Using the Web In Your Business
Either everyone you know has told you that you'd better get your business on the Web, or you've thought it yourself. But have you ever asked yourself the most fundamental question -- Why should my business be on the web? Or How can I make good use of the Internet? And then there's the question that you're afraid to ask -- How much is this going to cost me?
There are five major uses you can make use of in your business, and before you create a website, you should decide how these five uses of the Internet can help your business.
First, you can perform research. For example, you can research your suppliers, your customers, and your competition. You might be surprised to find out how much information they provide to you through the web, without them even knowing you've done that research. For one thing, you can perform research on your suppliers to determine who you want to use. Also, you can perform research on potential customers - to find them, and to start determining their needs before you contact them. Finally, you can perform research on your competitors to determine how you stack up against them and how you can exploit their weaknesses.
Another way to use the Internet is as an all-purpose information dissemination tool. Use your website to collect names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc from visitors. Then, you can periodically send them emails reminding them that you exist and to buy from you. The best way to do this is to have a monthly info-ezine that you send out that discusses a topic that's of interest to your customers. Do not treat this as a sales tool. Instead, treat it as an information dissemination tool. Information that is compelling to your customers/potential customers to read. This article is an example of this. It will eventually become part of an info-ezine series. And don't feel you need to say everything in the info-ezine. Instead, provide a one-paragraph summary (ie, teaser), with a link back to the full article on your website. There are two reasons why you don't want to provide full information in the ezine. First, the ezine should not use fancy formatting. Too many email programs turn fancy formatting into gibberish. Second, get the visitor to come to your website so that they can read about everything you do, and have added reasons to call you.
Third you should view the Internet as a marketing tool. It's just one more method of touching your customers and potential customers periodically or providing them information about your products, services, and special offerings. Your customers will love you for this -- if you do it well. You might want to provide detailed descriptions of your products/services, have tables describing the differences, and have tables comparing your products with your competitors (in a favorable light, of course). If instructions on how to use your products are appropriate, include those also. One of my favorite examples is the Presto Cookware site at http://www.presto-net.com/ppcinstitute. I was in the market for a pressure cooker for my wife. I knew that presto was one brand, and so I went to their site to decide what was important when I went shopping for one. I found all kinds of information about how to select a pressure cooker, how to use one, recipes for them, etc. The information on the site was so good, that I didn't even consider a competitor's model. They didn't actually sell them on the site, but they had a very low-key method of convincing me to go out and buy one of theirs. And I did.
Also, don't forget to have all your marketing tools feed off each other. Put your web and email addresses on your business cards, letterheads, envelopes, yellow pages ad, etc.
Fourth, you can use email and your web page to provide customer service functions. If you find yourself answering the same questions over and over again, put the question and answer on a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. And remember, you can provide much more information (and more cost-effectively) on a web page or in an email than you can in printed documents that get mailed. You'll save on both printing costs and mailing costs. As in the ezine, remember that a FAQ in email should not use fancy formatting, but on a webpage, the formatting can be extensive.
Fifth, you can sell products over the web. There are several ways you can do this. And you should probably consider a combination. The following are in rough order of increasing technical sophistication. You can use a simple email method where the customer basically types in exactly what they want, and emails it to you. Or, on your web page, you can provide a fax number, phone number, email address, and mailing address for people to use. Or you can provide a form on your webpage that people can fill in, print off, and fax or mail to you, along with a check or credit card number. You can also have a form on your webpage that allows you to collect all the information except for payment information -- and you call the person to get their credit card number or arrange for payment. Finally, you can collect all the information (including credit card numbers or checking account numbers) on the webpage. But you need to understand the security considerations, which are too many to be dealt with in this article.
As you can see, there are many ways you can use the Internet to help your business succeed and grow. Make sure you think about them as you start your website, but also, consider them again periodically, to ensure you're getting the best benefit you can from the Internet. And make sure that whoever does your website for you has considered all these different aspects of the Internet, and can help you use them.
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