Top 10 things a small business operator needs to know about the web: part 1

SmartCompany is a brilliant resource for those wanting to keep up with the very latest in business trends and developments.

Its staff writers and its panel of expert bloggers are among the most informed and switched on experts going around.

But for many small businesses operators, it’s hard enough to find time to simply be aware of the latest trend, tool or technique let alone research, resource and implement it.

For them the very mention of the latest management theory or social networking phenomenon has their eyes glazing over as they consider the time and effort involved in implementing it into their operation.

But despite what you may read or hear, your world is not going to grind to a standstill if you don’t jump onto the latest business trend. Yes there will be some benefits to early adopters, but typically the world takes some time to change and you won’t suffer from being a relatively slow adopter.

So for those of you who don’t know your Facebook from your flash animation, here are the essential facts a smaller business operator needs to understand about the internet’s impact on their business.

1. Website is now your most critical promotional channel of all
These days you can forget your Yellow Pages, exhibitions, radio and even television advertising as being the priority. If you don’t have a professional website, you simply won’t get taken seriously by a growing, web savvy market. For some years now the web has been the first port of call for finding information on any product or service. From Vegemite to vitamin supplements, from beds to brain scanners, consumers and business buyers alike consult the web for information on products and services to meet their needs.

Therefore, if your website doesn’t look and operate professionally, and is optimised for search engines, you can wave your customers goodbye.

2. You need to be on the first page on Google for your line of business
As a business operating in 2009, your fundamental promotional goal should be to be as high on Google’s search engine results pages as humanly possible – if not for the overall category than certainly within your locality or specialisation.

The fact is that Google is pretty much the first place the population turns to when searching for a supplier. And if you’re not prominent, your competition gets the business – even if they are not as good as you are!

This situation is actually giving smaller business operators a free and short-term leg up over their better-heeled competitors. In the old days, it was simply those with the deepest pockets that would be most prominent among promotional channels. But a web savvy smaller operator can easily jump the gun by optimising their websites before larger operators have got round to it, which is why many web savvy smaller business operators have stolen valuable market share.

But care needs to be taken. Sometimes a category is so competitive that it will take significant investment to compete with the search marketing resources of larger organisations. In this case it’s better to select a niche or locality which is easier to command.

3. Social networking ROI still questionable for many smaller business
Many of my fellow bloggers will think this point is heresy. The truth is that most smaller business operators aren’t as web savvy as many would have us believe, so picking up the skills and time involved in beginning and maintaining a profitable social networking presence may well be beyond them.

What social networking pundits forget is that the bulk of small business operators are not at a computer all day and tend to be very utilitarian about its use. So going in to update a tweet or Facebook page is just something that isn’t a priority or for that matter even on the radar.

That’s not to say that it should be investigated by them or their staff, it’s just that the Return on Investment is still unproven for those that don’t have time or staff dedicated to its maintenance. And to that end there are probably 100 better promotional avenues for them.

4. Websites ain’t websites
In the very recent past, the first reasonably credible person who claimed they could build a website was hired to do the job for smaller business operators too busy or under informed to know any better.

But these days a website can mean a million things. For example, the $40 a year template you may have seen advertised on television and the $400,000 job created by a cool city studio technically are both websites. But they are chalk and cheese when it comes to functionality, design and content – and the results they will achieve for your business.

Best to think of websites as you do staff. You pay peanuts and you get monkeys. So best not to scrimp on what is an increasingly important virtual face of your business.

5. Your website needs to ‘close the sale’ as much as possible
There’s no doubt, any reasonable information about your business on the web at all is much better than none. At the very least prospects can pick up the phone if they need to know more.

However, as competitors offer better ‘sales closing’ capabilities, your old ‘brochureware’ site will be costing you business.

The point is, consumers and business buyers are becoming very accustomed to ‘getting it now’ as they try and fit more and more into their day. Everything else being equal, the website that allows them to buy or at least order it now is going to get the sale ahead of the one that promises to get back to them, but in reality often doesn’t – costing the prospect more time and inconvenience and your sale.

So it will pay you to analyse just how close to the sale your website can take your customer. The good news is that with the ever-decreasing cost of sales closing technology, it may not cost as much as you think.

Next week – items six to 10.

 

For more Internet Secrets, click here.

Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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