TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE ONLINE WORLD
Businesses need to go where the
customers are going, and consumers worldwide are going online. As consumers
look to the Internet for information, you should join the forward-thinking people
that are using the power of this global network to grow their businesses. The
Internet can benefit your business in eight main ways.
Internet gains you entrance to a global marketplace.
Internet has created a global marketplace. Having an Internet storefront
provides a means for today’s consumers to find and engage with you on their
terms. Your physical storefront may attract the attention of anyone walking or
driving down the street. However your online storefront can attract the
attention of literally everyone who owns a personal computer, tablet or mobile
Internet improves your productivity.
sleep. Your employees sleep. Your customers sleep. But your website never
sleeps. You should be rushing to take advantage of this tireless worker who
will perform reliably, quickly, and correctly the tasks you assign to it.
Internet provides you with a round-the-clock storefront.
expect information when they want it and where they want it. They may look for
it when they are on their laptops in the office, or on their tablets while
lounging in bed, or on their smartphones during their commutes. They want to be
able to conduct business at their convenience, and they expect you to have an
online storefront that is always open to them.
Whether your website is providing information about your
products and services to prospective customers, taking and fulfilling orders,
or getting customer feedback to improve your product on service, it will always
be open for business. And your clients could be just around the corner or on the
other side of the world.
Internet automates and expands the power of “word-of-mouth” references.
used to ask their friends and neighbors for advice about a good restaurant, or
a reliable plumber, or the best place to go for a massage. These word-of-mouth recommendations
carry a great deal of weight, but they are unreliable for you as a business
owner. In order to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations, you must first
have someone physically encounter a satisfied customer of yours, and then you
must have your business come up in their conversation. This does happen, but it
is a slow and unpredictable process.
The Internet automates “word-of-mouth” recommendations and
accelerates their impact. One good online review of your business could be read
by thousands of potential customers.
Internet helps you analyze your business.
corporations have departments whose function is to generate reports to
understand customer behavior. They track foot traffic outside their stores.
They count how many people make it inside, how many of them make a purchase,
and what items are getting the most interest. Although small businesses have a
sense of some of these numbers, they usually lack the resources to quantify
them or measure the results of a marketing campaign. When you establish a presence for your
business online, the software you use can track all this information for you
automatically. This enables you to gather large volumes of data, analyze it,
and get a more objective understanding of your business. Armed with this
knowledge, you can take action.
Internet lets you compete on equal footing with companies of larger size and
Internet is a great equalizer. Earlier in the book we compared it to a hostess
throwing a fantastic party and we encouraged you to open the door and join in.
We forgot to mention that this hostess is greeting all her guests with open
arms and welcoming them with the same enthusiasm. Big companies and small
companies can look the same online, where there aren’t any fancy storefronts or
trendy downtown street addresses to impress consumers. Your products and your
services drive your success, allowing you to compete effectively with companies
of vastly larger scale and resources. Bigger isn’t better online. Better is
Internet protects your data.
you ever had your computer “crash” or had your laptop stolen, and have you lost
valuable company information as a result? In the past, data needed to be
manually backed up, and sometimes people didn’t back up their data as often as
they needed to. Today, with cloud-based applications and data storage, you do
not worry about this. Someone else can take responsibility for backing up your
data and keeping it secure.
Internet helps you find skills you do not have in-house.
With marketplaces such Elance or
Alibaba, the Internet can help connect you to a global network of specialists
in areas ranging from design services to manufacturing services.
5: Website Development
have covered the ways the Internet is changing how we live and work. Now it is
time to take action. You are ready to start building a website for your
business. In this chapter, we will lay out the options available to help you create
your website, as well as the questions you should ask yourself about what your
website should do. We will explain how to improve your website’s visibility to
search engines, and consequently how to improve its rank in search results.
Total Cost of Ownership
Before you invest in any new
project, it is important to assess the total cost of ownership. Initial or start-up
costs are not the only expenses to keep in mind. Depending on the scope and complexity
of your project, you will need to plan for the costs of implementation,
maintenance, and future enhancements. If you are building a house, you might
choose higher quality materials that cost more up front in order to save on
long-term maintenance costs. If you are
getting a new car, you might buy a more expensive one that has a track record
of requiring low maintenance, or you might lease a cheaper model if you plan to
keep it for a few years. Similarly, when you set out to build a website, you
need to keep in mind more than your initial costs.
