"My business is way too small for the World Wide Web."
If you're managing a business and asking these questions, read on. It's time to learn how a Web presence can help improve your operations and boost your bottom line. But first, a few questions: Do you have a telephone? Do you have a listing in the telephone book? How about stationery and envelopes bearing your business name? Business cards? Perhaps even a sign in front of your place of business? Do you advertise occasionally? If you answered yes to any of these questions-and you almost certainly should have-you should take a look at what the Web offers you.
Put simply, by creating a World Wide Web site, you'll extend the communication and marketing power of your telephone, your advertisements and other business-building tools at your disposal. Here, specifically, is what the Web will allow you to do:
• Spread yourself thick. If you had unlimited time, think of the number of prospects and customers you could meet. In practice, however, you have to eat, sleep and take time out for yourself and your family. The Web, however, is an unremitting 24-hour-a-day presence, making you available to your customers whenever they want.
• Build techno-credibility. Whether you like technology or not, you've got to face one fact: We live in a high-tech age. Customers who believe you capable of understanding and mastering the technological tools of the age will be more apt to believe that you're capable of understanding and mastering other things, most significantly the products or services you sell. A Web presence positions you as a technologically adept business person.
• Provide information. A Web site is like a reference library, display booth and file cabinet all rolled into one collection of customer-friendly information. You can use the site to display data, answer questions, host sales promotions, position new products, talk to customers through audio clips, and even show video material.
• Advertise the advertising. Marketing experts today note the importance of integrated advertising-various advertising elements that strategically complement and support each other. A newspaper ad, for instance, might promote your Web site, which in turn might promote a powerful product brochure. Or your site might encourage visitors to join a company-sponsored Internet discussion group, or place their names on your mailing list.
• Foster internal pride. A Web site often commands respect from the people around you: colleagues, employees and vendors.
• Give 'em a voice. Yes, you hear from your customers from time to time, especially when things go wrong. But the Web gives you an opportunity to solicit the views of your customers all the time. How? You simply need to insert an e-mail comment form on your site and receive a stream of valuable feedback.
• Get on the receiving end of referrals. A Web site is a wonderful tool prospects, customers and visitors can use to pass along the names of friends and acquaintances who might need your goods or services. All it takes is an e-mail option at your site.
• Build an image. Corporate identity is one of the keys to effective marketing. When prospective customers instantly recognize your business, you have a leg up on the future. Reinforce your identity through the consistent use of your logo, slogans and important marketing messages at your site. And unlike other advertising, which reaches your prospects for 30 or 60 seconds of air time or a few column inches of print space, your Web presence can elaborate on the meaning of those logos and slogans.
• Answer those burning questions. You can answer questions 24 hours a day, all the while escaping from the hustle and bustle of anxious telephone calls. A frequently asked questions section (or FAQ) gives visitors answers to commonly asked questions, or allows them to leave their unique questions for you.
• Save money. Suppose you could reduce the cost of mailing catalogs, circulars and other materials? Suppose you could cut your long distance telephone bill? Suppose you could reduce your fax volume? You can-by establishing a Web site and making information freely available there.
• Open another branch. Ever thought about opening a branch in another neighborhood, city or state? By building a Web site, you can establish a branch location in cyberspace that attracts visitors from around the world.
Today, business firms of every size and description-from the corner store to multi-national corporations-are on the Web. More than 35 percent of North Americans have Internet access, and the percentage is growing with each passing year.
The Web presence of business firms is not lost on technologically adept consumers. Often, the Web is their information and communications medium of choice. Put yourself on the Web and you'll put yourself squarely in front of these savvy consumers.
Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a syndicated freelance writer based in Rochester, NY.