We specifically mention small businesses here because most medium-to-large businesses have staff and associates who advise and advocate on such matters for them.
If you’ve asked this question, chances are good that, deep down, you already know.
Sometimes the question is not if, but when. As in, “We’re a start-up, when will it make good business sense to allocate time and budget for our debut website?” This is easy to answer. Be ready to launch your online presence when your business has something to say. If you’re writing announcements or news releases, answering telephone calls, taking orders, or purchasing advertising, you already need a website to complete the picture.
Thirty years ago, and for decades, an inquirer or potential customer would call directory assistance or look in the telephone-directory listings of local businesses. Today, of course, the first instinct is to look online; we don’t remember where we put the last printed telephone directory we found on our doorstep. (External Design saved one client more than $1,800 in monthly charges they had been paying for such listings.)
Let Us Count the Ways…
A website is expected of any viable business, so lacking one can detract from its credibility. It can come across like an attorney who has no business cards, a clothing boutique without a window display, or a job applicant without a resumé.
When people expect to find you online and don’t — or if they find just a stale, cobwebby web page — you’ve made it harder for them to hear your message and to trust your services, products, even your discernment. That’s not entirely fair but, nevertheless, it doesn’t leave the impression you want for your small business. Besides, if they look online and you aren’t there, they’re likely to stumble across competitors who are.
A strong web presence helps level the playing field. Your business might not be able to afford a Super Bowl television commercial, but you can have a web presence, like any of the heavy hitters in your field. In some cases, your site can raise the bar in your niche in a way that positions your business favorably in the competitive landscape.
Not every retail business wants to take orders online, but it must be considered. Given your specific business model, if that’s an appropriate additional sales channel, then having a website is a no-brainer. The software ecosystem around online retail is mature enough that it’s affordable for many to set up and easy enough for most to operate.
Less tangible but, to many successful businesses, equally important: a website is also your brand’s greatest opportunity to find expression. The visual design, language used, and types of content add up to an online persona that, one hopes, is relatable to the intended audience. No other medium this accessible provides the degree of expression, control, and reach.
In your website, you control the conversation. You are like a trial lawyer in final arguments, with no one to hinder you and with liberty to state your case in as much, or as little, detail as you believe will be effective. You choose the important topics and how they’re presented, and you can anticipate any objections and address them before they take root.
Ready for a Small Business Website?
When will it be time? As soon as you want to take control of how you’re perceived, or get your message out, or be more-easily discovered.
When the time comes, congratulations! You’ve reached a milestone and there are some fairly clear choices ahead.
Your next task will be to define the scope of your site, such as the kind and quantity of its content and any special functions or features it will offer to your visitors.
As you can imagine, this is not too soon to start an ongoing conversation with a web developer. A good, thoughtful one who has your best interests in mind can help inform your plans and prioritize the tasks ahead.