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Does every business need a website?

Every business needs a website or online marketing effort. The world is plugging in and businesses need to play along. Running your own website lets you control what people find when they look for you. And if you do it right, you can influence whom they find when they research your service or industry.

Yes, and here’s why

I’ll qualify this statement below, but I assert that, in general, every business needs a website. There are plenty of reasons for needing a website. They fall into three main categories: advertising, branding, and competition.

Advertising

It has been my experience that this is what most people think of when I ask them about a website. They think that their website would be used for promoting their services, as if it were a billboard or TV commercial. If I were in media sales and I tried to pitch a mom-and-pop shop on a TV commercial, most would laugh at me.

But websites aren’t TV commercials. They’re not expensive, they don’t disappear after 30 seconds, and they’re much more useful than a one-way sales pitch. They’re interactive, useful tools that can educate, entertain, and entice new audiences.

Branding

I’ve written about why your brand probably sucks. Branding isn’t what you (probably) think it is. The word “branding” is used to mean the association of a feeling with your organization. Branding is not about what your logo looks like. It’s about who you are.

Most companies want to elicit positive feelings from their customers, right? What feeling do you experience when you can’t find the company you’re looking for on the web? How does it feel when a business has chosen not to answer your basic question but instead asks you to “call us for your free estimate?”

Users will find information about you on the web. If you’re not controlling that info, who is?

Competition

This one is easy. Your competitors are on the web, recruiting new customers. The bigger they get, the smaller you’ll become. You can’t beat them by ignoring them. You don’t have to do everything they do, nor emulate them exactly. But you do have to stay active and competitive in the marketplace. This is Management 101.

Why wouldn’t you have a website?

Every business needs a website or online marketing effort. Most already have one. But even as 2012 winds down, a surprising number of offline holdouts remains. Why? Why do these business owners—who still live and operate in the same web/mobile world as the rest of us—seem to think that they “don’t need it” or “it’s not worth it?”

I’ve asked many holdouts about their lack of a website or online marketing effort. Most have similar responses, “I’m doing fine without one. Why should I spend the money on something I don’t really need?”—a glorified version of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is that really true? To me, that seems like the ultimate complacency.

Complacency is not a reason

Congratulations on your success to this point. But does a comfortable level of success mean you should stop trying? If I offered you a way to cut your costs by 50%, and therefore increase your margins significantly, would you take it? Or does the same “if it ain’t broke” rule apply there too? If I offered you a way to increase your leads by 50%, would you take it? Or would you pass, claiming that you don’t need more customers right now?

The prime directive in business is to improve. Growing the business to earn more money—isn’t that the point? Maybe I should restate my thesis here: Every business that wants to grow and make progress needs a website or online marketing effort. If complacency is the only con, I think the pros outweigh them in a landslide.

How do we enlighten business owners?

I don’t know the answer to this. This post is an attempt to start a conversation about it and—hopefully—find some answers. My best guesses are teach them what websites really do, show them other businesses’ success stories, and put into their terms: ROI.

Teach them what websites really do

As noted above, my experience is that most business owners and stakeholders think that websites are just electronic billboards or static TV commercials. It’s our job to educate them on how much more a website can be—lead generation, marketing automation, ecommerce & shopping, community building, etc.

When they understand that a website can work for them, not just absorb their time and resources, they will see more benefit in it.

Show them examples of success

Evidence is more compelling than advice. Portfolios and case studies may be much more convincing than instruction. My mother has a favorite saying, “I’m from Missouri. Show me.” (She’s from Boston, by the way.) But clichés abound on this topic: a picture is worth a thousand words, actions speak louder than words, etc.

Explain it in their terms: ROI

If you can’t talk dollars and cents, you’re not speaking the right language. Did your last client see an increase in leads? What was their visitor-to-lead conversion rate? Lead-to-sale conversion rate? How much did the bottom line go up? How long did it take? What was the ultimate year-over-year return on investment?

Some of these numbers might not be accessible to you, but the general idea is there. You got 5 leads a month before the new website and now you’re getting 30. Even if your conversion rate stays the same, your sales just multiplied by 6. Who doesn’t want 6 times more sales?

Every business needs a website, or at least needs to participate in the internet age. Hopefully this blog post will help shed some light on the subject for those who come across it.