Using the Internet to help your business
Of the many questions from those not already on the Net, these three seem to be the most popular: "Why should I have a website?"; "What use is the Internet to my business?"; and, "How do you grow using the Net?". The answers come from yourself, when you analyze your business needs and values. What is the real value of the Internet to your business? Can it reduce your expenses; generate new business; help develop new business opportunities; and improve operations? Yes. Will having a website answer my business needs? Can it: provide customers awareness of my products and services; offer ready information and support; extend my trading hours capability; expand my markets; increase my income; and, ensure private and secure communication between me, my staff and my best customers? Yes. With paths already well worn, the benefits to having a website are apparent everywhere. Amazingly though, only 6% of the world's population are participating. We like to appreciate this information as positive, proposing huge market growth to come over the next two years. Businesses, who are just awaking to the fact that they are being left behind, realize that they must have at least a minimal of presence on the Internet. Some of the many benefits to having a website are: the ability to display a catalogue of products and services; that ability to extend your business hours to 24-7 without a physical presence; and, to update information which is seen by the world, immediately. This gives you an equal status with more affluent companies, providing easy communication with current and prospective customers. This is an excellent means of generating sales leads, while keeping present customers aware of new products and services. There are the benefits of close interaction with your customers. A good website will incorporate smart visitor interaction: this will include basic elements of e-commerce, such as forms, surveys and other data acquiring applications. With Secure Socket Layer (SSL) capacity, one can offer safe and secure online transactions. What instantly comes to mind is the ability to offer credit card facilities, so to allow immediate online sales: more income 24-7. The long-term benefits are clear too. With unlimited space you can convey your entire message for an unlimited time; it is more affordable and economical than the Yellow Pages; the market is greatly increased, even reaching internationally; and, once an audience is established, new ideas can be tested in real time, with instant results. There is good practical value in having a website; for instance, a map can provide your local location; statistics on who is visiting your site can determine where you should spend your dollars; of course, no shoplifting; no staff; no insurance; no air-conditioning; and, less time on the phone. An important concern for businesses, especially in these days of global mobility, is communication: communication with regular clients and, equally as important, with staff in the field. A website can securely provide current information for use in immediate situations, one can download vital packages within seconds from the other side of the world, with or without password security. The future of the Net is looking golden. People are now associating reliable businesses with the Internet, with research indicating that businesses with a website have grown 46% faster than those without. Customer service is improving too, when customers have access to product details and technical support solutions, they become satisfied clients. There is one HUGE incentive to getting your presence on the Internet, and, not easy to avoid, the fact that your competitors are probably already there! It is not difficult to build a web site, there is many software packages that cater for the skilled and the not-so-skilled; there are automatic web site builders, usually free, aimed at selling you web hosting; and, there is the aged old method of getting someone to do it for you. Web designers are available to provide the look and, in some cases, suggestions of customer interactive solutions; but, the web developers are the back-end creators, they provide varying degrees of skill, from the development of simple forms and actions to database control systems and analysis. Once you have thought up a unique ‘domain name', which is advised for the serious business, and created your website ‘locally', using an editor such as Microsoft FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or Pagemill, you must find someone to ‘host' it for you. A ‘web host' provides a folder on a server, for your website's files, images and pages, to be stored. A ‘server', is a computer, which is connected to the Internet 24 - 7. You can find these companies by asking discussion groups or newsgroups online; using search engines; by asking your local provider; or even friends and neighbors. Many people have websites these days and if not, still know where to enquire. Maintaining your website is painless too. Check your emails regularly, these are the lifeblood of the Internet; check your links are valid, click on them and see if they go to the right place; update old and expired information; and always keep it fresh. Once you have your website up you will need to let everyone know about it.
Email people, in discussions groups and newsgroups, people who are in associated industries to your business: suppliers, and clients. Submit your site on search engines using ‘Site Submission Software', create associated web pages and submit them too, upload articles as web pages, and try keyword ads. Networking online is easy. Contact related businesses and exchange buttons and links, your button on their website, and theirs on yours. Talk to friends of friends, and leave postings on Message Boards. It has been known in business, for centuries, that the best form of promotion is in articles and press releases. Write about what you know, experiences in all things business, get another member of your staff to interview you. Put your articles on article directories, there are hundreds of them online, send them to media houses offline and online; and remember, press releases are not of use unless they are news! Of course there is still the aged old method of promotion: offline advertising; stationery; Yellow Pages; classifieds and many other forms; unfortunately these are costly and in my belief, with a good online plan, not immediately necessary. By analyzing business needs and the value of the Net to your business, you can determine whether having a website is the right idea for you. With the furious rate of increase of users to the Internet, the high presence already established, and the projections for the future, it may prove that just having an online presence, however minimal, will prevent you businesses losing touch with their industries.