you create a website for your business, you are implicitly committed to the ongoing
costs of maintaining that website. You will need to stay abreast of new
technologies—either new devices like smartphones and tablets, or new
capabilities such as handling online payments—and their impact on how consumers
access and use the Internet. The choices you make when building your website
will impact the future costs—in terms of both time and financial resources—of
maintaining your website.
are opportunity costs associated as well with the choices you make. You may want
to have the capability to update the content of your website frequently to highlight
new services, feature new promotions, showcase new references, or demonstrate
momentum to prospective clients. You don’t want to risk seeing a business
opportunity go to a competitor because you couldn’t get your website updated in
website has to be effective. Have you ever opened a website that did not
display properly? Perhaps the graphic overlaid the text or the scroll bar did
not work. Some of these problems may have been created because the website was
not compatible with the web browser you were using. Your website should be
designed to work with multiple versions of the popular browsers. In addition, as more and more people use
mobile devices for browsing the Internet (almost 60 percent of web searches are
done on mobile devices), your website should be “mobile friendly.”
also should consider being an active member of the online business community,
in which complementary businesses link to each other’s websites and provide
references and recommendations to each other’s business. Aligning your
marketing efforts with those of your business partners can be very effective in
increasing the visibility of your business. Linking between businesses,
especially with positive references from other businesses, is one of the most
effective ways to market your business. In order to do this, your website’s infrastructure
needs to be compatible with that used in the websites of your business partners.
How you—and your business partners—create your websites will impact how quickly
you will be able to update your content and how effortlessly you will be able
to collaborate with each other online.
Toolkits, and Platforms
in mind all these costs, how do you go about building a website? There are currently three main approaches to creating
a website for your company. You can hire a web developer, you can use an online
toolkit offered by companies like GoDaddy or Web.com, or you can use an online
platform offered by companies like Ocoos.
option has its pros and cons. Before making a choice, you should list all the
capabilities you need for your online storefront and then balance these against
your total budget for the website. At the very least, the website you create has
to communicate with your target customers about your products and services, and
it needs to provide your contact information. Do you also want the website to
help you run the business? You can set up the website to take care of some
scheduling and bookkeeping, and you can also use it to help you with
distribution. Do you want to use the website as a tool for analysis? If so, you
can set it up to collect information about your clients and their buying
Web Designers and Mass Customization
method of website development involves mass customization. You may think that your
website should not be like any others. Uniqueness can be a differentiator, but it
can also lead to increased cost without a noticeable benefit for your business.
When appropriate, using free content management software such as Wordpress and
Drupal can help you create and manage a custom-built website. You can either
use pre-defined templates to help you create webpages, or you can build webpages
from scratch to meet the specific requirements of your business. The end result
will be a website designed to meet your needs.
this sounds challenging to you, you can hire web designers to build your website. A web designer will be able to help you make
sure your website has the capabilities you desire. You provide the requirements,
and they provide the expertise. But be aware
that hiring web designers can be expensive.
should also think about how you will maintain the website once it is built.
Will you continue to be dependent on your web designer for all future changes
and updates to your website? And if so, how quickly can you expect your
designer to take action? In today’s business
environment, you want to retain control of your content and be able to update your
website with new information about your products and services or about new
promotions whenever you need to do so—waiting for external help could produce
an unwanted delay.
method for mass customization comes from using the “web builder” toolkits
offered by companies like GoDaddy, Web.com, Vistaprint, Wix, and Weebly. These
tools make it easier for you to develop your own website, and they often come
with lower upfront costs. However, they are not very different from the
previous approach. In essence, they deliver the capability for “mass
customization” of websites without the need for hiring a web designer.
These web builder toolkits are well suited for
building websites that don’t change very much or those that are useful for a
short period of time. Many people create websites for major life events like
weddings and funerals, and the templates from these toolkits work well for those
purposes. If you don’t need your website to do much more than tell people how
to find your physical business, the toolkit approach could be good for you.
The tools in these kits are inexpensive in the short
term and work effectively for personal websites or websites with limited functionality,
but they are less effective for small businesses desiring more capabilities. The
web builder toolkits have limited ability to provide a scalable solution for a small
business wanting to create an online storefront. They may have limitations in
enabling easy ecommerce solutions, or have limited ability to help you with
online scheduling. Adding these capabilities will require significant investment,
and your total cost of ownership could increase appreciably.
deciding how to build your website, you might want to consider using a fully
featured online platform. For a small business, using a functional platform can
provide an effective and scalable way to create and manage your web presence.
