Introduction: Put Your Business Online: A Guide for Accelerating Your Business on the Internet A Guide For Accelerating Your Business On the Internet
As the owner of a small business, you juggle multiple responsibilities every day. You try to improve your services to existing customers, you think about how to attract new customers, and you focus on improving the operations of your business. You recognize that some of your competitors and business partners are using the Internet and its resources to streamline their operations, attract new customers, and grow their businesses. And you wonder how you could do the same.
Like many other small business owners, you have not had time to learn about the Internet and how it could benefit your business. Maybe you believed the technology was too complicated for you to understand and apply to your business, or the solutions were going to be too expensive to implement. Here is the good news—the things you need to know about the Internet are fairly straightforward, and the solutions you need to use the Internet to benefit your business are easily accessible and affordable. This book will explain basic principles and terminology of the Internet, and it will provide practical, useful information designed to help you get your business online.
You have worked hard at building and running your business. However, business as usual, even for a strong and healthy company, is no longer good enough. The Internet has created a global marketplace, and it is reshaping how business is done. This is a revolution you have to join, or you will be left behind. Businesses need to be where their customers are. Customers worldwide are going online to research products and services, to make purchases, and to provide feedback. In 2012, ecommerce—or Internet-based sales—topped $1 trillion for the first time. Given the explosive growth of the Internet, you need to use the power of this global network to keep your business competitive.
Robert owns a company in Florida that builds detached garages, which are in high demand for campers and boats. “Five years ago, we needed showrooms for people to see what we could build. Today, I do all of our business on the Internet. Customers find us online and visit our website, which lets me show more varieties of garages than I could have in one of the old showrooms. I use Facebook to generate leads from friends of my happy customers. It’s a win-win for both,” says Robert.
Frank sells insurance for a major insurance company. “Just in my region, there are 30 other insurance agents who sell very similar products, so differentiating myself is a huge challenge. In addition, most of my customers now look for insurance information on the Internet. I started writing educational articles and publishing them on my website. This helped me move higher in the search rankings, and also built my credibility as an expert who customers prefer to do business with,” says Frank.
Jane runs a non-profit focused on children’s issues. “Fundraising is a significant issue for non-profits. Accepting donations online easily and especially from people using mobile phones is very important in my business. We put a lot of effort into building up our social media presence and making sure we had a smooth payment process. As a result we have been able to grow donations in a manner which was not possible using traditional methods,” says Jane.
By establishing a presence for your company online, you give target customers a means to find and engage with you on their terms. In the past, your physical storefront might have attracted the attention of anyone walking or driving down the street. Your listing in the Yellow Pages or your ad in the local paper might have gotten people to call you. But in the current era of personal computers, tablets, and the ever-present smartphones, more and more people are turning to their devices when they want information about a business. With the Internet, the world is a much smaller place and you are competing for customers on a global scale. Your business needs an online presence in order to get the attention of this group of customers.
You do not have to be a computer wizard to develop an effective online presence for your company. There are a variety of tools and services available that can help you get your business online. Some can assist you with developing a website, while others help you conduct business transactions online or help improve your productivity. This book will provide you with information to help you choose options that are most beneficial to you and your company.
Think of the Internet as the best
hostess you have ever met. She is throwing a massive party, everyone is
invited, and there are some amazing party favors waiting for you. All you have
to do is open the door and step in.
Part 1: YOUR CUSTOMERS LIVE IN AN INTERNET WORLD
The Internet has changed the way your customers live and work, and these changes are here to stay. This is especially true in the business world. More and more traditional business actions—things like advertising, payments and customer communication—are happening “online.” In other words, they are taking place on the Internet. At the same time, the global reach of the Internet has accelerated the use of new tools like online search and social networks. As a small business owner, you need to understand the new normal of doing business in order to remain competitive and be successful.
What Exactly is the Internet?
First let’s talk about the basics of how the Internet works. At the most fundamental level, the Internet is a global network of computers that are connected to each other. Computers on the Internet can communicate and share information nearly instantly. No central organization manages this massive network. Anyone in the world can connect his or her computer to the Internet and be a part of the online community. Why is this important? Imagine you had access to employees who worked around the clock without complaining and who could instantly connect with your customers at any time. That is the power of the Internet from the perspective of a business owner.
With a few strokes on the keyboard or a few clicks with a mouse, your customers can explore a virtual world of nearly infinite information. People often refer to this as browsing, navigating, or surfing the web. Similar to a wave, the Internet—this “web” of interconnected computers—is fluid and constantly evolving. New sources of information are being added every second. As a member of this online community, your customers are free to visit or “surf” websites and access content from computers around the globe.
Computers connected to the Internet can send and receive data, pictures, documents, and videos. The Internet enables your customers to handle monetary transactions, provides your customers with technical assistance, and helps your customers stay in touch and communicate with their friends, family and business associates. Today, your customers can turn on their computers, pick up their smartphones, or reach for their tablets and search for, shop for, or sell nearly anything from anywhere in the world. The Internet has opened up new possibilities for everyone, and we are all learning what it means to live in the world of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and countless other websites.
What is the Impact of the Internet?
The Internet is not the first communication advance to have a widespread impact on business. We’ve seen it happen before. When the postal service became more reliable, companies like Sears Roebuck used catalogs to build large retail empires. The invention of the telephone changed our world by enabling people to talk to each other over vast distances, and insurance companies such as GEICO flourished by doing commerce over the phone. Similarly, the Internet is creating new opportunities to engage with consumers. We are in the early stages of this transformation, but companies such as Google and Amazon have already changed the marketplace. As we progress in the Internet age, nearly every aspect of business is likely to be transformed.
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