The Internet and your Local Business

As a local business owner, it easy to feel threatened by the Internet. What if all your customers start shopping on line, you might think?

A few years ago I was at a meeting with other local business owners, just before a wedding expo.

The florist was complaining about an article in the paper, talking about how to buy things like rose petals on the Internet.

After listening for a few minutes, I asked how many of these business owners had a website. Out of about 20 people, I was the only one online.

The Internet can be a great equalizer for the local business! Your customers are online. Will they find you?

Lets say you're a local dentist, for example. People that used to reach for the Yellow Pages are now looking on Google. And if they find your website, you'd have their undivided attention. You could tell them, through your own words, all about your clinic or office, what to expect, your specialties, maybe some testimonials from other satisfied visitors.

An insurance agent could provide quotes online or by email, automatically, 24 hours a day. People who don't have time to come into your office may send you a message late at night, you reply to it the next day, and you just made a new friend, and a sale.

Think it's too good to be true?

I used to be a wedding photographer in Seattle. People would visit my website, view all my samples online, read my prices and packages. Then they'd email me to see if I was available for their wedding date, and maybe ask a couple questions. An hour later, the deposit was in my account. Next I would send them a list of information, and they would send it back when they had time. I'd send a list of tips and tricks to help them planning their wedding. Sometimes that worked so well, they forwarded it to their friends who were also planning a wedding. The friends would book with me too! Finally, when I'd go to the rehearsal, I'd have to ask, "Who is the Bride?"

We'd never met face to face.

Here's a quick break down of what is involved getting your business on the Internet:

  • A Domain Name

  • A Website

  • Website Hosting

  • You need a "Domain Name", which is simply your website address. In my case, is my domain name. You register that once, and pay by the year, typically less than $25. You can think of it like your license plates for your car.

    A website could be just as simple as a brochure or flyer, or it could be your whole catalog. You'll probably want to hire someone to help you set it up in the first place, but odds are you can handle doing updates yourself. Depending on options, it may cost as little as a few hundred dollars, up to thousands. It doesn't have to be complicated though, honest!

    And you'll need "hosting", which is simply the "parking spot" for your website. Somewhere on the Internet is a place where websites live. Mine happens to be in Texas, powered by a windmill. Hey, you can't make that kind of thing up! Here's the good news, hosting is not expensive; figure less than $25 a month. Actually closer to $10 to $15 a month, depending on who you talk to.

    So, to recap what we've covered so far, access to a world wide market, for a few hundred dollars set up, and less than $25 a month.

    Ready for some more details?

    A website can be used to inform your customer, or to actually sell your product. Its good to know what you want it to do before you get started!

    At its simplest, a website could be a single page, that tells people who you are, what you can offer them, and how they can contact you.

    Or it could be a complete destination, including your entire catalog of products, with a way for them to order with a credit card and have the items shipped to them. Obviously one size does not fit all, and the more complicated it is, the more help you'll likely need, and the more it will cost.

    I recently helped a local home renovation person build his website. We put up some pictures of his work, we explained what to expect before, during and after the project, and we included some pictures of hand written testimonials from recent customers. Of course, he would still have to go to the customer's home, make measurements, and discus what they had in mind before they made a decision, but the website gave them some time to "window shop" on their own.

    Another project I'm currently working on is for a manufacturer of saddles. The saddles will be available through retail stores, but the website can answer most of the questions a prospective buyer would have, so when they go to the store, they know which saddle they want. The website can even help build the brand and bring in new customers. A well designed website can help the business, by answering most of the questions a customer might have. Think of it as your most knowledgeable sales person, available 24 hours a day.

    Once you have your shiny new website, what about updates?

    If you don't change your product line often, and if your office is in the same place as it was 20 years ago, odds are your website won't need many changes! But you may want to run specials for the holidays, or you are now certified to repair a new product line, or you have a new partner and you want to tell the world.

    It used to be you'd have to call the web guy who made your website, and ask him to make some changes. He would charge you a fee for doing it, and it might take a while.

    If your web guy is good, he has attracted a lot of new clients since he did your website. Now he is busy, and may not have time to make the changes for you. The other possibility is your web guy was not very good, and has gone out of business! You can't even find him!

    Don't despair!

    On a modern website, the "content" is separated from the "back end". Content is all the articles, pictures, and all the things you actually see.

    The "back end" includes all the "nuts and bolts" that make the website work. When the website is set up correctly, you never have to deal with the code. You simply type in your message, as simply as writing a letter or an email.

    Stay Tuned for more!

    By Carlin Comm posted on 2011-03-12 19:28:47