These platforms don’t just make operating online easier; they make operating everywhere
In addition to providing you an online storefront, they also help you
manage some of the functions of running your business. They provide you an affordable and easily maintainable web presence
that can evolve well with new technologies. Neither the custom-design model nor
the toolkit approach will give you this ability. Examples of successful
platforms include Facebook, Ocoos, LinkedIn, Amazon and Ebay.
An additional benefit to using a platform
is that it can provide technology insurance at a relatively low cost. For
example, when a new mobile device type is introduced or a new social networking
tool becomes commonly used, the platform will typically handle the details and
not require you to spend scarce time and resources understanding and deploying
the new technology.
Jen runs a dance studio in Cleveland, Ohio, where
she teaches classes seven days a week. She wanted to create a basic website
that allowed for online scheduling, ecommerce, and e-signatures for liability
agreements. “When I started talking to web developers, I couldn’t believe how
expensive everything was. And they warned me that there might be issues
handling people calling from their mobile phones. I checked out GoDaddy, but it
seemed like it wasn’t going to be able to do everything I wanted. I finally
wound up creating a page on Facebook and also using Ocoos for ecommerce and
scheduling. So far it is working out really well.”
Content and Capabilities
you have decided which method of website development works best with your needs
and budget, you can begin to determine your web content. You can start by thinking
of your website as a virtual brochure. Your website can contain anything you
would include in a handout that you would give to prospective customers.
need to make sure that hours of operation and contact information for your
business are easy to find on your website. You should include details that
explain the services or products your business offers and what makes them better
than those offered by other businesses. You can include a value statement,
something that lets visitors to your website know what you believe in, what you
feel is the mission of your company, and what make your business unique when
compared to competitors.
of this process of informing customers about your business includes reassuring
them that you are trustworthy. Testimonials from previous clients can influence
prospective clients to give you a try. Similarly, endorsements from partner
businesses and links from websites of related businesses will also help promote
consider various options for securely handling online payments. You can build a
custom interface or use one of the well-accepted options like PayPal or Google
Wallet for this purpose.
far we have talked about what you need to include in the website for your target
customers. The website can also be helpful to you in operating your business. For
example, you can use it to create a database of client contacts and their
information. Along with keeping a record of clients’ addresses and buying
history, you can start to analyze their buying behavior. Based on your
analysis, you could create marketing campaigns targeting specific categories of
capability to consider adding is scheduling. Rather than hiring someone dedicated
to answering customers’ scheduling calls, you can use an automated system where
customers can make appointments on their own. This provides customers with more
flexibility and it also lowers your costs. But be sure your online scheduling
is easy to use for your customers. You want to it to make your business more,
not less, accessible.
are many decisions to make as you plan your company’s website. The task can
seem daunting. But remember, regardless of which option you select for website
development, form should always follow function. The ultimate success of the
online storefront lies not in its appearance, but in its functionality.
Building an artistic website with a high degree of graphical content may not be
sufficient. It is similar to having a lovely book hidden in the library where
no one can find it. A successful website should look appealing, but first and
foremost it must be well designed for customers to navigate and use easily.
Optimization and Search Engine Marketing
As you build the website for your business,
you need to keep in mind your primary objective: bringing people to it, so they
are aware of what you offer and why they should do business with you.
Earlier we described the
fundamentals of Internet search: a user enters keywords, and the search engine finds
a list of websites that relate to those keywords. As a business owner, you want
your company to appear on the first page of those search results, either
through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM). We
have explained that SEO is the process of increasing the rank of a website or
a web page in a search engine's natural, organic search results.
SEM (which may use SEO) is a form of Internet marketing that involves
promoting websites by increasing their visibility in search engine
results through paid search and advertising.
What should you do to optimize your
website for search engines? You need to make it easy to access and catalog your
website. Your web pages should be suitably titled, so that search engines index
them accurately. All the meta-data—or information attached to your web pages
but not visible to the customer—should reflect the key aspects of the content
of the web pages, making it easy for the search engine to navigate your
The key to SEO is not fancy
technology, but rather a good understanding of your customer. The critical
question you should ask is: “What is my customer going to put into the search
prompt when they are looking for a service like mine?” Based on that, you should
include appropriate keywords and relevant content in your website as well as in
the meta-data associated with it.
As the person most familiar with
your business, you are in an excellent position to put together a list of keywords
that potential customers might enter into a search. Some search engines also
will let you access their databases of past searches to help you predict
keywords that may be used. For example, Google has a Keyword Planner tool that will
both give you information on the frequency of various searches and also let you
know how a keyword may perform in search. You can use this list to generate a
set of keywords that you should feature prominently in the content of your
With SEO, small modifications to
your website can have a noticeable impact on your site's visibility and performance
in search results. As we discussed earlier, links back to your website help
improve both its popularity and its search engine results rank. So think about
ways to increase how many links you have coming into your website. You can use
social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ to
encourage people to link to your website. Additionally, you can talk to businesses
that offer services or products complementary to yours, and offer to co-market
with them. Both businesses will benefit from including links to each others’
Improving your organic search
ranking through SEO is only the first step in your Internet marketing strategy.
