Why You Need a Web Site

Even if you're not planning on selling online, a well-made Web site is essential for any business.

Q: My business is very small, just me and two employees,and our product really can't be sold online. Do I really need aWeb site?

A: That's a good question. In fact, it's one ofthe most important and often-asked questions of the digitalbusiness age. Before I answer, however, let's flash back to thevery first time I was asked this question. It was circa 1998,during the toddler years of the internet.

I was giving a speech on the impact of the internet on smallbusiness at an association luncheon in Montgomery, Alabama. Back in1998, which was decades ago in internet years, the future ofe-commerce was anybody's guess, but even the most negativefuturists agreed that all the signs indicated that a large portionof future business revenues would be derived from onlinetransactions or from offline transactions that were the result ofonline marketing efforts.

So should your business have a website, even if your business issmall and sells products or services you don't think can besold online? My answer in 1998 is the same as my answer today: Yes,if you have a business, you should have a website. Period. Noquestion. Without a doubt.

Also, don't be so quick to dismiss your product as one thatcan't be sold online. Nowadays, there is very little thatcan't be sold over the Internet. More than 20 million shoppersare now online, purchasing everything from books to computers tocars to real estate to jet airplanes to natural gas to you name it.If you can imagine it, someone will figure out how to sell itonline.

Internet marketing research firms predict that online revenueswill range between $180 billion and $200 billion in 2003. They alsopredict that the number of online consumers will grow at a rate of30 to 50 percent over the next few years. These numbers aloneshould be enough to persuade you that your business should have aWebsite.

Let me clarify one point: I am not saying that you should putall your efforts into selling your wares over the internet, thoughif your product lends itself to easy online sales, you certainlyshould be considering it. The point to be made here is that youshould at the very least have a presence on the web so thatcustomers, potential employees, business partners and perhaps eveninvestors can quickly and easily find out more about your businessand the products or services you have to offer.

That said, it's not enough that you just have a website. Youmust have a professional-looking website if you want to be takenseriously. Since many consumers now search for information onlineprior to making a purchase at a brick-and-mortar store, yourwebsite may be the first chance you have at making a goodimpression on a potential buyer. If your website looks like it wasdesigned by a barrel of colorblind monkeys, your chance at making agood first impression will be lost.

One of the great things about the internet is that it hasleveled the playing field when it comes to competing with the bigboys. As mentioned, you have one shot at making a good firstimpression. With a well-designed website, your little operation canproject the image and professionalism of a much larger company. Theinverse is also true. I've seen many big company websites thatwere so badly designed and hard to navigate that they completelylacked professionalism and credibility. Good for you, too bad forthem.

You also mention that yours is a small operation, but when itcomes to benefiting from a website, size does not matter. Idon't care if you are a one-man show or a 10,000-employeecorporate giant; if you don't have a website, you are losingbusiness to other companies that do.

Here's the exception to my rule: It's actually better tohave no website at all than to have one that makes your businesslook bad. Your website speaks volumes about your business. Iteither says, "Hey, look, we take our business so seriouslythat we have created this wonderful website for ourcustomers!" or it screams, "Hey, look, I let my10-year-old nephew design my site. Good luck findinganything!"

Your website is an important part of your business. Make sureyou treat it as such.

Tim W. Knox is the founder, president and CEO of foursuccessful technology companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring managementsoftware company; Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company;and Sidebar Systems, a company that creates cutting edgeconvergence software for broadcast media outlets; and Online Profits4U, an e-business dedicated to helping online entrepreneursstart and prosper from an online, wholesale or drop-shipbusiness.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author,not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general innature, without regard to specific geographical areas orcircumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting anappropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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