What The Web Can Do
No doubt about it, the Web can benefit your business. But before you dive into building a Web presence, it’s a good idea to know the kinds of things you can expect the Web to do for you.
Provide Information 24/7
The Web never sleeps. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing the information you think is important to anyone interested in seeing it. This is perhaps the most important yet overlooked feature of the Web, the reason so many people turn to it to answer questions and gather information.
Look at Me
I’m a good example. I wake up very early (especially in the summer time) and am usually at my desk working by 6:00 AM. Fortunately, the Web is awake and working, too. I can access Web sites for the products I write about and get general information, technical support documents, and even software updates. I can use e-mail links on Web sites to fire off questions and feedback to product marketing people and technical support personnel. I can use forms on Web sites to report problems or request additional information. These are just some of the things I do on the Web.
Now look at the alternative. Say a company I need information about doesn’t have a Web site. (Or it has a Web site but the information just isn’t there and there’s no e-mail contact information.) I have to wait until that company opens for business to call them. (That’s if I don’t forget; my memory isn’t what it used to be.) I may have to deal with an automated phone system that has me pushing buttons for a minute or more. Then I have to hope the person I need information from is available, and, if not, leave a voicemail message and hope he calls me back when I’m available.
By providing the information that people want on a Web site that’s available all of the time, you give potential clients, customers, or reviewers a great way to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.
Reduce Marketing Costs
Once you realize how much information the Web can provide, it isn’t hard to imagine how putting marketing information on the Web can save money. What Ben Franklin said in the 1700s still applies today: a penny saved is a penny earned.
There are two ways to increase your company’s net profit or “bottom line”: increase revenues or reduce costs. Your company’s Web site may not increase revenue by much, but if it cuts costs, the net effect is the same.
Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Sales
I want to make some kind of distinction between marketing, advertising, and sales because they are related but different.
Marketing is what you do to attract potential customers and clients and tell them about your products and services. Advertising is part of marketing—getting the word out about your company and what it offers. Sales is the next step: making a deal with the customer or client.
Think of it this way:
Advertising is standing on a street corner yelling, “Hey! Here I am! Here’s what I have to offer!”
Marketing is saying, “Spend a moment with me so I can tell you how my products and services can benefit you.”
Sales is saying, “Here’s the product or service that meets your needs. Here’s how much it costs. Will you be paying with cash, check, or charge?”
Reduce Support Costs
If you sell a product or provide a service that requires support, providing that support will keep your customers and clients loyal. You can save money by using the Web to provide support, even when staff is unavailable.
The Cost of Support
To get an idea of what you can save by offering Web-based customer support, you need to know some of the costs of providing support. Here are a few of the costs you may already be incurring:
Support personnel are folks that sit around waiting for the phone to ring. When a call comes, they answer questions. The more people you have, the more your personnel costs are. But if you don’t have enough of these people, your customers will have to wait too long for answers to their questions. (And those poor support people won’t get any rest at all!) Some balance needs to be made. And what if you want to provide 24/7 support? What will those support people be doing in the middle of the night when they only get one or two calls per hour?
Telephone systems are required to connect your customers or clients to your support staff. Depending on the size of your staff, the system you need could be very costly indeed. And if your company generously offers toll-free telephone support, add in the cost of all those toll-free calls. Whew!
Fax-Back and fax-on-demand systems offer another way of getting support information to customers or clients. These systems can also be costly, especially if the system calls the customer’s fax machine to send the information.
Manuals, user guides, and technical notes are documents you pay writers like me to produce. (And some of us don’t come cheap.) Preparing these documents is only part of the cost—printing and distributing them adds to the cost. And if you decide to include only the basic manuals with your product, you might find yourself mailing or faxing more advanced documents to the people who need them. That increases costs, too.
Updates are revisions that make your product work better. They’re especially common in the computer industry, where software products are often released before they’re ready and bug-fixes are required. But other products—or product manuals—could require updates, too. In most cases, you’ll want your customers to get updates because they can solve problems customers may already have.
A Closer Look at Marketing Costs
The money your company spends on marketing can pay for a variety of things. Here are some examples:
Brochures show off your products or describe your services in the most enticing terms. You probably want them to look impressive so the people who see them think the best of your company. But impressive brochures can cost lots of money—for layout and design, writing, photography, and printing (especially if done in full color). But what do you do if you add or discontinue a product or service featured in your brochure? Time to get the brochure production team back together!
Catalogs, like brochures, enable you to show off your products. But they’re usually bigger and can be costlier to produce, primarily because they include detailed information about each item. They may also include pricing. While it’s great to have a big fat catalog filled with product information and pricing, what happens when the prices change? Throw out the old catalogs and print up some new ones!
Direct mail is possibly the most costly marketing method. It requires not only printed materials, but a mailing list, prepared labels, and postage. The more information you send out, the more it costs to send. And you’re never quite sure if the people who get those direct mail pieces will look at them.
Print ads spread the word about your products or services in a relatively cost-effective way. By placing ads in the newspapers or magazines your market is most likely to read, you can reach potential customers. But the bigger, flashier, and more colorful the ad, the more it will cost. And what if your product or service can appeal to anyone? Which publication do you advertise in? All of them?
Pens, mugs, tee shirts, and other handouts are a great way to put your organization’s name in front of potential customers or clients. They’re also a great way to reward current customers or clients. But they cost money and need to be designed so you get your money’s worth.
I’m sure you can think of other examples of marketing techniques that cost money. If you’re really smart and have a good imagination, you may even think of a few that are free (or almost free).
Give Your Organization a More Modern Image
If your business has been around for a long time, you may already have success with traditional methods of marketing, spreading information about your products or services, and providing customer support. Great! But you may also realize that although the old-fashioned way of doing business may work, it also may look…well, old fashioned.
A Web presence can help make your company look more modern and up-to-date. Just put a “dot-com” after your business name and throw around your e-mail address, and folks will realize that your business has moved with the rest of the world into the 21st century. But if this is the only reason you want a Web presence, take some time to think about whether that’s enough of a benefit to justify the costs.
Make Your Company Look Impressive or Important
Like a fancy office with expensive furniture, a nicely designed Web site can make you look good to potential customers or clients. But you can take this concept a step further if the site also includes positive product reviews, customer praise, or examples of your best work. It shows your company off, making it look impressive or important to visitors. If done right, it can even make your company look bigger or better than it is.
The Other Side of the Coin
Of course, a poorly designed, amateurish, or incomplete Web site can have the opposite effect on your company’s image. Unfortunately, most low-budget or home-grown Web sites fall into this category. These sites do more harm than good. The way I see it, if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.
Putting Your Small Business on the Web
The Peachpit Guide to Webtop Publishing
By Maria Langer
Publisher : Peachpit Press
ISBN : 0-201-71713-1