To further improve your visibility in search engine results, you can buy
keywords and ad placements in search results. This is called Search Engine
Marketing or SEM. In 2012, US companies spent nearly $20 billion on SEM, and
the majority of this money was spent on advertising with Google, Yahoo and
Remember those keywords you
included in your web content? For good SEM, you bid on those keywords. The
search engines provide you tools to do this, and you can also hire expert consultants
to help you. You can think of Search Engine Marketing as a superset of Search
Engine Optimization: it improves your ranking in both paid and organic search
Chapter 6: Attracting and
In this chapter, we will explain
how you can stay on top of your online storefront and make your website a
popular and easy-to-find destination for potential customers. This means more
than just maintaining your website and keeping it current. You also need to pay
attention to how your business is represented in various directories and review
sites. You should consider offering promotions and putting in place customer
loyalty programs that will help transform clients into long-term satisfied
customers willing to give you their repeat business.
Know Your Business,
and Test Your Knowledge
A clear understanding and communication of your business’s unique
value forms the basis of a comprehensive marketing and sales strategy. This is
not a trivial task. The first step is naturally hard, because you need to
look at your business objectively and really understand why customers buy from
you as opposed to your competition. You have to analyze your competition—both
what you can see today and what may be around the corner threatening to change
the competitive landscape tomorrow. Many tools exist online that will enhance
your ability to understand your company’s strengths and target potential
Before you turn to using these tools, outline a
clear statement of what you consider to be your company’s unique value
proposition. Write it down, and then review it with your employees and select
customers to get their feedback. Many times the value perceived by the customer
is different than you expect—attributes that you value may not be important to
the customer, and some elements that you consider trivial could have huge value
to the customer. The feedback you receive may make you to shift the focus of
your marketing message.
Think about your proof points, or the ways in
which you can demonstrate your business’s worth. These could be testimonials,
customer success stories or industry trends, and you can use them to support
your business. If your customers have consistent complaints or concerns, figure
out how to handle their objections.
Once you have a good idea about both the unique
value your business provides as well as the customer’s perspective on it,
develop a communication plan outlining how you are going to get this
information out to current and future customers. References and testimonials,
if seen as fair and balanced, are very powerful. They help potential customers relate
to the experiences of other customers similar to them.
Now you are ready to leverage the power of the Internet
to your advantage. Maybe your website doesn’t place enough emphasis on what
your customers value most about your business. If so, be proactive and change
it. If you are using a fully featured platform for web development, you should
be able to do this yourself. If not, you might need to call your web designer.
Regardless of how you do it, you should take the time to have your website
reflect what you learn from your customers. A key benefit of an online presence
is that you are able to quickly adjust your message to reflect new information.
How often have you printed pamphlets promoting your company, only to realize
you need to make changes soon after they are printed? An online storefront
gives you the flexibility to adjust your message to reflect new data as you
Customer feedback can be a valuable tool for your
business. It keeps your customers engaged and feeling empowered, and it can
flag issues to you before they become real problems. On your website, you can
set up short surveys to poll your customers and other visitors to your site.
People are more likely to respond to something that will take them only a
minute or two. The questions you ask could range from the quality of your
website, to how your visitors made their decisions to buy or not buy, to open
ended questions on what else you could do to improve their experience.
An online storefront creates a more personal and
immediate channel for the customer to interact with your business and provide
feedback. Your marketing plan should always be adapting to what you learn about
your customers and their preferences.
Promotions and Customer
Who doesn’t love a bargain? Sales,
coupons, and discounts have long been used to entice consumers into making a
purchase. The Internet has its own versions of buyers’ incentives. Companies
like Groupon, Living Social, or Amazon Local will let you send promotions to
large lists of potential customers. These daily deals are managed through
platforms that have their own infrastructure to support direct purchases or
You can use these deal-of-the-day platforms
to increase your company’s exposure to customers, but keep in mind that your online
promotion may not result in significant profit. Not only will you be offering a
discount to the price of your product or service, but a significant portion of the
payment from the customer will be retained by the platform enabling these
As a small business owner, you need
to consider carefully how these promotions will help you in the long run. If
your business thrives on repeat customers—if you own a hair salon or
restaurant, for example—a Groupon or Living Social deal can help you attract
new customers. When those customers have a good experience with your business,
they are likely to come back as full paying clients. If you offer a one-time
service with low margins, such as construction or appliance repair, you might choose
not to offer a bargain basement price to someone you may not see again for a
long period of time.
