Three Reasons your Small Business STILL needs a Website
During a recent meeting for city planners responsible for helping the local small business community, one of the members asked “why would a small independent coffee shop even need a website?” The question drew chuckles from other participants as most of them nodded their heads in agreement that websites were unnecessary for such a small business. As social media has grown in usage as a business tool for relating to and communicating with customers, more businesses appear to be asking the same question. In fact, a recent RBC small business survey revealed that only 46 per cent of Canadian small businesses have a dedicated website, and less than half (48 per cent) of those businesses say they sell their products and services through their websites. So, was he right? Are websites no longer necessary for small businesses that aren’t doing e-commerce? Well, no...and here’s why:
1. Your stakeholders expect it.
Unless your business serves a very senior demographic, people look to the Internet to find types of businesses as well as information about those businesses. Tourists, business people and locals may all be looking for businesses based on location and/or reputation. Prior to the Internet they might look for business listings in the printed Yellow Pages or a similar directory for this type of information. Today, they look to the Internet. According to industry research, the millennial generation will comprise the largest online audience and will have more buying power than any other generation that has come before it, including the baby boomers, by 2017 (businesswire.com). The millennial generation grew up with access to technology and uses it to find businesses and develop a relationship with them. They are accustomed to an on-demand lifestyle (wired.com). If a business doesn’t have a website, it may not even be found by millennials, or have a chance to compete for their purchases.
2. It's part of your brand.
Although you may own the content that your company publishes on social media sites (depending on the site terms), you most likely don't own the sites. This means that you are essentially borrowing (or renting) space for your online presence, and making your company susceptible to the terms, functionality and other brand elements of that company. Your own website (within the limits of technology and the law) is only subject to your brand elements - you can change it at will and retain full ownership over its structure, content, and usability.
From a customer perspective, a company without a website may appear to have a weaker brand than a competitor that has a website and a social media presence. Social networking sites can also rise and fall quickly in popularity (remember Myspace?). Do you really want your brand to be subject to another company’s business model and brand?
3. It provides opportunities.
It's your website - you can do with it as you wish. Whether you just wish to provide basic information about your business, or expand into e-commerce with a catalog and shopping cart, it's your choice. Need your site to be mobile-friendly to better reach millennials? No problem - you can do this.
Consider the little coffee shop from the meeting referenced earlier. The shop could initially use their website simply to provide contact information, product information, and other content about the company. This puts them into the competition for winning business from the online search community. Later, they might add content related to their product and industry, e.g. stories about the source(s) of their coffee beans, brewing techniques, events or other content of interest to their customers. A coffee shop could also extend its operations to sell branded product and/or merchandise online. Their social networking site(s) might then be used to have dialog with customers and potential customers, and bring visitors back to the website where they could view timely content, products and promotions and make purchases.
Social media and mobile technologies haven’t replaced the need for websites, but rather complement and extend a website’s reach. As the millennials move into the primary purchasing demographic, companies (even small ones!) that choose not to maintain a website may endanger their very survival.