Philadelphia Online Business Consultants Blog

Friday, March 27, 2009

Online Presence for Small Businesses

Most small businesses rely primarily on word of mouth and local/geographic publications for their customer stream. In fact, many simply rely on their location and signage to attract customers.

It always fascinates me when I see how poorly most small businesses utilize their online presence. And that assumes that they have a website at all! It is not difficult to have an affective online property that serves as an additional traffic stream to your business or allows clients to more easily contact you. I simply don't understand why so few businesses take advantage of the resources out there. Almost any business can figure out an appropriate way to include a contributing website into its business model. This may not always be straightforward for some types of companies, so it may take a bit of creativity.

Small businesses need to start thinking about their website as an employee and demanding results from it. Measurable results, that benefit their company's bottom line.

Let me explain what I mean.

Business X is an automotive garage. They really need a new mechanic that will help them increase labor hours and efficiency. Ideally they will hire a certified expert that works with German and Japanese cars in addition to domestics. However, the first candidate that walks in the door is an English major with no mechanical skills.

This scenario sounds absurd, but it is exactly what most businesses do when they set up their first website. They do not take their business model, business needs, or businesses processes into account. They usually take the first thing that comes around, most often a "one-size-fits-all" design from a local designer. And they definitely don't demand as much from this new website as they would from an employee.

If your business needs a mechanic, it shouldn't hire an English major. Similarly, if your businesses needs to generate more qualified leads and sales or attract a new segment of the marketplace it previously wasn't able to reach, it shouldn't set up a one-size-fits-all website.

When deciding to create a website or modify an existing website, you should treat this process like hiring a new employee. Make a list of
  • Goals,
  • Requirements and
  • Ways you will measure success.

    With this new list, evaluate any website design proposals to make sure they actually take into account your lists. Ask yourself some questions:
  • In what concrete ways does this website contribute? (Provide Lead Inquiries? Expand Brand Building? Enable Communication/Support?)
  • How can I measure these contributions? (What metrics are available? Can I measure intangibles? Be creative)

    Just as not every website is not the same, very few hiring processes are identical. You should make sure that your "website hiring process" fits the way YOUR business operates, so that your website operates within your model.
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