In this day and age, you’d think that “create a website” would be item No. 1 on the to-do list of any entrepreneur with a brand-new company. A website lends an air of credibility — it lets people know that you’re serious and ready to do business. It’s a guaranteed sales booster and a whole lot less expensive than renting a retail space or buying ads. Without a website, how would people even know you exist?
Surprisingly, lots of people still start businesses without websites. Only 45 percent of small businesses in the United States had a website in 2013, according to a survey by Google and research company Ipsos [source: Tsukayama and Halzack]. We’re pretty shocked by this statistic, but it is somewhat understandable. The thought of creating a website can be intimidating even with so many online business resources. So many small business owners wear many hats at once — accountant, receptionist, buyer, salesperson — and adding “webmaster” to that list might sound like more trouble than it’s worth. What if your business falls to pieces because you have to spend so much time maintaining the website?
We’re here to allay your fears. None of those concerns are scarier than your business failing because you didn’t take the leap into the modern age. It’s the 21st century, people: Ignore the Internet at your peril. In this article we’ll give you 10 reasons to build a website.
10. It’s Not 1950
Back in the day, marketing a small business was an exhausting, time-consuming task. You had to do a lot of legwork and sink funds into advertising to let people know you were in the community. You had to have moxie. It’s still a big job today (and a little moxie never hurts), but online marketing makes it so much easier! Why not let a website do some of the work for you?
You might be able to limp along without a website for a while, but you’ll eventually fall behind. Going the bricks-and-mortar-only route is just not a viable mode of operation anymore — it severely limits your audience and shuts out so many potential customers. Most of the world won’t even know you exist without a website. People who try and fail to find information about your business online may assume you’re not credible and move on to your competition. Having to admit to a potential customer that you don’t have a website could instantly take you out of the running for a sale.
9. It’s Easy and Cheap
Even for those of us who are completely comfortable online and consider ourselves at least a little tech-savvy, the idea of creating a website might be a bit daunting. Hiring a designer could be really expensive, but what can you do if you have no design or coding experience? How do you make sure the look of the site accurately reflects the image of your business? What if it doesn’t work correctly or isn’t user-friendly? What if it ends up looking like an Angelfire site from 1999, and you scare away even more customers?
These are all legitimate concerns, but they’re easily manageable. There are so many do-it-yourself options out there today for the small-business owner on a tight budget. No technical or coding know-how required — just drag and drop text and photos into a template, and you could be done in a half-hour. Even the most bare-bones website is probably the most cost-effective marketing tool you can invest in.
8. It’ll Boost Sales
This should really go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: There’s absolutely no way that a website will cause a drop in sales. If you want to go out and find a business owner whose business dropped off right after a website debut, go ahead, but we think it’s a solid bet that a website will expand your business.
Even if you do blow your budget by springing for a designer, chances are you’re going to make a big return on your website investment. You don’t necessarily need to set up an online store, either. Just insert as much helpful information as you can. Personal info written in your own words helps, too. It provides a connection that you might not be able to impart if a customer wanders into your store on a busy day. The more information you offer, the more confident potential customers will feel in making a purchase.
An online store will provide double the buying options — why limit customers to your physical store location? They can make a purchase when the urge strikes instead of getting in the car and driving to your store, resulting in more potential sales.
7. It’ll Help You Reach a Bigger Audience
This is another no-brainer. If you’re running an old-school company, your audience is limited to the people who happen to know where your store is. Maybe they drive by it every day, maybe they’ve heard of you through your cold calls, advertisements, Yellow Pages listings or taped-up street signs. But that’s a narrow customer base that comprises people who are probably in a fairly limited geographic area. If your business doesn’t have a storefront, you have an even smaller audience.
Once you unveil your website, your audience immediately expands to everyone on the Internet. That’s billions of people. Sure, the majority of them will never find you or have use for your business, but the potential is there. And the cost for this amazing result was maybe a half-hour of your time and a little money (yes, we’re totally simplifying here, but you catch our drift). How’s that for a return on your investment?
