Everyone I talk to these days seems to know that having a website is absolutely critical to running a business but I can't say that everyone I've spoken to knows why it's critical or what a website can do for you. So, what are the key aspects of using the internet to take your business to the next level?
Websites are a great way to sell
A website is much cheaper than a storefront. The average cost of a Shopify implementation via a contractor is $5,000 with recurring costs of $30-$300/mo according to Shopify. This might sound like a lot but if you compare it to a brick and mortar where you're have higher liability premiums, retail staff (minimum $3k/mo), decor ($5k+) for a storefront with a very limited audience size consisting of a random set of people you can see why they make sense. Even compared with wholesale you could make better margins, have to make fewer partnerships, keep your brand identity, target your actual demographic, and you never have to lock up huge batches of inventory.
Reviews can make or break your business
When you have no control, you put yourself at big risk. I've seen coffee-shops, bike shops, restaurants, and grocery stores that I absolutely loved but had a prominent 2 or 3 stars on services like Google Maps or Yelp. Even a single 1-star review and significantly hurt your image for new customers.
Phone books aren't used anymore, all digital directories have reviews on them and if you don't monitor what's going on you could be damaging your brand. So how do you make sure your online reviews are squeaky clean?
- Watch Yelp, Google Maps, Bing, and your Facebook. If you claim these businesses they will all give you notifications on new reviews.
- Respond to bad reviews. Try to de-escalate the customer with a discount, coupon, refund, or just empathy. Their single review could impact dozens of deals in the future.
- Use these services to portray brand and set expectations. If you run a high-end coffee shop with single-origin beans and custom roasts make sure that's called out. Let your potential customers know that if they're just looking for the cheapest cup then it might not be the best fit. Again, if they go online saying you're snobs it's for the world to see.
It's an easy way to create your brand
Think about your company and who you want to be. Let's say you're an established, worldly, and intelligent brand.
If you wanted to portray this brand online there are many things you can do to create this identity:
- Create a language guide and enforce all language that goes onto the website.
- Create content such (such as blogs) that talks about changes in the world, importance of honesty in an ever-changing world, and a CEO story of growth and success.
- Use vibrant but strong colors such as accent yellows with deep blues.
- Iterate on content until clicks, conversions, and follower-ship rises. It would likely take 1-2 months to have it nailed down.
If you wanted to portray the same brand in-person you'd have to:
- Buy high-end and/or foreign furniture including tables, lamps, chairs, lighting, etc.
- Design the space to feel vibrant but elegant, using deep blue wall colors and gold or red accents.
- Have your staff dress-up and unify their language which can be difficult and demeaning for those of us with "low-brow" accents such as Mexican-American.
- Lease space in an expensive area where the educated population works or lives.
There's not a good way to collect data on conversions or demographics other than profiling. Nailing down the brand could take years and could be highly varied and may always stay ill-defined. Think about the change in personas between Targets, Albertsons, and even KFCs around the US. These companies have spent millions if not billions and you still don't get the same experience depending on where you are. That variability is okay for these mega-chains but does it make sense for your small business?
Online advertisements can grow your business
Digital ads are no longer the future, they're the now. It's 2018 (currently) and users are getting to the point where digital ads are expected and if you're not delivering in both digital and and traditional formats you may be losing business to your competitors. I don't want to harp on this too long since it isn't my forte but I do want to refer to some experts in the field.
In the end though…
Getting online isn't the end-all be-all. Getting a website won't mean your business (or even your website) goes on autopilot. It's a competitive landscape and in order to see your maximum potential you'll need to iterate, understand your audience, rinse, and repeat until you don't have competitors anymore. Like everything else, it's a tool that your business must use in order to succeed. Finding the right balance of online investment is difficult and that's part of what we do at Lemon & Honey does. Sometimes your company needs to really get on SEO, sometimes it needs ads, and sometimes your people just need tools that will help them to bring in business. If you don't have an expert or can't afford one I suggest these 4 steps
- Create the highest ROI thing you can be it a tool, website, ad campaign, or content for brand awareness.
- Measure the impact it's had on your business and see if that's working.
- Adjust based on what you see in the data.