I was just thinking today, "Gee, I wonder how many people are online now, in the entire world."
I probably should have been working on something more productive! But once a thought gets in my head, it usually rattles around until a blog post comes out!
In about 23 seconds, I had the first part of the answer. Google says there are now 6,775,235,741 people on Planet Earth.
The next question, how many people online, on the internet let me to this website: InternetWorldStats.com. If you're at all fascinated by numbers, you can probably go there and take a look around.
Slightly different numbers from the Google version, but plenty close enough for our purposes here. Looking at the entire World Population, there are 28% of the population who are have internet access. That may not mean they have their own computer, just that it is accessible to them, like at an internet cafe, etc.
If you were to click on the North America link on that website, you'd see that on average, about 77% of North Americans have internet access. In Canada, 77.7% have internet access. That is about 26 MILLION potential Canadian customers!
Lets say your customer base is "service based". They come to you, and you provide a service. Maybe you install tires, or perform massage, or do computer repairs. Obviously, someone on the opposite coast, or on another continent won't be your regular customer. But, what if you had something they could buy, that could either be downloaded, like an "e-book"... a book you read on your computer on a portable reader device, or something you could ship to them.
If you know how to help people, they don't have to be local for you to help them. Think about "how to put on snow chains", "how to grow better tomatoes", "how to train your cat to pee in the toilet"... Honest, I've seen books, videos, or power point presentations on all of these, even the cat!
As a local business owner myself, I "could" feel threatened by the internet. I was in a meeting a few years ago, where several business owners were complaining that their sales were down, because customers were buying products online. When I asked, not one of them had their own website!
I used to video tape and photograph weddings, when I lived in Seattle, Washington. I did between 20 and 30 weddings a year. Now, you might think of that as a "local" service based business, where you are limited to a geographic area. In a way, that is true. But here's a couple things I discovered. My wedding clients who found me on the internet were able to read my entire "sales script", see all my samples, and even got to know my "style", because I wrote all the words on my website. So if they liked me, I was pretty close to a sale before I even met them! They were "pre-sold"! And the people who didn't like me, well they just never called. I wasn't too worried about that, life is too short to work with people you don't like!
But here's the really great part of the story. While I was based in Seattle, I was hired by a professional speaker and author, who lived in Vancouver, BC, Canada, to do a video for him when he came down to Seattle. Through that job, I met another speaker who paid for my plane ticket and room, when he flew me out to the Washington DC area. I got to stay in a fancy bed and breakfast, had a limo pick me up at the airport, and I was an invited guest with the speakers when they went out to eat.
I also met a dentist from Detroit while I was in Seattle. He found my website, and asked me to video tape him at the famous Pike Place Market, his video was then beamed back to his friends in Detroit for a grand opening he wasn't able to be at. That job then lead to him flying me out to Detroit, twice, for a week each time, to do a series of videos.
I've done fund raising for several projects, where I used the website, and I had donations or sales from all over the US and Canada.
A website can be made for free, or you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars. It depends on your goals and budget. But it doesn't have to be very expensive at all. For example, this blog you are reading now, I can help you set one up for $150, and then it will cost you less than $10 a month to "host" it. I can explain all the costs if you have questions, but lets use an example.
When I decided to start up RyleyBiz.ca (then later I got TofieldBiz.ca and CamroseBiz.ca), I went to a website where I typed in my choice of names, and it told me if that name was available. When I found a name I liked, I was able to register or buy that name, for a year at about $15. I say about, because you get a price break if you get it for 2 years, and .com or .ca or .biz have different prices. So you pay for the name by the year, then you have to pay for hosting. Hosting is where your site lives, on a server somewhere. There are some very inexpensive hosting companies, and there are some that cost more. The one I like costs less than $10 a month, and it depends on if you pay monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc, and also some other options.
So say for a year, you'd pay $15 for the name, and $10 x 12 for hosting ($10 a month) so that's hosting for $120, plus $15 for the name, for $135 per year. And you pay someone to create a website for you, which you may decide to do it yourself, and save some money. Or I an do it for a basic site, for $150. That might suit your business just fine. Or I'm currently working on a more involved website that I'm doing for $750.
Here's what I really want you to understand though. If the website brings in even 1 single order per month, you could very likely at least break even. Websites are like billboards on a busy highway. Or a store front on Main Street. On the internet, your site can be the equal of a name brand store. When I shot weddings in Seattle, I lived in a tiny apartment, had no store front, in fact wasn't even allowed to put a sign up in my window. And I still managed to find 30 wedding customers per year.
Now go back and remember those numbers. 77% of all Canadians have internet access. When the snow drifts come, and they want to go shopping, do you think they'll spend all of Sunday digging a path to the road, just to fight the lines at the mall... or they'd rather curl up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate, and their laptop?
And don't you think they'd rather buy from someone local, if they had the chance?