6. It’s Always Open
Unless you’re operating a convenience store, your business probably isn’t going to be open around the clock — but your website will be! A totally offline business misses out on all those potential customers who can’t shop during store hours. If you’re online, you reach them 24/7.
If you’ve done your research (or reflect on your experience as a consumer), you know that a good number of people don’t enter a store because they’re necessarily ready to make a purchase. They might be browsing aimlessly, or maybe they’d like to pick up a product and handle it before making a decision. They might want to go online and compare prices before opening their wallet. With a website, you can grab those people after they’ve left the store. If they want your product, there’s a chance they’ll hop on your site and buy it right then and there, even if it’s 2 a.m.
5. Your Customers Will Appreciate It
As we said earlier, your website doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. At the very least, listing your address, store hours and directions will instantly simplify the lives of your potential customers. Without a website, they’d have to call you to learn these things. Some of them might make the effort to do that, and some might not bother.
Having a website also offers a perhaps unforeseen benefit: It saves time. Business owners without websites often end up fielding a lot of mundane yet time-consuming phone calls from people with questions about things that could easily be thrown up on a website. So a website benefits everyone in the customer-service arena: Your customers feel supported, and you can concentrate on running your business instead of answering the phone.
That said, always include a phone number on your website. Customers might not use it, but it’s always comforting to know that there will be an actual person on the line if you need to make a call.
4. It Can Showcase Testimonials
Creating a website is an easy way to connect with customers. It lets people know who you are, what’s important to you and what you can do for them. Customer reviews are an especially effective way to add that crucial personal touch. They remind customers that there are actual people running the business.
Of course, having an online presence can also expose you to some haters. Even though you obviously wouldn’t feature negative reviews on your site, you can’t control what people say on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and Google Reviews. But glowing customer testimonials on your website (with pictures, if you can get them!) will help counteract that. Being online comes with risks, but the good often outweighs the bad.
3. It’ll Make Your Life Easier
No matter the time, effort and stress you expended on website creation and avoiding common pitfalls, once the site is up and running, your business should instantly become more efficient.
How will that happen? Let us count the ways. Communicating with your customers will be a breeze when you can automatically send emails to everyone who enters their address on your site. Your customers can reach you at all hours of the day through the contact form on your site, but you won’t necessarily have to answer them immediately. Instead of manually restocking your shelves, you can snap a couple of pictures and add the items to your online shelves with a few clicks. For anyone who sells heavy or bulky products, this can be a godsend. Your inventory will automatically update, saving you time and giving you peace of mind.
2. It’ll Help You Generate Leads
There are plenty of benefits to having even the simplest website, but there might come a time when simple just doesn’t cut it anymore. Even if you’re happy with the way your site has upped sales or streamlined your business, there are plenty of other things you can use it for. One of the biggest is lead generation.
It’s great if you have lots of people making purchases on your site, but it’s return customers who are going to keep you in business for the long run. That’s Business 101. Your website can help you create relationships and turn your viewers into loyal customers. Generating an email list is a first step, and then you can move on to newsletters, blog subscriptions, videos — whatever communication method you choose to keep them connected and coming back for more.
If people are coming to your site but not making purchases or leaving their information, you can use analytics, as we’ll see next, to figure out why and what to do about it.
1. It’ll Help You Understand Your Audience
You can run your website on any number of levels. The ground floor is the bare-bones contact info-and-FAQ version. You can kick it up a notch from there and start selling your products online, and maybe that’s where you’d want to stop. You’d probably expand your business quite a bit just by doing that. But your website can also grow your business in indirect ways. If you go a step further, it can turn into a treasure trove of market and customer information.
You can find out a lot about your online audience just by doing the smallest amount of research. Depending on your traffic, this project could be free — signing up for Google Analytics is a good starting point. You can see what percentage of your viewers buy something, how long they stay on the site and who signs up for email lists and newsletters. If you’re willing to spend money on analytics, subscribe to or hire a service and really get down to the nitty-gritty. Fine-tune your site based on customer analysis, and you’ll really take your business to the next level.