Your potential customers are looking for you online. Be sure to be there to greet them.
Technology has opened new doors to the small business owner. In the generation of our parents, there were straightforward needs: a phone number, a list of contact names, and the simple determination to market the business. The World Wide Web changed all of that. Now, while you still need that phone number and a list of names, you also are expected to have a website and – with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn sites dominating marketing news – a social media plan.
Do you need to have all of this in place before you begin marketing your business? Of course not. However, it does help to have a place to start and, increasingly, marketing experts state that place is online. So before you place your first call or send your first email promotion, you will want to have a website ready to receive your first customers.
Why Is a Website Important?
A website is now considered the core of the small business marketing portfolio. It is as important as having a number that your customers can call and a business card that you can distribute at a trade show. Why? In increasing numbers, consumers are no longer turning to the printed Yellow Pages for information. Rather, they are going online and using search engines like Google or Bing to find everything from basic directions to a nearby retailer to recommendations for a new family restaurant. According to an ongoing consumer-focused study published in March 2010 by BIA/Kelsey, nearly twice as many survey respondents (90 percent) used search engines as the Yellow Pages (48 percent).
Because the first step to a successful marketing effort is being where your customers are, it makes good business sense to be online and findable.
Why is Purchasing a Domain Name the First Step?
There are many ways to get your business online with its own website, but the first step is to purchase a domain name. Domain names – like buymecoffee.com or insertyournamehere.com – are simply the addresses whereby a customer can find your website.
You will read from some advisors that you do not need to buy a domain name of your own to create a business website. In fact, some companies promise everything to you for free: an online address and the tools to build your own site. But these offers come with strings attached: The first is that the address that they provide (yourname.theirname.com) is merely an extension of their business marketing. Place that domain name on your business card and you provide the other business with free promotion!
The second problem is that their tools often come with their branding. Perhaps you have already seen websites like this: the text and banner advertising points the visitor to different sites all together. Surely you do not want your site to direct customers away from your core message!
Finally, just as if you were subleasing an office from a primary leaseholder, you take on the risk of the other company. If their business site closes, so does yours. This may be an extreme circumstance, but being a savvy business owner means anticipating the possible.
Are these the problems that you want your small business to take on in exchange for “free”? With prices for domain names at less than $10 per year, do yourself a favor and buy your own, unique name. Just remember to make it simple and memorable.
What Else Do I Need?
In addition to a domain name, you have two very important choices: a web design that provides the online polish to your small business story and a website host to show that finished product to the consumers looking for your business.
Design: Beyond the free sites come there are many inexpensive ways for you to launch your small business website to the world. At sites like TemplateMonster.com and ThemeForest.com, you can purchase complete website designs and hire developers at a fraction of the cost of an original design – a blessing to both your checkbook and your peace of mind. If you need a more complex site – with a shopping cart or a regularly updated blog, for example – there are free, open source programs like Zen Cart, WordPress and Joomla with which you can have your site built. These content management systems (CMS) are well-developed and often backed by passionate communities of users – many just like you.
Of course, hiring a designer to craft a look that uniquely represents your business is the best choice. But if you do not want to make that investment at the start, these options are available.
Hosting: Once you have purchased a template or a unique design, the next choice is to find a company that will serve it up to your potential customers. Prices for hosting companies can vary widely and so can service quality.
It helps to know what matters most to you and your business before you begin shopping. For example, how important is it to you to have 24/7 access to a customer service representative? If you have a small writing consulting firm, unexpected server downtime may not be as critical for you as it is for the owner of an auction site.
Use review sites like VistaInter.com and FindMyHosting.com to help you choose a host that provides the right balance of industry standard tools, pricing plans, and customer service.
What Comes Next?
These decisions, while small, serve as the foundation upon which your small business marketing can grow. With a memorable domain, a great design, and a strong hosting infrastructure, you can turn your attention to what really matters: the use of your website to promote your business to potential buyers of your products and services.
With inexpensive domain registration and equally affordable designs at your fingertips, online marketing of your small business is simply business smart.
Help your customers find you today with your first small business website.
The author, Tammi L. Coles, writes for Archer Targeted Communication, an American English communications company in Berlin, Germany. Does your business need assistance in getting on the web? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.