The changing web world: how entrepreneurs can take charge of their web presence and budget
The business world is incredibly fluid and shifting, especially in context of today’s economic climate. Small business owners and entrepreneurs are looking for low-cost, high performance methods of credibly presenting their businesses, their products and their services out to the marketplace in order to generate additional interest and web design sales leads, but without the financial expense that is involved in most professional marketing initiatives and implementations.
Over the last short while, there has been a major migration to the web: As a ‘sales environment’, the web does not carry the large overheads of a physical retail location (such as rent, insurance and other expenses) nor does it require the staffing and administrative investment, all of which adds to a significant ‘monthly nut’ which needs to be covered on the first day of trading each month. And then the national and/or global reach of the internet and the 24/7 business activity period for the web-based sales environment far outstrips that of traditional retail stores. The entrepreneur can deliver their products, services and brand to more people, more often and around the clock. What is important for entrepreneurs to realize is that the key to harnessing this potential business powerhouse is one thing and one thing only – credibility.
A site on the internet needs to be viewed as your professional ‘real-estate’. Every inch needs to be planned to create maximum impact and business result. This does not mean that your website should be cluttered with back-to-back messages and offers (think about how ones buying experience in, and perception of, a company is impacted if one walks into a dingy, cluttered retail store, with items lying in heaps on the floor and poorly made signboards asking you to ‘Buy Buy Buy’). Rather, your website needs to be professional, well-made, easy-to-use and targeted in terms of its message and offering. It needs to show a clear understanding of its target audience and delivering products and services that are important to them, and in a manner that they can relate to. The site structure should be neat, clean and well organized, and overall should be a place that the target audience would choose to spend their time, their ‘mindshare’, and their money. All of these aspects combine to deliver the kind of credibility to a website that transfers to the business/brand it represents, and that credibility is ultimately the product or service that people will purchase. i.e. If they do not trust you, they will not buy from you.
And so, there is the ‘how’ in order to achieve this. Creating the kind of professional website that speaks immediately to the quality and credibility of the business behind it can be an expensive proposition, especially when the website is being built ‘from the ground up’ (i.e. line-of-code by line-of-code). This is an extremely labor-intensive task and so typically carries a large development fee. On the other hand, a website that is typically ‘system-generated’ often relies on generic templates and has little attention to the visual details seen on the ‘front-end’ of the site (i.e. the design ‘skin’ of the site). The solution here is to ensure that you find a web system and a company that understands both: i.e. the business imperatives of how a potential end-user/buyer interacts with the web and that has taken the time to build both a powerful, feature-rich and reliable ‘backend’ system with all of the tools that you will need, as well as a slick and professional system front-end for your site that communicates the quality and premium positioning of your brand the products/services you offer. If your website looks cheap, that’s what potential end-users/buyers will think of your company and your market offerings. These web systems and entities certainly do exist, and you would be well advised to entrust the integrity of your online brand to them (a version of your brand that is becoming increasingly important in today’s business environment), rather than a purely technical system that does not deliver the end result and ‘quality-of-output’ to the website that makes the biggest impact to the potential end-user/buyer. First your website has to look like a professional company. Then it has to work like one. Both are important.
The next step is marketing the site. Make no mistake; there is a great deal of competition on the web, in almost every category (however, some more than others and some with more professionalism than others). But be assured that there is very little chance for the much hoped for ‘Build-it-and-they-will-come’ experience, and even less of the ‘Once-I-have-my-site-I-can-just-sit-on-the-beach-and-watch-the-orders-come-in’ experience. The bottom line is that a web business, like any business, needs to be marketed and promoted and presented in order to drive traffic. The good news is that there are new marketing programs and opportunities that again leverage the digital space to achieve great traffic results, and at a far lower cost than traditional mass market approaches (such as standard magazine advertising, direct mailing campaigns, etc). These traditional marketing initiatives, while often effective, are costly to produce, expensive to distribute and have a very limited longevity, not to mention are less targeted. This does not hold true for all forms of traditional marketing: PR and other ‘below-the-line’ initiatives can be extremely effective in building web presence and acceptance, and coupled with both online and offline campaigns, can create a series of powerful ‘touchpoints’ for potential customers.
Some of the new forms of marketing, particularly for web businesses, are appropriately based on the web. These may range from Search Engine Optimization (referred to as SEO, which means getting your site high up on the major search engines for relevant searches), Pay-Per-Click advertising (i.e. sponsored links purchased in an ‘auction-type’ structure on the major search engines), Affiliate programs (i.e. paying external entities to drive traffic to your site through their networks) as well as a number of other ways that fit more closely to the traditional methods of promotion but are web-based (e.g. banner advertising, sponsorships, etc), and therefore far more targeted than their offline counterparts. When searching for a company to help you with these services, particularly with SEO, beware of companies that offer blanket guarantees in a short timeframe and without understanding the search terms and industry that you wish to compete in. Without that information, a guarantee for top search engine results is bound to be baseless and/or misleading. A great tip here is to ask the company for ‘live’ examples of their search engine results, for themselves and/or their customers. When looking at these examples of a company’s SEO performance, always take the level of ‘genericism’, relevance and competition of the search term into account, as well as how intuitively used the search term is when potential customers are looking for a vendor of your products/services. i.e. a company that can get themselves or their clients to the first 2 or 3 results of the major search engines, like Yahoo.com, with a highly competitive, generic and intuitive search phrase such as ‘creating a business website’ (out of 645,000,000 results) displays a far more credible and demonstrable ability than a company that gets themselves or their clients to the first 2 or 3 results of the search engines, with a highly specific search phrase that is not highly competed for or intuitive, such as ‘creating the best ecommerce business website that will increase sales for my company overnight’ (out of 362,000 results).
Always put yourself in your customers’ shoes when considering your website and your web marketing. Think about how they will both look for your types of products/services (rather than how you would like them to look) and what they want to see once they have found you (through your website). If you understand your customers and what they want, you are in a much better position to target your offering to reach them, and to then provide them with the product/service they need, all at a streamlined and affordable budget for your business.
Daniel Meyerov is CEO of OnlyBusiness.com, a business platform and community that provide small business with all of the tools and services they need to be successful on the web.