There is little doubt that over the last 20 years, the internet has had a massive impact on our lives. It has changed the way we work, the way we are entertained, how we gather information and the process through which we make decisions. For instance, if you want to buy a house you can now research potential properties online without seeing a real estate agent. If you want to know about an appliance you want to purchase, you can shop around online to find out a reasonable price you can expect to pay. If you want technical help, you can simply type your question into ‘Google’ and be amazed at how much relevant information immediately appears.
But did you realise that the internet can have an impact on your small business without your even knowing it? How could that be?
Let’s use the industry I’ve spent most of my working life in (point of sale) as an example. In the past if someone wanted to buy a cash register, what research would they do to go about making a purchase? Probably they would look up the local phone book under ‘cash registers’ and ring around a few businesses to find out who can help them. They may make a judgement about your business based on the advertisement you placed in the phone book. But if you received a phone call, you had an opportunity to make a good ‘first impression’ on your potential customer, find out a bit about their requirements and, if they were keen, make arrangements to demonstrate a suitable product, or several options, to them. If you had a shop front, they could come into your showroom and see you there. And if they had friends or colleagues that had made a similar purchase, they would probably get some advice from them based on their experiences.
The upshot of this process was that, by and large, you had a reasonable amount of control of the impression you were giving to potential customers, and you would often know who was considering you as a potential supplier.
And this was particularly the case in specialised technical industries, where expertise was one of the primary sources of guidance that the potential client would rely on to make a decision. They may approach one or two other similar businesses (your opposition), but the pool of resources available to them as far as getting expert advice was limited.
So how has the ‘worldwide web’ changed this situation? Let’s consider just 3 basic ways:
1. The internet has removed geographical boundaries.
So the first step for many of your potential clients now is to do some online research. And this won’t just be with local businesses – your clients will be viewing products, checking pricing and gleaning advice from far and wide. They may even consider buying from a supplier hundreds of kilometres away, particularly if they don’t consider ongoing onsite support as an important consideration.
2. The internet contains an enormous amount of information.
Most potential clients who do online research will have developed more advanced preconceived ideas of what they need and what its worth before they approach you directly. And it’s not unusual for those who are not strong technically to be suffering from ‘information overload’ by the time they come to make a purchasing decision.
3. Your internet presence is now the first, and sometimes the only impression a potential client will get of you and your business.
Formerly, a customer would develop an impression of how helpful you are, your industry knowledge and your professionalism by visiting your shop, conversing with you over the phone or meeting you personally. But do you realise that they will now form some these conclusions by visiting your website? And if they don’t like what they find, the sad fact is that they might not even give you any further consideration.
So here are a couple of questions that would be worth considering:
- Does my website give a good ‘first impression’?
- Does it communicate what products or services I offer in a way that demonstrates that I understand the customer’s needs?
- Does my website motivate a potential client to consider contacting me?
Now this doesn’t mean we all need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a whiz-bang website – frankly, as a small business we probably can’t afford that, and most likely wouldn’t recoup those costs in a short enough time frame. However, this information should demonstrate the need to ensure that we need to have a relevant online presence and one that works to the advantage of our business. It is definitely not a case of ‘anything will do’ and ‘a bad website is better than no website at all’!
5 Simple Steps to Make Sure Your Website Doesn’t Turn Away Business
Here are a couple of simple suggestions to help you ensure that your website gives a good impression of your business:
1. Make sure that you can update your own website.
The idea of having your own web developer might sound cool, but it can be expensive. Even if you get a company to design a website for you, make sure you have the means of making simple changes to your site so that it stays relevant to your business and your potential customers.
2. Keep your website up-to-date.
A website that contains out-of-date products or hasn’t been modified for years is a big turn-off. It would be like walking into a showroom that was never cleaned, or contained products for sale that were obviously superseded. It actually gives the impression that you don’t keep up with current trends – which is especially relevant in a technology-oriented business.
3. Have enough information on it.
While it may not be necessary to list every item you sell, you do want your website to show the world what you do well! What products do you specialise in? What backup service do you provide to your clientele? While you don’t want to make claims that you don’t intend to live up to, you definitely want to inspire a serious online researcher to consider you for your expertise and the solutions you provide.
4. Make sure the information is well worded.
Another way to give a poor impression of your business is for your website to contain particularly poor wording or grammar. That’s not to say that you need to have a university education or be a professional writer. But particularly in an industry that requires you to understand technical concepts and then pass these on when providing end-user training, you want to present yourself as someone who can express information clearly and understandably. Poorly worded material on your website can give the impression that you don’t know what you are talking about.
5. Include genuine positive recommendations.
If you have received a positive comment from an existing client or past customer, why not post that on your website? Genuine recommendations do give potential customers positive food-for-thought. In fact a really interesting survey I read recently concluded that an increasing number of consumers are doing online research to assess the quality of a business, and consider positive customer comments to be legitimate recommendations, particularly if the website contains multiple reviews. Just bear in mind that it might be considered poor manners not to ask those who made the positive comments whether they mind your publishing them.
Yes, the internet has definitely changed the way we research the products we want to buy, as well as the businesses we consider dealing with. So we need to take more than a passing interest in the impression our online presence gives of our business. Failing to do so could cost us opportunities without our even knowing it.
It would be a shame to miss out simply because we didn’t take some simple steps to bring our website up to speed with the expectations of the modern consumer.