one.

Do you want to expand your business beyond your current customer base?

If you want to grow your business youíll need a Web site to reach clients in new areas. Suppose youíve always focused on one industry but now want to offer a new service tailored to a different industry. You could create a special section on your Web site that resonates with the new, intended audience.

Do you want to reduce your sales and marketing costs?

Printing collateral can be expensive. Then you have to figure out how to get it into the hands of your prospects. You can put the same type of content on your Web site, update it easily when you have changes, and send emails to prospects to entice them to your site.

Do you find yourself answering the same customer questions, again and again?

Avoid repeating the same answers over and over by providing the information on your Web site. Your customers will be happy to get the answers they need at their own convenience.

Do you want to increase the effectiveness of your business development activities?

A Web site is a great way to reinforce the effectiveness of your other business development and marketing efforts, such as ads and press releases. If you put your Web address on all of your materials you can draw people to your site, where you can provide more details. If you speak at conferences or write industry articles to increase your visibility, a Web site can expand the details in your bio.

Now that youíve articulated (at least in your head) the answers to these questions youíve got a good idea of why your business should have a Web site. You understand that a Web site isnít just a "cool" thing to have Ė itís an important asset that can work double-duty to help your business succeed. And even if you donít expect new prospects to discover you via the Web, you know that a Web site will help you at the next stage, when clients are researching your qualifications and background. Not having a Web site is a knock-off; it makes you look like youíre not serious about your business.

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Andrea Harris, publisher of The Minerva Minute and owner of Minerva Solutions, Inc. helps businesses achieve professional, effective online and printed marketing communications. She previously worked at Compaq Computer, where she managed Web marketing for the server division. Contact Andrea or sign up for her email list at http://www.minerva-inc.com

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