Should your business have a website?

In today's online environment, a web presence is essential so it is startling to discover that only a quarter of small businesses have a website. There are benefits and drawbacks for setting up a website for a small business so it is important you weigh it up properly before getting in too deep. Some business models simply do not call for a website while others experience significant growth because of one.

A business website can be a valuable tool to market your business, get this right and you will reap the rewards.

Benefits

There are also a number of elements to consider when setting up your website - if you don't get them right it can have a detrimental effect on your business.

Things to watch out for

Benefits

24/7 advertising

Having a website is like 24 hour advertising. It allows customers to find information about you at any time of day or night and no other type of marketing can compare with this. Essentially, you can do most of the selling before the customer contacts you directly.

First call

Most people search for a business online before turning to the White Pages, Yellow Pages or even the local paper. A website allows the customer to find you when they're actually looking for you, rather than relying on print advertising which can be easily overlooked. Don't be overlooked by customers because you don't have a website but your competitor does.

Resources

Perhaps one of the most important benefits is the amount of time and money having a website can save. Depending on how your website is set up, it can be quick and easy to update unlike other marketing material which you have to 
reprint each time you make a change. Hosting the site yourself can save money and make it is easy to update but you will require a knowledge of website hosting. Alternatively you can outsource the hosting which makes it a little more difficult to update. You can also reduce customer queries and free up some time by providing answers to frequently asked questions on the website. When used in conjunction with your other marketing activities, websites can boost the profile of your business.

Reach new customers

Expand your reach by using the opportunity to market your business nationally or internationally at no extra cost. The internet offers no geographical limit so it gives you access to an entirely new customer base. Often small businesses only conduct marketing activities in their local area but a website can reach beyond the immediate locality with no extra effort. By using search engine optimisation, you can make your website more searchable and prominent which will significantly increase traffic to your site.

Email address

Is your email address currently using a free email domain like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail? By linking your email to your website, you can create a custom email address that reflects your domain name. Something like jo@thecornershop.com.au sends a more professional message than jo.thecornershop@gmail.com. In most cases, you can add as many email addresses as you like.

Concerns

Appearance

You need to make sure the appearance of your website sends a professional message. Your site will often be the first opportunity to make a good impression but if you're website is confusing or too basic, you won't be taken seriously. You should try to contend with your competitors' websites and this may mean paying a website designer or developer to do it for you.

Customers

There is little point spending the money on setting up a website if your customers won't use it. So ask yourself if your customers will use the internet to find you? Or do your customers expect you to have a website? If not, then you need to weigh up whether the investment is worthwhile. For some businesses, it is simply not viable.

Need new skills

Setting up and maintaining a website is an entire new skill set. If you decide to tackle the website yourself, you will need to spend some time, and perhaps money, learning the required skills. Evaluate whether the time and effort to do it yourself is worthwhile and don't be afraid to admit it's out of your league.

Although keep in mind that doing it yourself is not the only option, you can engage a professional, but they will charge you accordingly.

Capacity

Having a website provides another point of contact with your business, which can be a good thing - if you have the resources and staff to reply promptly. It is not as simple as setting up a website and then leaving it alone. You will need to update it and respond to enquiries in a timely manner. If you're a very small business that is tight on time and resources, consider waiting for your business to grow before setting up your website.

While a website can be a great tool to grow your business, keep in mind that if you decide a website is not for you there are other online options. You can put your business on Google Maps or online business directories. While a website might not suit all businesses, an online presence is a must.

Think social networking might be better suited to your business? Read The pros and cons of social media >>

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