Just a few years ago, we all received our monthly bank statements in the mail and the information was 20 to 30 days old. Nowadays, anyone can access his or her monthly bank statement at any time—just by visiting the bank’s Web site. There is a reason why banks are relegating paper statements to the analog dustbin of history: money.
Monthly statements printed on “dead trees” cost the bank dollars per customer compared with just a few cents to distribute that same information electronically. This translates to millions of dollars in savings each year! This is just one way companies are using the Internet to increase their margins and thereby improve profits.
This same type of savings can apply to your business. Here are some tips for using the resources available online to make your company more streamlined and profitable.
1. Go paperless wherever possible. Going green is one of today’s hottest business trends, but even before concerns about global warming made companies see the photosynthesis, the Internet was paving the way for a less paper-dependent economy.
Now the changes are so drastic they literally are depressing businesses that until recently were largely dependent upon paper—the U.S. Postal service and print publications, just to name two. Businesses rely more on e-mail and online marketing to communicate with clients and acquire new ones.
Following in the footsteps of the banking industry and others, most businesses can experience an immediate increase in margins by invoicing their customers and vendors via e-mail or through their own secure Web sites. A natural extension of invoicing customers or clients is accepting payments through the Internet via secure servers. Most consumers are confident in placing small orders through the Internet already—purchasing books on Amazon.com, for example—and as travel, the fastest-growing online business, can attest those price points are climbing as customer confidence grows.
In the wake of such trends, savvy business owners are encouraging their customers and clients to use the Internet not only as a source of information, but as a convenient place to actually place an order. The number of Web site storefronts grows every year and many businesses are moving away from physical shops in preference to virtual storefronts. Of course, receipts are then e-mailed to the consumer rather than printed out, another example of going paperless.
When a consumer or potential client visits a business Web site, the goal of that business should be to share information, but also to convert the visitor. This can be done either by influencing a purchase or acquiring some basic customer information such as an e-mail address or a phone number. Such tactics pave the way for another paperless endeavor: e-mail marketing rather than direct mail through the post office.
Concepts like converting the visitor come full circle when businesses add online advertising in addition to the more traditional, paper variety of magazines and newspapers.
2. Analyze, adapt and improve online advertising efforts. With online advertising, through services such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and other players in the pay-per-click search engine marketing industries, businesses usually reap a higher ROI than through more traditional offline advertising. Additionally, online efforts are rewarded with valuable statistics that allow advertisers to analyze, adapt and improve their efforts.
For instance, online advertising is often measured in cost-per-conversion or CPC. The advertiser pays when the ad converts into action, typically measured when a user clicks on the ad to see more information about the business. At that point, it is up to the business to convert that user, either by acquiring a telephone number or an e-mail address, which would constitute a lead, or by invoking a genuine purchase, which would constitute a paying customer.
The number of times someone clicks on the online ad compared with the number of times someone becomes a “lead” or a “customer” provides the business with the CPC. When an online marketing effort is properly created, this CPC figure is available for every single ad in a campaign.
The real trick to improving profits comes next: The business must analyze the CPC for each ad and make small, quantifiable changes. Does the CPC improve or worsen? By continually adapting the language in the ad and the Web site conversion page (usually called the landing page) a savvy business can increase the ROI through measurable means.
3. Leverage and moderate viral marketing. Ultimately, and ideally, a business may find itself involved in a viral campaign when advertising takes on a life of its own through the Internet.
Viral marketing exists when there is a certain buzz about a business, product or service. As a result of that buzz, other Internet users share the message through social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook or YouTube. Suddenly, groups of people spread the word about the business, even though they represent no advertising expenditure.
There are a number of ways to kick-start a viral campaign. For example, create a MySpace profile page or an AmazonConnect account and assign friends with similar interests. Write an article and distribute it through online article banks. Or better yet, write and publish a book about the business, product or service. Print-on-demand technology now allows individuals who never fancied themselves a writer to compose a non-fiction, informative book and sell it to the masses.
Amazon, Google and eBay suddenly become untapped gold mines of new marketing opportunities or potential clients. All you need is a book. Too daunting? Start a blog on Blogger or Word Press; upload a video tour of the business on YouTube; create a community on Facebook that focuses on the benefits of the business. The opportunities are endless.
With Web 2.0, the reality is finally catching up to the Internet’s potential. Online is where the customers are. It’s time for small and medium-sized business to follow suit.
Brent Sampson is the best-selling author of "Sell Your Book on Amazon" and the award-winning, "Self-Publishing Simplified." As president and CEO of Outskirts Press, Sampson offers full-service, on-demand, custom book publishing services to authors seeking a fast, cost-effective way to publish and distribute their books worldwide. Through Outskirts Press, Sampson has helped thousands of authors with writing, editing, marketing and entrepreneurship. He also is a member of the board for the Education & Literacy Foundation. For more information, call (888) 672-6657, or visit www.outskirtspress.com.