Getting Your Business Online: Why It Really Matters
In this day-and-Internet age, it’s hard to imagine that every Canadian business does not already have a website. And yet, according to Statistics Canada’s 2012 survey of digital technology and Internet use, more than half of Canadian businesses are not yet online. This rises to 60 percent of small enterprises (those with fewer than 20 employees). If yours is one of these, you may well be missing out on significant new opportunities as your customers increasingly turn to the web to find the businesses from which they wish to buy goods and services.
The barrier for a large number of these companies is, undoubtedly, one of complexity. Between registering a domain, building a website, finding a hosting solution, adding in services like Google Analytics and local search optimization, and then maintaining the whole thing so that it is actually useful, many businesses simply bail.
In this series of posts – using a local bakery as a template example – we are going to make the case for getting your business online. We’ll take you through the key steps involved in building a website, optimizing that website so it can be found by people looking for the goods or services you sell, adding e-commerce capability so you can expand your market reach by selling online, and integrating social media into your website and your related marketing efforts.
The web is the new shop window
Let’s meet Celine, whose little bakery on the main street of her mid-sized Canadian town is a popular spot for local folks who buy her store-baked breads, cakes, cookies and pastries. Celine knows all about the Internet and, like most Canadians, uses it extensively in both her home life and at work. However, like many of her small-business peers in Canada, Celine does not have a website for her bakery. Up until now, it has just seemed like too much work. After all, it’s not as though Celine is trying to reach customers beyond her home town, and nearly everybody there already knows all about her and her little shop.
But Celine is starting to understand that a lot of her customers, who once used to window shop the old-fashioned way by strolling down the main street, are now peering through the virtual windows of stores both in their own town and elsewhere. It’s not that she’s afraid she’ll lose her customers to a different bakery a town or two over, but she is concerned that some of her existing customers might just forget about her if they aren’t reminded while perusing the digital landscape. And new people move into town all the time. What if they only peruse online to see what local merchants are available?
The web is the new phone book
Reliable, current, Canadian statistics on the degree to which search engines like Google and Bing have replaced telephone books and printed directories are hard to come by. A 2012 survey by Harris Interactive found that nearly 70 percent of Americans “rarely or never” use the phone book. An earlier, 2011 study by Burke found that even within the older demographic of 55 to 64-year olds, it was a virtual dead heat between those using search engines and those still using print directories.
So it’s quite safe to conclude that the vast majority of Canadians simply no longer use print directories like the phone book. Instead, they are turning to the Internet to find out who offers any given product or service, where they’re located, when they’re open, and so on. Celine knows this, and knows that it’s well past time she got her own listing in the new electronic business directory called the web.
The web is open around the clock
Today’s customers have an increasing expectation that the information they are looking for about a business ought to be available whenever they want it. Celine certainly can’t answer her phone all day and all night to provide responses to routine inquiries like when the bakery will be open, or even to handle more complicated questions such as whether she makes customized birthday cakes. But these questions and many more can be answered immediately — and at a time entirely of her customer’s choosing — if she has a website. The web never closes up for the day.
The bottom line
There are lots of other terrific things that Celine’s Bakery could do if it had a website and we’ll cover some of them in later posts in this series. But in our next post, we’ll look at just how easy it is to get the basics in place, especially with a package like the Web Essentials Bundle from Bell. You’ll be surprised by just how simple it is to get started.
In the meantime, what do you think about the seemingly inevitable trend from print directories to online search? Do you think it means every single business in Canada ought to be online or can some still do perfectly well without a web presence? Let us know in the comments, below.