If you are running any business, you need a website.
According to The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (the registry for the .ca domain name), 8 out of 10 Canadians have internet access. If you depend solely on traditional mediums (yellow pages, newspaper, radio and television) to drive awareness of your company, you will miss out on many customers who want to buy online or "window shop" first before coming to your store. It doesn't matter if you know how to build your website. There are services available to build a custom website for you, or provide you with a template based website builder so you can build it yourself.
Here are some more reasons why your small business needs a website:
- Canadians spend more time online- Without a web presence, you are missing out on all the customers searching for your business online. At 45 hours a month, Canadians lead the world in the amount of time spent online compared with all other countries, with the average being 24 hours, according to comScore . If your customers are trying to find you and they are not successful, they may find your competition instead.
- Web presence builds trust - If a customer has never been to your store before, they will likely check out your website first to get an idea of where you are located, hours of operation and even see reviews about your company. Today, if a company doesn't have a website, or has an unprofessional looking site, customers may think it is backward or fly-by-night. Having a professional looking website is the first impression of your company and people make purchasing decisions based on trust. Plus, remember how Canadians spend 45 hours a month online? There is a good chance they would drop by your website during those 45 hours.
- Having a social media page is not a website - Many small businesses have a social networking account on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. While having a social media account is great for keeping in touch with existing customers, it does not attract new ones easily. Also, you are restricted by the presentation of the social networking site on how your company site looks. So if Facebook changes the layout, what was once your best way to contacting customers may drop off completely.
- Low barrier of entry - The cost to set up and maintain a website is much cheaper than most traditional advertising mediums. Print advertisement can cost thousands of dollars while a website can cost you as little as $75 per year. This is by far the cheapest marketing option for any small business.
- A website is open when your small business is not - No small business owner is available by phone 24/7 . However, your website will be accessible to all customers during whatever times are convenient for them. So time zone differences and weekends are not a problem as long as you choose a hosting company that provides a stable hosting platform for your website.
- No city limits - If you are using a traditional medium to advertise your company, you are limited to the region of that medium's distribution. Having a website enables you to be visible across Canada and around the world.
- Easily provide more information about your products/services - If your business sells products or services that are not self-explanatory, you can provide way more details and help with your sales process. If your business sells bathroom fixtures, by having a website, you can better explain the difference between the fixtures and why some cost more than others.
- Enables sharing through word of mouth - Word of mouth has always been a powerful way to get customers. Today, with many people being connected via social media and using mobile phones, sharing a website address is the new way to pass along a great company.
- Extendable as your business grows - A friend of mine started a bed and breakfast and initially their website was just a brochure site and to give people directions on how to get there. As their business became more successful, they added a simple reservation email system that would email the owner with the request. Most recently, they added a reservation system that took credit card payments and booked rooms for customers automatically. This enabled the owner to concentrate on the business not booking the rooms. You do not need all the bells and whistles on your website in one go. Instead, the website can grow with your business.
- Answer questions more consistently - Finally, a small business having a website will cut back on answering the same question over and over. If you setup a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your website, it can save you hours of answering questions on the phone.
Social Media Pages/Accounts are not a replacement for a company website
When talking to customers, I have heard all the excuses why they don't have a website. The most popular one is that they already have a Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus Page.
It is true that these popular social media platforms are well indexed and company pages will appear in search engines like Google. Although, many social media platforms let you easily upload content like videos and photos, there are many disadvantages such as:
- Social Media sites frequently change their designs and layouts - At one point Facebook let businesses create pages hosted on your own site but visible on the main page of your Facebook page. This was a great feature for promotions or show important information. However, a year later, they changed their design and just made it a menu item.
- Content gets hidden - With the ever changing layout, important information like contact details or FAQs can get buried and hard to find.
- No control over content priority - Many social media platforms are time based so the most recent entry shows up first, even if it is 100 times less important than your previous post.
Review or Opinion sites are not a replacement for having your own website
If you run a business, especially a restaurant, you might depend on having high reviews at sites like yelp.ca or urbanspoon.com to generate new customers to visit your business. Although these sites let you list your products/services/prices and menus, it should be used as a secondary source for customers.
I would not recommend making yelp.ca or urbanspoon.com the destination where customers could get their only information about your business or website. It just takes a couple of bad reviews (true or false) to kill any customer base you would have had.
"Does my small business need a website?" - YES!
I think many small businesses put off creating a website, not because they don't want one, but because they are concerned it will take too much effort or cost too much. If you plan to create a website from scratch and don't have much experience using content management systems like WordPress, I strongly suggest that you hire someone to do it for you. However, if you are concerned about the cost, there are template solutions that fit your budget, but will require some computer experience.