If you own a business that doesn’t have a website, you may wonder why you would need a website, or whether you need one at all. I’m here to tell you that in nearly every scenario, the simple answer is that you definitely do need a website. The only scenario where I could possibly imagine it not being required is if your business is a hobby and you have no desire to grow it. If you’re part of the majority of business owners that actually want to grow their business by reaching out to new customers of expanding to new markets, then yes, you need a website.
Let me explain my reasoning here
I’m quite convinced you’ll have a hard time disagreeing with what follows:
Your customers expect it
In the current state of the world we live in, the internet rules. If I were to tell you that you needed to find a local locksmith, would your first reaction be picking up the phone book to flip through the pages, or would you turn to a search engine like Google or Bing and just type the word “locksmith” and let the internet do the rest? I’ve either proven my point already, or I’ve proven that you’re a little behind-the-times. Phone books in 2017 are the most colossal waste of paper I can think of.
It adds credibility
Having a website instantly adds credibility to your business. Any business worth their salt has a website and people know that by now. Websites just make you seem more credible because of the implied investment of time and money that goes into building it. No blatant scam company is going to spend thousands of dollars (it can range quite a bit) building a website, so if you’ve got one, you’ve got a leg up. When you’ve got to choose between working with a business that has a website and one that does not (given everything else seems equal), which would you choose?
It’s always accessible
All day, all night, all week, all year. Once you’ve put forth the investment to build a website, it’s there, and it works for you, all the time. On top of this, it costs you almost no money once it’s already built. Sure, you’ve got some hosting fees and you might have to drop a couple hundred bucks here or there to make some updates to it every now and then, but if you’re running a business, that stuff is small potatoes. If you have a website and someone decides to spend their evening shopping around for businesses in your industry, they can see your website and find out information about you even outside of normal business hours. It could even be the middle of the night!
You can reach a wider audience than with print mailers or TV/Radio ads
Given that the internet is worldwide, you can reach a worldwide audience. Good luck doing such a thing given any other medium. Print mailers/brochures/flyers/etc as well as TV/Radio ads all have an ongoing cost that would most certainly far exceed the cost of a website, and they have much less market penetration given the geographic location restrictions on those methods. Also, I feel it would be a good time to re-iterate the previous reason: it’s always accessible.
You can show off your work
Whether you’re an interior design company, a software developer, or even a plumber, you can find ways to show off what you do. Whereas an interior designer might have a “portfolio” section of their website that they can use to show off photos of their projects, a plumber could use photographs of their company vehicles, storefront, or even some of their team members (please avoid plumber’s crack, thanks) to show off a bit and build trust with their website visitors.
It’s the cornerstone of all your other marketing
Given that your site (and I reiterate again) is always accessible, it becomes the cornerstone for all of your other marketing. It’s the one-stop-shop to find out everything about your business. A website isn’t exactly a replacement for print or TV/radio marketing either. If you were to do only one, I’d say it should be a website, but you can still use other mediums and slap that web address on your print materials and/or follow your ads with “For more info or to schedule a consultation, call us or visit our website at blah-de-blah dot com” in order to fill up that marketing funnel.
You can communicate with your customers
One of the staple pieces of functionality that nearly every website has (and it should, if it doesn’t) is a contact form. Sometimes people don’t like to call, or it’s outside of business hours. Might as well remove as many barriers between that potential customer and your business by providing an always-available way to get in touch. Just make sure to monitor the submissions and respond in a timely manner! “Frequently Asked Questions” or “FAQ” sections can provide a huge benefit to your customers and even reduce the amount of calls your business may get that aren’t new leads. To take communication a step further, you could have an online message board so your customers can communicate with each other, as well as your business. This could be beneficial for facilitating feedback discussions or creating a support community related to your products.
Okay, I need a website, what now?
“Websites” are not just one specific thing. Like with most things in the world, it’s a spectrum. You just need to find out where on that spectrum you’d like to be.
The online business card
This is the simplest type of online presence that I’d recommend. Please avoid having only a Facebook page… that’s not really a website. It’s better than nothing, but if you want to play the internet game, you’ll need more than that, so bear with me. An “online business card” is really just a very simple website. Often times, it’s only a single page. It’s pretty much the bare minimum of information. It performs the same functions as a business card does, but on the web. Go figure! To be a little more descriptive, it should include your logo, business name, at least a sentence about what your business does, and some contact information.
Simple validation website
This is basically a step above the online business card. It might have a few more pages like “About”, “What we do”, etc. It will often include a contact form as the only interactive piece of functionality, as that’s really the most important kind in most cases.
Website with some common tools
This is yet another step above the previous one, so we assume we’ve got everything we’ve already talked about, but we need the website to do more work. Introducing, tools! For this one, I’ll provide an industry example. Imagine for a moment you’re a restaurant owner (if you own a restaurant, no imagination necessary). Wouldn’t it be super convenient if your website visitors could browse your menu items so that they can see what you have to offer and make a more informed decision about dining at your establishment? What if you could also edit the items on the menu yourself, from a content management system (or CMS)... wouldn’t that be freaking swell? I’d say so. This is what I’d call a common tool. It is something that pretty much any other restaurant would also be interested in, and tools like these are often available as pre-built modules for content management systems like WordPress.
Website with custom tools
Yet another step up the ladder, we find websites that implement custom tools. These are tools that you would not find available pre-built, or that may exist but aren’t exactly what you need. These require custom code to be written, but are entirely customizable to your needs. As an example, you might want to allow your website visitors to submit ideas for products that would display on a “Community Ideas” page. You would need a custom web form where visitors could input their idea (perhaps with some artwork or other visual aids). But wait! You want to make sure there is an approval process before their idea ends up on public display. We can’t be having internet trolls submitting lewd or pornographic images. That would severely tarnish your brand. So, to combat this problem, every submission must go through an approval process. You (as the administrator) could login to your website’s CMS platform and review the submissions and approve/deny submissions. You could even edit someone’s submission and then approve it, if you like to correct grammar or spelling (yep, I would want that feature). So you can see how this isn’t functionality that those website-builders are likely to have, nor would you be able to find a WordPress plugin for it that fits your needs perfectly. That’s the beauty of custom!
Full blown web applications
The sort of final tier that I’ll mention is a web application. There’s actually a pretty hot debate about what qualifies as a web app vs a website, but we won’t be getting into that here. The general consensus appears to be that a web application is just a website where the majority of a user’s interaction with it is interactive in some way. Sites are there to be seen, applications are there to be interacted with. Web applications can only realistically be built custom. You won’t find a “web application builder” online anywhere the same way you can find “website builders”.
Where do I fall on this spectrum we’ve just explored?
Ultimately, this is something you’ll need to figure out partly on your own. The biggest factor is really going to be your budget though. I said you’d need to figure it out partly on your own because web software firms like us will be happy to help you find where you fit on this spectrum. As part of our initial consultations, we discuss your business goals, where you see room for improvement in general, and what potential might be un-tapped. We use this information to construct a plan to create a web presence that is right for your business, as well as your wallet.
Also keep in mind that, the way we do things here at VDW, there is always room to grow. If you have high aspirations but you’re just starting out and don’t have massive amounts of capital to subsidize your custom website, that’s ok, we understand. We can start with the basics and periodically revisit your online presence to reevaluate where it needs to go to stay in line with your business and it’s goals.
Overall, just remember that any business can (and will) benefit from an online presence. Like anything in life, you don’t want to jump into it without an appropriate plan, but we’re here to help. Whatever you need, we can help you get there.