So you have this business. Maybe you’ve been developing it for years, or maybe you’ve just gotten things off the ground. Regardless, it’s important to you: as a dream, a legacy, a passion, a livelihood. And the only way to sustain it is to acquire a steady stream of customers.
But getting customers means marketing your business, and maybe that’s not your area of expertise. Actually, it’s tough to believe anyone could be an “expert” in marketing these days, given the breathtaking array of options. You could go the broadcast route with TV and radio ads. Or there’s print: newspapers, magazines, direct mail. That stuff is old-fashioned, but still beneficial.
It gets more complicated when you start examining possibilities for online marketing. Do you want to have a social media account? Which platform will you use? Or do you want to post ads, either on some of those same social media platforms or on Google? If you like radio ads, maybe you should look into Spotify.
By all means, investigate your options. Chances are, your recipe for success will involve multiple approaches. But the one thing you must have is a great website. It should be the foundation of your marketing strategy.
Small Business Website Statistics
The statistics are telling: more than 90 percent of American consumers are online regularly. According to one 2019 study, 81 percent of consumers research products online before buying them. More than three-quarters of consumers believe that a website makes a business appear more credible. Nearly two-thirds prefer a company they can contact online. Nearly all Google users have used the search engine to find a local business.
The list goes on and on. Just ask Google whether your small business needs a website.
What Your Website Can Do For You
Unlike the other marketing options I mentioned above, a website can do a little bit of everything for your business:
- Target potential customers by optimizing your website for Google. If you run a hardware store and consumers in your town search “hardware store near me,” you want to be the first result they see. That’s where Google’s users click. The nice thing about this is these are high-intent users – they’ve searched because they’re planning on buying hardware now. They’re so much more valuable to your business than the vast majority of people who drive by a billboard.
- Use your website to inform potential customers about what makes you great. It’s your website, and the style and content are entirely under your control. If you emphasize customer service, tell them. If your restaurant offers really great waterfront views, show them.
- Use your website to collect information from potential customers. Use Google analytics to see where your customers are coming from or which products and services they view most often. This helps you narrow your focus to what customers care most about.
- Create long-term relationships on your website. Set up an e-mail list so you can regularly share new products or discounts. Start writing a blog so people keep coming back to your site. The trust this engenders will transform them from potential customers to regulars.
- Recruit new employees who see your website. People search online for jobs. Obviously, your website can inform them about what makes your business a great place to work. You can also let them apply online, while you have their attention.
- Tweak your site to shift your marketing strategy easily. If you feel like the website isn’t working, try changing your content, or improving your search engine optimization. Test multiple approaches until you find one that works. This is something you can’t do with more traditional ads.
- Use your website to streamline your business processes. I design with WordPress, a platform that allows users to add all sorts of functionality to a website. You can build in reservations systems, e-commerce, chatbots, and automated e-mail lists, among a million other things. So your website can give you more time to do the things that require your expertise.
Now, it might be true that you’ve gotten along fine in some or all of these areas without employing a website. But if your competitors have one, all of these advantages are theirs.
Website vs. Everything Else
Compare all of that to television or radio ads. With the rise of technology like streaming television, that spot on the evening news just won’t be seen by as many viewers. And are they even watching commercials, or channel surfing? If they do watch the commercials, are they high-intent viewers? Or are you just hoping they’ll remember your business days later, when they need it?
Or consider print advertising, which lasts longer, but has seen similar declines in readership. Also, print ads are static, and offer you no data. It’s hard to tell what people are responding to, or to change your approach quickly.
At this point, you’re probably thinking about social media. It’s true that social media checks a lot of the boxes that more traditional forms of marketing cannot. But it’s also true that social media platforms limit the content and style of your profile and postings. You might have noticed, too, that a lot of the activity on social media platforms can be… un-business-like. Essentially, you’re playing in someone else’s sandbox, which limits your ability to establish your brand.
An Ideal Website
Imagine you own an Italian restaurant, and you’re building a website. That site could include the following:
- A menu page with detailed descriptions of all of your dishes
- A photo gallery of your chef at work and the beautifully plated dishes he or she prepares (people love food photos)
- An “About” page describing your love of Italian food and the growth of your restaurant
- Images of the interior and exterior, for customers who might be looking for an event venue
- A description of your catering services, along with a form to set up catered events
- An electronic form linked to your reservation system
- A button that allows customers to call directly from your site to speak to someone
- Links to your social media accounts
- A blog with recipes for Italian dishes popular cocktails and information on wine pairing
What other tool lets you do all of these things? And what customer won’t want to stop in and try your restaurant after seeing all of this?
The Big Question: Cost
When it comes to websites, the big hang-up for too many business owners is cost. This is too bad, because it’s a misconception. No, a good website won’t be cheap, but you have to consider that the up-front costs (like hiring a designer and purchasing software, if you so choose) will continue to benefit you for years to come. And once the site is up and running, the monthly costs are negligible.
But “cost” probably isn’t the right word, because a great website is an investment. Imagine you’re that Italian restaurant owner, for instance. You initially spend $2,500 on your website, plus another $60 a month on hosting and maintenance. That’s $3,220 over the first year, but only $720 in year two. That’s not so bad.
Take that one step further, though. Imagine that 1,000 people visit your site a month, and that only two percent of them decide to check out your restaurant. That’s still 20 extra people per month, each of whom will bring a friend or two with them. Now you’re looking at 50 or more people a month, spending $25 each.
50 guests per month x $25 per person x 12 months = $15,000 in additional revenue
Those are all very reasonable expectations for a good website’s success rate, and that’s a 465 percent return on investment.
The big question, then, is really whether you can afford to not have a website.
I’m a web designer, so I’m biased. But a big reason I like this work is the opportunity it provides to help small businesses. Small businesses like mine.
Properly designed, constructed, and maintained, a website will drive customers to your door, increase profits, and make your life as a small business owner much easier. A well-rounded marketing strategy is important, but at the center you must have a great website.
John Sweeney is an artist and web designer, specializing in sites for small businesses, non-profits, and individuals. He lives in Jacksonville, NC.