Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are You Always Open For Business?

Why Every Offline Business Must Have An Internet Presence

Find purpose, the means will follow. -Gandhi

Traditional business entrepreneurs globally and especially in developing countries like Trinidad and Tobago, still justify and rationalize not having a website.

Many of these businesses were started by successful entrepreneurs who never used the Internet and cannot see any reason to change. To be sure, many are not computer literate. they would readily admit the importance of a computer to their business but the internet, that’s different basket of flowers. The reality is that without a website many of these businesses will not survive, every business need to have a web presence. Fact is that if they are successful without a site, they have the potential of exponentially increasing their success with a well managed website.

With the downturn in the economy many traditional businesses models are being challenged, they are no longer working. Yet these traditional entrepreneurs still resist establishing a web presence. The real problem is that they do not understand the internet and how it could be used to reinvent their business. It’s the old adage about not being able to think outside of the box. Their business models worked for them before and maybe are still working; so why fix it? The simple answer is that the world was changed by an innovative information reservoir, it's so unlike what existed 20 to 30 years ago. The Internet cannot be ignored.

Granted, it can be challenging for some offline businesses to conceive of a model that will work for them online but there is one thing that every business needs and wants; that is 24/7 advertising. The internet affords businesses the ability to present their products and services to anyone at any time of the day or night. For this reason alone every business should have a web presence, even if it’s a brochure site identifying what the business does or sells. It does not have to be an information product that customers can purchase directly on line and download. It can be any product or service.

For example, in the mid eighties I worked for a large automobile dealership in Boston Massachusetts that did not have a web presence. I suggested building a web site and ended up managing one of the largest automobile dealership’s Internet departments in the Boston metropolitan area. This dealership did not need to sell more cars, they were selling over 200 new and used units every month. The biggest question for the dealers was; How can we sell a car online?

The way the automobile business operated at the time, it really took some thinking outside the box but the business developed. Soon the dealership was selling over $250,000 more in gross revenue in a month. Today, every large car dealer in Metropolitan Boston has a website. A dealership websites provided exposure, information about the dealership, the makes, models and the potential deals available. The result was that the dealership developed its own leads and avoided the usually high cost of third party lead providers like Autobytel.

Although we never changed our business model offline we had to develop another, complete with pricing and operational change to accommodate the internet customers. For example, it was not unusual to accept a $100 profit on a vehicle for an internet customer. If that same customer found an ad in the newspaper normal offline prices and operating procedures applied. The rationale was that the internet customer had all the information on the vehicle at their finger tips. They knew the invoice price the dealer paid and they also had a long list of dealers they could purchase the vehicle from. Price in this case was not the selling factor, location i.e. proximity to their home and the importance of after purchase service were the selling points for internet customers.

The challenge for offline business, therefore, is to develop an online business model that works for the business.

What is important to note here is that the website provided leads that purchased vehicles offline, a web site can only provide information like makes, models, people, process and even a map to the dealership. Truly, there is no other advertising medium that matches the ability of the internet to share detailed information to potential customers. As was said before, access to your business information is the primary reason for your business should be online but there is more:

1.New users come to the net every month by the millions some of them are definitely your customers, if you not online, your chances of getting their business is nil.

2.The investment for a business to get online has been gradually been reduced. In some cases its free, web sites or free blog like blogger or wordpress, Even without site build building abilities user can use drag and drop technology to build their own free site like yola.

3.Because the internet is now one big reservoir of information, whatever you put online stay there. For example take a look at one of the first sites I ever published on the net in March 2000, I am not proud of it and don’t use it anymore but the point is that it still exist on the net on today WayBackMachine see here.

A mentor once said to me, “Boy”, (I didn’t mind, because at the time, I was a boy). He said: “Boy, if you want to be good at anything, it takes time.” He went on to say; “for example, it takes about 1000 hours to know anything really well. That is, you would have to put in at least that amount of time to really know the in and out of a skill, topic, idea or discipline". He went on to say that if I really wanted to become an expert I would need to put at least 10,000 hours into it.

I responded with a loud, “OUCH”, but he was right.

Not everyone can jump in and do it, there is a learning curve. If your business is still not on the internet, any marketer would recommend that you give it serious consideration. This is one case of, not if but when. The longer you take to get there, the longer it will take for your content, your business information to establish a real presence on the net. Remember as an independently owned business, you set the rules, you decide what you will like to present to the public and how you will present it to maximize the potential profits to your offline business. You may even have to tweak your offline business model but the bottom line is to generate more business.

Unfortunately, there are web designers and web developer who quote ridiculous prices for building a simple 3-5 page web site. As a rule most expensive web designers are not internet marketers, they know how to build websites not market them. Consequently, many small businesses become disillusioned when their huge investment in a web site quickly finds itself in the internet cemetery. A lack of internet marketing ability is the main reason why most small businesses shy away from establishing a web presence. To be completely honest, I agree with their rationale. Why spend money to build a site when it generates no significant ROI?

If that’s how it works out, like them, I would just stay offline.

The internet has always been a free medium, the spoils though, go to the entrepreneurs who understand how it works. It is an incomprehensible reservoir of information that astounds the imagination. There is so much information that if your business is not online, someone, somewhere with a business just like yours’; is online. Dominating the online market locally or globally, but put this in your pipe and smoke it, if you have a small business and you are not on the internet you are losing money.

Tony Puckerin is an Internet Marketing Consultant that can help you put your offline business on line, He uses time tested offline Guerilla Marketing strategies and tactics to improve your business performance. Find out more about Tony Puckerin

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