Should you be on the Web?
There are only 3 reasons to answer "Yes!"
By Wally Bock
In the wave of Internet mania that we've experienced recently, businesses of all shapes and sizes have rushed to get "on the Web." If you haven't joined them yet, you're probably asking yourself whether it makes sense for your business to have a Web site.
A Web site makes sense for your business only if it improves your profit and your operations. And there are only three ways to do that: By using your site to 1) increase revenue, 2) decrease expenses or 3) make things work better. Let's take a closer look at each of these objectives.
There are five basic ways you can use your Web site to increase revenue:
1. You can sell things on your site. If you do that, you should offer secure options for credit card sales. That helps folks who are comfortable using their credit card to order know that you're watching out for security. You should also offer options for folks who don't want to use their credit card. Allow them to print out your order form and fax it in. Let them call in their order. Or let them place their order online, but do the credit card part by phone.
2. You can sell advertising. Advertising is audience delivery. If you get lots of visitors to your Web site, or if you get many visitors of a particular kind, then other businesses may be willing to pay to use your site as a way to reach your visitors.
Remember that the best ads - for you, your advertisers and your visitors - are content ads. Let advertisers provide an article or other form of information that helps your visitors solve a problem or answer a question they're likely to have. Then link to the advertiser from the content.
3. You can have memberships or subscriptions. Members and subscribers sign up for some kind of ongoing benefit. They might pay you, for example, for access to special information. Or, you might have them trade you information (which you can use) for access to benefits.
4. You can charge a transaction or other fee. Some Web sites handle transactions for other sites and charge a fee for doing that. You might allow your customers to let their customers use part of your Web site and charge them for each usage.
5. You can generate commissions or royalties. Programs like the Associates Program at Amazon.com work like this. They have you sign up to be an associate. Once you're on board, you send folks to their site, using the code they give you. If those folks buy, you get a commission. Consider signing up for associate programs for sites that sell things of value to your visitors.
Look for places where one person in your business reads information to your customers or prospects. They might be reading from a computer screen or a manual, but if they're reading, there are two people involved. If you can use your Web site to provide the same information, you free up staff time for more productive work.
Also look for places where you've got lots of printing, postage, phone or fax costs. Information that's shared through your Web site or using automatic e-mail doesn't cost you a dime in postage, phone or fax costs. Check where you have the largest expenses in these areas and then look for ways to use the Internet to get the information out.
I've found that folks who receive information in both print and digital form almost always prefer digital after they get used to it. That makes sense. Digital information doesn't take up space, it's searchable and it's easy to use. Don't expect folks to know this in advance, though. Send them information both ways, and offer the option to eliminate print if they choose. About two-thirds will do so within a year.
Make things work better
Make your marketing more effective. Lots of marketing is simply information sharing. A Web site gives you a way to tell more about yourself and what you sell than you ever can in a brochure or conversation. Not only that, you share your information with folks at a time when it's most convenient for them and when they're most interested.
Cut your sales cycle. All that information sharing can have a dramatic effect on your sales cycle. With a Web site, especially one that uses automatic e-mail response, you can cut down the number of sales calls necessary to go from first contact to closing the sale.
Provide routine information. A Web site can help people get routine information without tying up your people or your phone. Things like your hours of operation and special services are available to customers 24 hours a day.
Build relationships with your customers and prospects. Start with interactivity on your Web site. Let them tell you things about themselves that help you serve them better.
Give folks special attention. Separate areas of your site can be set up for different groups of customers. It's like having several front doors to your shop, each with a special message and display. You can set up private areas of your site for your top customers to give them special attention.
That's three solid reasons to have a Web site, but they all boil down to one reason: Your business should have a Web site to improve your business results. Anything else is a waste of time and money. And that's bad business.
Wally Bock is a leading author, speaker and trainer on the subject of doing business on the Internet. He has written or co-authored several books, including Getting on the Information Superhighway and Cyberpower for Business.