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Does My Business Need a Website?

Would you like to expand your market base and look for new customers?
Would you like to have people access your products or services more readily?
Would you like your customers to be able to communicate with you easily at their convenience?
Would you like greater exposure in the market place?
Would you like to stay in regular touch with your customers?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you might want to consider a business website. The Internet is now considered to be the one big reference book where people go to research products and services, and find information. People are expecting to find all kinds of information online – plus communicate, shop, and discover what they did not know before.

According to Ketchum’s, What Are You Doing Online? (http://www.ketchum.com/), people are online searching, sharing, hearing, seeing, spending, and saving. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports (http://www.pewinternet.org/) more people are seeking information online – whether that be school research, training, work related, government, religious, health, or commerce. Seventy-one percent of Internet users look to online references for the latest market and trend information. As a business owner you need to consider the implications of how potential customers will find your business and communicate with you. Search engines remain the number one way of navigating the Internet.

About 1 in 6 online American adults sell things on the internet. That amounts to approximately 25 million Americans. A nationwide telephone survey in September 2005 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also shows that on a typical day, 2% of internet users sell something online.

The primary purpose of the Internet is not searching but to stay in touch with others. Electronic mail (e-mail) remains the number one application. Online communities, blogs, instant messaging, and chat rooms are other ways that Internet users reach out to family, friends, and business clients.

Internet broadcasting has evolved into a popular delivery method of information. Users listen and see new applications right before their eyes.

Confidence in online shopping has increased. As a result, users are spending more money online from their homes. Privacy and security issues continue to be a concern for doing business online. People remain wary of providing personal information over the Internet. As consumers learn more about Internet security their comfort level increases.

E-commerce sales are expected to grow from $81 billion in 2005 to a whopping $144 million by 2010. (http://www.ecommerce-guide.com)

So what does this all mean for small businesses? Marketing over the Internet has come a long way. Increasing competition means you have to remain aware of emerging technology, new applications and what customers are doing online.

As a small business owner, even if you currently do not have a web presence, you still need to do some research on what your competition is doing. Check out what your competition is doing online. What type of presence do they have? How can people reach your competition? Are they selling product/service? What is the cost of their product/service? Go online and do a search for your competition at: http://www.google.com/ or http://www.yahoo.com/ or any popular search engine. You can find a listing of search engines at http://searchenginewatch.com/.

As a business owner, you cannot afford to ignore the potential of the Internet as a marketing tool. Marketers will continue to monitor the trends and look for ways to meet the customers’ needs. People will continue to use the Internet in incredible ways and new applications will continue to be developed. A website will help you find the right customers, help you compete with big business, and communicate in a timely matter. Having a web presence is like having your business open 24 hours a day for people to find you.

Advantages for having a web presence include the ability to answer questions by providing a set of FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) for your products and services. Visitors can contact you via various methods – email, webform, chat, blog, etc. Small businesses look really big – playing on the same level with a web presence. Costs of having a website are low compared to other marketing methods, easy to update, and you have access to the global market.

Future trends point to more and more business going online. Customer-based product promotion, Web-site optimization, alternative payment methods, mergers. and “product discovery” are the big online retail trends, according to a recent Forrester Inc. research report. Highlights of the report include:

* Attention to Web site operations.
* Growth of Non-traditional payment methods.
* Product “discovery” is a new buzzword.
* More manufacturers sell online.
* Consolidation.
* Consumers will be heard.

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