Should a Small Business Get on the Web? The answer to that question is relatively simple. The Internet, particularly in its graphic interface known as the World Wide Web, is probably the most important communication vehicle developed since the telephone. And, more importantly, for small business, the Web levels the playing field between small business and big business.
Let's look then at the variety of commercial uses for the Internet:
The Web is the newest medium for advertising. It offers significant advantages over traditional advertising media in that it is dynamic, interactive and inexpensive. The Internet is making it possible for small- to medium-sized businesses to compete with the big guys. Of course, as the Web matures advertising rates for the most popular sites will increase. Advertising is not the only way to make your business known via the Web. Search engines are another powerful and low cost way to increase awareness of your products and services.
The Web is an important customer service tool. Did you throw away the TV guide this week? Check out your local TV station's Web page for its weekly schedule or the network specials this week.
Soon you will be able to schedule appliance repair times and make changes to your gas service account by sending an email at your convenience, whether during or after regular business hours. Wouldn't you rather shop for a new car from the comfort of your home, in the quiet time late at night after the kids are in bed? This is now possible in many areas of the country. The Web allows you to communicate with your customers at their convenience. Don't you want to offer this level of service to your customers?
Network connectivity makes it possible for you to hook up your local area network (LAN) directly to the Internet. For example, a wide area network (WAN) connection offers multiple simultaneous connections through a dedicated data line, at a tremendous savings over individual modems and standard telephone lines. This makes your existing internal email addresses work as Internet email addresses, and allows you to set up your own Web server, with your own domain name, to provide volumes of information to existing and potential new customers, and take orders on-line.
Websites can be powerful marketing tools. However, without an up-front examination of your objectives, strategy and resources, building and promoting a web site can be both costly and disappointing. Regardless of what you plan to accomplish through a presence on the Web, you will benefit from answering the following questions before taking the leap.
- Do you have a business plan and a marketing plan?
- Can you clearly define your objectives for a web presence?
- Do you understand how marketing on the Internet "works?"
- Are your criteria for a successful web site realistic?
- Does your business fit the profile of a successful online business?
- Can you justify the costs in your overall marketing budget?
- Do you have the resources to build, promote and maintain a web site?
- Will you be able to meet Internet customers' needs?
- Are you committed to making your website a success?
If your evaluation leads to, "I'm not ready for a web site... yet." there are plenty of ways to use the Internet for marketing without creating your own web page.