You Should Have a Website

Ask an Expert: Should you have a website? You bet

Q: Steve — I know, I know, I am supposed to have a website. That said, as I have no plans to sell online, I just don't see the need for a site. My business has been around forever and we have done just fine without one. Am I wrong? — Phil

A: I think you are, for reasons both large and small. Let me give you but one example:

A few days ago on a busy school night, my wife called and asked me to pick up some dinner on the way home. She mentioned a restaurant we like, even though we don't get to it often, and asked me to look up their menu online so we could figure out what to get.

Yet try as I might, I couldn't fine their website. It finally dawned on me that they did not have one. But since we had not been there in quite a while and could not remember everything on their menu, we decided to get dinner from another place.

Multiply that multi-fold and that's why every small business has to have a website.

Can you do e-commerce if you are not online? Nope. Can customers who hear about you check you out later on the Net if you don't have a site? No again. Can current customers (like I was) find out what your new offerings are if you lack a site? Not easily.

And is it hard to get one? Happily, the answer again is no, in fact it's easier than ever. (More on that in a moment.)

Here are some amazing statistics:

• According to Jupiter Research, half of all small businesses with less than 10 employees do not have a website.

• 7 out of 10 solo businesses do not have a website.

What is up with that? We both know that Americans are spending ever more time than online. 80% of us now spend as much time online as we do watching television.

So you must get your business online; there's no question about it. Having a website is as essential today as having business cards or a telephone number.

So the question really is, how do you do it easily and affordably?

There are three ways, but for most small businesses, the third is almost always the best:

1. Hire a web developer
2. Use a software-creation program
3. Use an online service

Online services are great because, not only do they point and click you through an easy process, but the best ones will also help you grow your business.

Here's an example: Microsoft (a company I do some work with) just launched a new version of its web service, Office Live Small Business (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/officelive/default.aspx). For the small business wanting to get or grow online, there is plenty to like about this service, not the least of which is that not only is it more powerful, but whereas it used to cost up to $39.95 a month, it is now free:

• You can easily design and create an elegant, professional website in a few short clicks (or even get help with it if you want.)

• E-mail marketing is made easy. There is a service that helps you send e-newsletters and other promotions using branded e-mails that match the look of your site.

• There's a tool to help you advertise on search engines.

• The e-commerce tool helps you sell either on your own site or on eBay (this is the only service you would have to pay for.)

What I really like about this service is that it allows you to get a web address, create a site, market that site, and even sell on that site, all in one place. Most similar web services might offer a couple of these services, but not all of them.

The point is, today, there is no reason for any small business not to be on the online, and not just online, but online in a professional, powerful way. That way, when a customer wants to find your menu of products, they will.

If not, they'll go somewhere else.

Today's tip: And why are you not doing any e-marketing? An Opus research survey found that most small business owners think they cannot afford it (wrong.) 20% think e-marketing is too complex (wrong again), and 15% think it will take too much manpower (x 3.)

Ask an Expert appears Mondays on USA Today . You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com.And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.

Excerpt from US Today.

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