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If You Havenít, itís Time You Did

Using the Internet is crucial to the well-being of just about any business, and that will be proven again during the final quarter of the year. Some of you will be skeptical since I work for a company that makes its money from people going online. That, however, does not make the point any less valid. Sometimes, the numbers speak loudest:

The US Commerce Department says that, last quarter, online sales posted their highest increase in three years
Forrester Research and Shop.org predict that web sales will go up by 22% this year
Digital cash registers will ring to the tune of more than $170-billion this year.

ďThatís just great, Alex,Ē you say. ďBut my clientele is local; the Internet is for people who want things that are not available here.Ē There is some validity to that argument, but it is an incomplete answer. Pick a business and there is an online application that will help in some way. Take food delivery, for instance, not an enterprise typically noted for using the Internet. Would it help your eatery if hungry diners could go to your web site and see an online menu instead of calling so your staff can walk them through the options? What if they could email an order? What if they could also pay by credit card? All of this without your workers having to break stride, without the risk of someoneís bad phone manners chasing away business, and without the possibility of a customer being stuck on hold.

This scenario can be extended to almost any other industry, especially the ones that, at first glance, seem poorly suited to the Web, such as service-based companies. For example, a homeowner who needs an exterminator or wants lawn care will have dozens of options. It is not likely that this consumer will contact each service provider, so your business may be eliminated before it even has a chance to be considered.

Simply going online is no guarantee that consumers will find you, but increasingly, people turn to the Internet when looking for services of all types, even services that are available locally. Letís say the homeowner mentioned above types ďpest control, my cityĒ or ďlawn care services my communityĒ into a search engine. If you have a website, it should come up in the results. Prospects can see what you offer, compare your services versus the competition, even fill out an online form with contact information. The salesperson in each of you will see that a lead, and a good one at that. The website didnít close the deal, but it did open the door.

Still, youíre not convinced. Business has been good and local customers already know how to find you and are familiar with the product line. Does that mean you donít want more business? And, how do newcomers to town learn about you? Letís take that a step further; is your product limited to a locale clientele? The food delivery and homeowner examples above are, by nature, going to be geographically restricted. But, what if the food company carries certain spices, sauces, or marinades? What if the exterminator sells pest control products? What if the lawn care company also carries a line of fertilizers or herbicides?

Anthony Jordan is a plumbing contractor in South Carolina, but has regular customers in the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and West Coast. Obviously, those customers donít expect Jordan to make house calls, but when looking for drain cleaners and related products, they go online and thatís where they find Jordan. Online sales are not the biggest portion of Jordanís business, but they are sales he would not otherwise make.

If there is a Ďbutí in this, itís that designing and marketing a website takes time and money. Customers wonít show up just because your website was built. Whether itís through paid advertising or including your web address on letterheads, business cards, and all other printed materials, you have to get the word out. You also have to do it consistently because the Internet is a crowded marketplace. Then again, isnít that where your business should be? As the famed philosopher Yogi Berra once said in describing a restaurant, ďNobody goes there anymore because itís too crowded.Ē Think about that for a second.

The coming holiday season is likely to notch a new set of online sales records and if you donít already have a website, that spending will pass you by. Thatís okay; the online business doesnít end with holiday buying. The fact is that, with each passing month, people are spending more and more online. How many more months are you willing to let pass your business by?

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