and Charlotte run a paintball business. “Once we get people to visit us and see
how much fun paintball is for everyone, we can get them to come back with their
friends. The challenge is to get someone
to visit for the first time, and for that we have been using Groupon as a
teaser. A family package gets everyone in the facility, and the adventure does
Managing Your Web
Your website is just the starting
point. As a small business owner, you should also be aware of how your business
appears on other websites, whether they are online directories, review sites or
links from businesses that partner with you. You have to stay current with the
reviews on your product or service, and you need to be sure to address negative
reviews as quickly as possible.
Make sure you are well represented
in directories that your target customers browse. You should do a search of
your own company to see where and how you are currently listed. Visit each
listing and see if there are any ways you can enhance it. Most Internet
directories typically have very basic profiles for the businesses they list. They
often allow businesses to “claim” their profiles and add to the information
already included there. There may occasionally be a small fee associated with
this, but it gives you the opportunity to build a more compelling profile—and
one that includes a link to your own website, which in turn improves your website’s
rank in search results.
Some customers will find you
through directories. Others will find you through review sites like Yelp and
social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Consider giving your
customers incentives to review your business in whichever forum they prefer.
And be sure to be timely when responding to reviews. Handling negative customer
feedback graciously or thanking customers for their positive feedback can
significantly improve the perception of your business. You may have observed many
hotel managers responding directly to feedback on their properties on Trip Advisor.
Many restaurant owners have now started doing the same on Yelp.
Managing Customer Relationships
Customer Relationship Management,
or CRM, is focused on managing all interactions with current and prospective
customers with the goal of increasing customer satisfaction and revenue. Using a CRM system, you can understand the
preferences of your current customers and market new products to them. Selling
to an existing customer is easier than trying to sell to a new one.
A CRM system provides you with a
unified view of all the interactions of your business with your customers. It can
organize, automate and synchronize marketing, sales, service and support functions.
CRM systems are useful for business of all sizes—the scope and capability will vary
based on the requirements of your specific business. For a small business, a
CRM system may simply consist of a contact manager that integrates emails,
documents, job details, invoices, and scheduling for individual accounts. It
tracks customer history and experience, so you can provide your most promising or
most loyal customers with the highest level of service.
Most CRM systems are now available
on the cloud. Instead of purchasing CRM software, you purchase access to a
cloud-based CRM solution such as Salesforce.com. You don’t have to worry about owning
either the hardware or the software for running a CRM system, and you can
access it from your computer or your mobile devices anywhere and anytime. Many
CRM systems now integrate social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter
and provide tools to run customer surveys. These additional capabilities will
give you better visibility into such things as marketing campaign
effectiveness, buying patterns, product preferences, customer satisfaction, and
the potential for add-on sales.
At the most basic level, a CRM
system helps you understand the buying behavior of your customers, identifying
who provides you with the most business, who gives you the highest profitability,
and who complains the least or the most. This will lead you to take steps to
increase customer satisfaction for your most valuable clients, helping you not
only retain their business but also hopefully grow it. You may also decide that
business from some high-maintenance clients costs too much time and energy, and
you are better served focusing your limited resources on more satisfied and
You can analyze the data collected
from a CRM system to improve your understanding of your customers and their
preferences. This will increase the loyalty of your customers to your business
and reduce the cost of acquiring new customers.
This technique is called Data Mining, and
it seeks to analyze customer information with the dual intent of attracting new
customers and generating more business from existing ones. Let’s say you repair
air conditioning systems for homes. A CRM system would help you track the
customers you have serviced, how frequently you have done so, what repairs you
have made in their homes, and whether they have referred you to other
customers. With this information, you could set up your system to prompt you to
call existing customers on a regular basis to do an annual inspection or perform
a maintenance service.
is a CPA. He has helped customers with
their accounting and tax preparation needs for several years. Bob says, “I
started using a CRM system a couple years ago. Instead of waiting for customers
to call me, I use the CRM database to determine when to set up future appointments.
The customers usually thank me for remembering to call them.” Now Bob is
expanding his business. “I’m starting to offer financial planning services. Using
the customer profiles in my CRM system, I have put together a list of customers
who may be interested in having me work with them.”
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