Good web sites are not free or easy. Like all marketing, they have an associated cost and/or time commitment that can range widely from site to site. Hire a designer or a developer to build it for you, and the variations in price get wider. Because you can't hold a web site in your hand or trade it in for a nicer web site later at your cellular phone provider when the newest technology comes out, it can be painful to make the decision to invest in an online presence. Especially for new, small businesses with limited resources, putting money and time into a web site seems like a scary admission that things are getting real.
More than once, I've heard a prospective client tell me that they don't really need a GREAT web site, just a "basic" site, or worse, that they don't know if they really need a web site at all. "My business isn't really online," they'll say, or "I hardly ever use the web," or "my customers really just find me by word-of-mouth." There are a dozen such arguments I hear for why investing in a quality web site is not a priority for a business owner, and today, I'll be making my counter-arguments for a few of the more common ones.
"What!? I DO have a web site! I've had it since 2003, and it works fine!"
I am willing to give you a pass on this one if you are a small, local business with a loyal following; if your web site looks outdated but still has the most important information easily found on the home page; and if your web site is not done in Adobe Flash. I cannot give you that pass if, however, you have any of the following goals:
- You want new customers.
- You want your customers to find you from their smart phones.
- Your business ever has anything new or exciting happening. (This includes events, sales, or announcements your customers would find interesting.)
If you have any of those above three goals, you will need to upgrade that web site. You buy a new winter coat every few years, right? You occasionally upgrade your cell phone, your hairdo, and your fluffy guest room bath towels, don't you? Your web site should not be an exception.
"My business isn't really an online business, so I don't really NEED a web site."
A local business person who runs a service-based business told me this recently. I asked her how people found out about her, and she told me it was through word of mouth, to which I responded, "Do any of them talk about you on social media?" If there is any chance at all that you might find customers on social media, you need a web site. Unless what you do is illegal, don't you want people to talk about you on social media?
Here's an example: A customer of yours shares on Facebook that she had you -- a curtain designer -- make some new window treatments for her, and she loves them. A friend responds with "OMG, saw them at your house last week and they looked FABULOUS!" A second friend says, "hey, I need new curtains too -- are there other pictures of what she does? what's her web site?" Even if your curtain design business isn't going to do any commerce online, and even if your curtain design business isn't going to participate actively in social media by posting to Facebook yourself -- guess what? You are on social media anyway, so long as your customers are. Now they're all at an online party, talking about you, and your customer can't take them all for a walk down the internet to your web site because it doesn't exist.
If your customers are online, you are online, whether you know it or not.
"I have the domain name; I'll get the site up later."
Owning www.mygreatproducts.com is the first step to having a web site. It should not stop at that stage for very long. If you use the domain name mygreatproducts.com as the end of your email address (@mygreatproducts.com) there will be people who will try to go to the web site for your domain name, and they'll see that you've done nothing with it. That potential customer's takeaway from that could be any of the following:
- "This is not a real business yet."
- "This business web site got hacked. I'll check it again tomorrow." After several tries, "This business doesn't even know its web site is down. How can they leave it like this?"
- "What? There's nothing here. Oh well. Who else sells a product like this one? I'll google it..."
"It's definitely on my list for next year. Again."
Look, I get it. We all have that thing that we should do and we intend to do, but this one really does need to reach the top of the list. Whether you gather up the funding to hire someone, or you dedicate several evenings a week in the next month to building your own on SquareSpace or Wix or Weebly, you do need a nice looking, functional web site that that integrates well with social media. It's not optional. In our current business climate, if you don't have a web site -- a decent web site -- you are basically invisible to your customers unless they are standing in front of your store. No one is using the yellow or white pages, no one is calling 411, and even person-to-person networking results, in the end, in someone googling the name of your business and hitting a dead end if you don't have a web site.
I don't make this recommendation lightly, knowing as I do that the cost of setting up a new business web site -- or even embarking on a technology upgrade for a well-established business -- can be difficult to undertake. Still, investing in a web site can touch every corner of your organization, from marketing to operations to strategic planning. Carefully planned, it can create more revenue, energize and educate your new and existing customers, and give you a way to share all the exciting things that were the reason you started a business in the first place. You can afford it. Your audience is waiting.