An Introduction to Doing Business Online
Many of my clients do business offline. And by offline, I mean they do all of their business in the three-dimensional world that exists far from the computer and way beyond the Internet.
Some of them are new business owners who are just starting out and want to make sure they establish an effective online presence. Others have been in business for years and are finally ready to harness the Internet to expand their customer reach and product or service offerings. Many want nothing more than to update their website with current information, a fresh design, and compelling copy. A few would prefer to keep it entirely offline, but they know better.
As we work through their projects, various comments and questions arise about doing business online:
- Do you think this logo looks outdated? What do you think of this tagline I came up with?
- I just had my site redesigned. Any feedback is welcome!
- Is the site missing anything? Are there pages I should add, remove, or change?
- Should I have a products or services page even if I don’t sell my services online?
- What? You mean there’s a way I can sell my wares on the web to thousands more customers?
Funny thing about the web. It’s relatively new. Folks who’ve been in business for twenty years got started before the business website was commonplace. People who are becoming entrepreneurs in their retirement or starting up a small business because they lost their jobs in the down economy may not have any knowledge about the web, website design, or online marketing. They may not even know how to use the internet beyond checking their email, connecting with old friends on Facebook, and shopping on eBay or Amazon.
So, some of these entrepreneurs know very little about online marketing. Most know just enough to be dangerous. But just about every single one of them knows that in this day and age, doing business online is imperative. Even if your website is nothing more than a few pages with basic details about your shop or office.
No matter what you sell or where you sell it, establishing an online presence starts with a website. Your website should clearly communicate your offerings and explain how your products or services will benefit customers. It should include a way for visitors to visit, contact, or order from you, so they can become paying customers.
You also want them to become loyal customers, so your site should espouse outstanding customer service, competitive pricing, and a friendly, positive atmosphere. Loyalty can also come from establishing brand recognition. Make sure your business has a clear, identifiable logo. A tagline or slogan will help make your brand recognizable as will your business’s tone, color scheme, and the general impression it makes.
When visitors come to your website, how does it make them feel? Safe or scared? Confident or confused? Weak or strong? Welcome? Comfortable? Does the information on your site speak to your target audience in language that they understand? Does it include all the details they’re looking for about your industry or field of expertise, products, services, pricing, location, or hours of operation?
Doing Business Online vs. Offline
If your business operates entirely offline, you still need an online presence. People will conduct localized searches for your products and services, and you want them to be able to find you! If you have existing customers, they’ll expect to be able to check your website to grab your phone number, find out your hours of operation, or obtain directions to your location.
You might be launching or already running a business that operates entirely online. Maybe you sell information products and communicate exclusively through email. Perhaps you run a consulting business and your rates depend on the project or the client’s needs. You might even have a blog or some type of website that doesn’t sell anything at all (yet). You need to determine what information is relevant to your visitors — people who you will be dealing with entirely online.
Want the best of both worlds? Lots of businesses are combining online and offline offerings, keeping their local and loyal customers happy while reaching out to millions more potential buyers. If you own a cafe, you can sell recipes online. If you are a handyman, you can make recommendations for do-it-yourself repairs and earn income from affiliate sales by promoting your favorite tools and supplies on your site. If you run a consignment shop, you can take photos of your wares and sell them with e-commerce technology.
For just about every business in the world, there is a way to expand beyond merely having an online presence and start actively, profitably doing business online.