The internet has changed the way people think about business and marketing. A new wave of entrepreneurs has revolutionised the way we communicate, find information and trade, and all in a relatively short period of time. Customers have come to expect that information about products and services can be found with ease and the onus is now on the company to make themselves known.
Although big business has largely already caught on to the potential revenue and customer base associated with an online presence, many small companies lag behind, sticking to more traditional brick-and-mortar business strategies.
The huge variety of new media streams and unfamiliar technology can be intimidating, but getting your business online means much more than that. A totally different approach to enterprise is needed when dealing online which can be difficult to get to grips with. Some of the major advantages in doing so are outlined below:
Access to a global market
Once your business moves online, you become a global player. Your ability to provide information, products or services is not necessarily restricted to your physical location. Anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world can be a potential customer. As well as this, with effective marketing you can target potential customers and reach a wider relevant audience than your brick-and-mortar shop ever could.
As well as reaching customers abroad, your service can also become available to people who may be physically unable to contact you or visit your physical shop. People with mobility or sensory impairments can make use of new technology to access your information online.
24 hour availability
With a website, you need never close shop for the night or for the weekend. Your information or online shop is available 24/7 and 365 days a year, even if your physical premises cannot meet the same demands.
Product information, customer testimonials and background on your company all help to create trust and to arm prospective customers with enough information on which to base their decision to buy. Plug-ins and applications can even allow you to create interactive elements such as maps to your physical premises.
Due to the nature of online media, any changes you make to information on your website can be published almost instantaneously. This means that your customers can have all the most up to date prices, contact information and special offers straight away – changes which could be very costly in printed catalogues.
Nowadays, even if you do not actually focus on online sales, your customers will expect an online presence. A well-designed, well laid-out website, with information on your services and a look in keeping with your brand, can speak volumes about your professional image.
It is relatively cheap to set up a website. In fact, using a Facebook Fan Page or a blog, you could have some form of online presence for free. You can then use this online presence as an opportunity to share information on your services, to display your portfolio or to make a connection with your customers.
Your website itself, with search engine optimisation, can act as an advertisement of your services, or your can opt for targeted online advertising at a fraction of the cost of traditional media advertising budgets.
Automated order and payment processing can reduce the time staff spend carrying out these tasks, leaving them free to provide a richer experience for clients. Providing a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section, can also free up staff from repeatedly responding to the same queries.
Communicate with customers
Your website, combined with social networking sites, can allow you to begin a deeper dialogue with your customers and to connect in the media most convenient for them. You may even consider posting extra information such as tips, instructional videos, observations, even coupons, etc in order to create a connection with potential customers (and to lure them onto your site!). Having a web presence also makes it easier for customers to locate and contact you in the first place.
Social media allow you to attempt the much sought-after viral marketing campaigns which can explode in popularity and potential to create a huge revenue stream. One good example of this is the Old Spice revival through YouTube:
Improve business processes
Using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system can allow you to streamline business processes and manage communication with both clients and staff. Online shops can be used to organise sales, billing and shipping. These, and other similar technologies, all allow you to improve your interactions with prospective and returning customers, manage procurement and sales and save both time and money in the process.
Using these automated systems and processes also has the advantage of allowing you to collect statistics on the buying habits of your customers and your most successful products, allowing you to alter your offer accordingly to best suit the market demands.
Having online mailing lists cuts down on paperwork, saving trees!
While the advantages of having an online presence for your business, far by fair outweigh the negatives, it is worth mentioning that the design of your website and the way you conduct your operations online can just as easily have a detrimental effect.
Although a professional looking, up-to-date and easy-to-use website can lend legitimacy to the business behind it, a website that looks outdated, with a confusing layout, or even just poor spelling and grammar could potentially cost you customers.
If your website is poorly designed, it can just as easily reflect badly on the brand and image of the company. Having a bad website is worse than having no online presence at all!