Taking Your Small Business Online

JohnTaylor February 1, 2012 0

In today’s economy, having a website for your small business is vital, as it provides information about your products, services and location to an increasingly Internet-dependent consumer base and gives you equal footing with larger businesses in terms of sales outreach and marketing.

A website can be your small business’ 24/7 store, yellow pages ad and marketing tool. Although the need for a website is very clear, many small businesses still don’t have an online presence, and most of those that do don’t properly take advantage of all the opportunities the Internet presents.

Reasons to go online

Whether you’re a booming small business with a store and employees or a home-based business just starting out, you can benefit from having a website. Here are some of the benefits of having a website for your small business:

- Cheap source of advertising: Today, more and more people are choosing to look up business contact information online rather than through traditional means like the phonebook or newspaper. This is good news for small business, as print ad prices can be high. If you have a good website that ranks high on Internet searches, chances are you can direct a lot of business traffic to your store or office.

- Broader reach: The Internet allows businesses to break traditional geographical barriers and sell to customers outside their immediate area. If all you had is a traditional storefront, chances are your sales would be limited to the area around your business. With a website, people around the world can purchase your products or services.

- Advertising opportunities: If you’ve got pretty good volume on your site, you can sell advertising space to other businesses to diversify your income stream.

- Open all hours: If you sell products or services online, you’re no longer bound by traditional business hours. Using online purchasing and payment, you’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

- Convenient shopping: If customers can buy your products and services online, they can shop from the convenience of their homes, making life easier for them and building some brand loyalty as they see how easy doing business with your site is.

- Promote the physical location: You can use your site to promote your physical location, providing contact information, a map and directions.

- Market research: You can easily analyze market trends by checking your online sales figures to see what’s hot and at what times or dates it’s hot.

Getting started

Once you decide to start a site for your business, there are a few things you need to do to get started. First, you’ll need a web address for your business site. You can purchase an address from domain hosts such as Register.com or Go Daddy. When picking a domain name, you’ll want one that’s easy to remember and relevant to your business. For example, if you’re running a mechanic’s business named Mike’s Mechanic Shop, www.mikesmechshop.net may be the right choice for your business. However, many domain names are already taken, so you might not get your first choice. You may also want to buy domain names similar to your own, to prevent customers from accidentally getting directed to a site other than yours when they search online for your business.

After you get your domain name, you’ll need to choose a web hosting service. Typically, your Internet access provider will also provide a web hosting plan as part of your Internet service. If your site requires increased bandwidth or data storage, you’ll likely have to upgrade your plan. If your website becomes a large part of your business, you may eventually want to purchase the equipment necessary to host the website at your office or store.

Next, you’ll need to design your website. If you’ve got the cash, hire a professional web developer. They can design a professional-looking site with the right amount of bells and whistles to create lots of interactive experiences for your customers. They can also set you up with a content management system that will let you quickly and easily add and remove content from the site, allowing you to update your site at will.

If you prefer to design the site yourself, it’s advisable to use a simple design as you start, especially if you’re new to web design. Two web sites that can help you out with templates and tips are http://www.conceptfeedback.com/ and http://www.openwebdesign.org/. Another, nearly all-inclusive web design site you can use to build your business website is http://www.homestead.com/.

Elements for your web site

As you design your website, here are a few tips for good design:

- Keep it simple: A clean, uncluttered design is more aesthetically pleasing, uses less bandwidth and is easier for customer computers to handle. Don’t make it completely bleak, but don’t overdo it with photos and videos, either.

- Payment processor: If  you’re going to have an online store, you’ll need a user interface that can help your customers shop and a payment processing option. Check out sites like Amazon and other popular shopping sites to see how they handle shopping and payment and use them as a template for your own online store. PayPal’s shopping cart feature is a great option for small businesses setting up an online store.

- Search Engine Optimization: As in the real world, location, location, location is important in cyberspace. To make sure your site gets a favorable ranking on search engine results pages, you’ll need to engage in a little search engine optimization. You can do a lot of this yourself, or you can pay a professional to help you. SEO consists of making your site more attractive to search engines, thus making it more likely you get a high search engine results ranking when customers are looking for your type of business or location. You can optimize your page by weaving strategic keywords into your copy (Google has tools that can help you find the right keywords), using meta tags, linking to other sites, making sure your site is free of broken links and bugs, etc.

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