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Web Sites: They're not Just for E-Commerce

By Lauren Simonds
14 Feb 2007

It used to be simple: Web sites were for e-commerce. If your business didn't sell goods online, you didn't need a Web site. That attitude today can kill a business faster than an IRS audit. And yet, 46 percent of the approximately 25 million small businesses in the U.S. don't have a Web site, according to a May 2006 study conducted by the Kelsey Group. Is your business one of them?

In his address to small business professionals attending the Small Business Summit 2007 yesterday in New York City, Justin Kitch, CEO of Homestead Technologies, a Web-site creation company, called the impact of the Internet a "seismic shift for small business that will only increase over the next five years."

While playfully entitled "Your Business Is Dead and You Don't Even Know It," Kitch's presentation delivered a hard-to-ignore message. "A Web site is your ticket to get into the game," said Kitch. "If you don't have one, you might as well not even name your business."

According to Kitch, if you don't have a Web site for your small business:

  • Seventy percent of your competitors will have a huge advantage over you
  • You're missing the chance to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — essentially for free
  • You're losing out on 99.9 percent of the world

10 Reasons Why
Jeff Stibel, the CEO of Web.com, another leading Web site services provider, shares Kitch's point of view. He says he believes that many small businesses misunderstand what it means to take a business online. "E-commerce is only half the story," he says. "There are so many different kinds of small businesses, and they don't involve e-commerce. But a Web site can help them build their overall business."

To drive the point home, Stibel offers 10 reasons why every small business should have a Web site.

Establish Credibility
A Web site establishes you as a professional in your field and helps people to feel more comfortable doing business with you.

Provide In-depth Information
Adding specialized content such as testimonials, tips and your own expertise builds your presence. "Providing local information ties you to the community at large," says Stibel.

Make Shopping Easy
There's a distinction between e-commerce and shopping, says Stibel. Even if you're not an e-commerce site, he says you need to accept credit cards. Determine whether you're selling online or offline. Then either set your site up for e-commerce or get an 800 number and use the site to lead people to call. "If you're selling through your storefront, provide information [directions, a mapping tool] on your site to help get customers in your store."

Enhance Customer Relations
Know your customer, and build your site around them. For example, a pizza place might be known for its special dough. "The owner could post information on his site about what makes the dough so good, the water, the technique, what ever it is. It helps build customer loyalty."

Increase Customer Spending
What you sell in a physical store is limited by the amount of inventory you can store. What you sell online is unlimited. Referring to the pizza place, Stibel points out that while he doesn't sell pizzas online, he could sell t-shirts, caps or even the dough.

Expand Nationally or Worldwide
A storefront business without a Web site limits its customer base to the local area. "With a Web site, anyone can find you, and you can expand your business reach across the country or across the world," says Stibel.

Gather Customer Data
Collecting information on your customers' tastes and interests is tough to do without a Web site. Analytics software lets you see who's been to your site, what they looked at and where they came from. "This kind of in-depth data and feedback can help you make your business better," says Stibel.

Stand Out from the Competition
A Web site can help you differentiate yourself from your competitors. "There might be dozens of pizza places in your town," says Stibel. "A Web site helps you tell prospective customers why you're better."

Brand Extension
Once you've established brand identity, a Web site can also help you extend that brand into other areas. Stibel cites a potter for example. "A potter could move beyond the actual art he or she creates and start selling dried flowers or even furniture. Having an online presence lets you do this in ways you can't with one storefront."

Drive Traffic to an Offline Location
Finally, a Web site can drive customers to your real-world location. "This is critical for business people such as chiropractors, plumbers and real estate agents," says Stibel. "An online presences grows your offline business."

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com