Let’s be honest. Having a website can be an advantage for a small business owner. Yet, it can be a disadvantage, too.
If you open your website because your competitors have one, it may bring you unexpected drawbacks. You invested your time and money to create a website which made you excited for a few weeks. But you didn’t know how to use it. Or you might have thought that the website will do the job by itself -which is obviously not true-.
After a while, you find your website looks outdated and feel embarrassed to show it to your customers. Soon, people even don’t know that you have a website.
I didn’t make up this scenario. This is a typical story that many business owners told me. For them, having a website is a burden and a disadvantage. But, if you connect your site to the right channels, you will enjoy many benefits of having a website for your local business.
Debunk a Myth
Business owners often believe a myth and end up disappointed with their website. They think if they have a website, people can find them from all over the world. Technically, it’s true. Actually, it never happens. This unreasonable expectation turns into disappointment. Let’s debunk the myth.
The facts about the internet explain why. As of January 2018, while 4.2 billion people use the internet, 1.8 billion websites are on the world wide web. Every day, Google takes care of 6.5 billion search queries. And 2 million new blog posts are published daily. (*Resource: Internet World Stats / Netcraft – January 2018 Web Server Survey / Website Hosting Rating)
If you just opened your new website and do nothing, then the chance that the public finds your website is almost zero. It’s not because you’re running a local business. It also applies to a global business. Your website will be one of 1.8 billion sites on the world wide web. It’s like finding a rock in the middle of a desert.
Finding the Right Channels
The good news is that if you take a few steps further, your website will start to bring juicy benefits. You need to find the right “channels” for your site to connect.
Let me introduce a few tips and the benefits you can take as a local business owner. It also applies to non-profit organizations.
1. Google Maps – Connect to your local people and the tourists
The most powerful tool for local businesses is Google Maps. When people search for local services or products, Google shows the Map first. Listing your business on Google Maps is critical because more than 90% of mobile searches use Google. Now type “your business name + area” in Google, and check if Google Maps shows your business. (Example: “Kauai ebiz” or “Kauai web design” or “Hawaii web design”)
*You can register at Google My Business.
After listing your business on the Map, connect your website. People prefer a business that has a website. A survey shows that 84% of consumers believe a business with a website is more credible than one with only a social media page.
Also, check if it’s under your management. Some businesses are listed by customers and they are not managed well. You can claim your business and manage your own Google Business page.
2. Provide your customers with valuable information 24/7
One of the biggest benefits of having a website is that you don’t need to answer every phone call and explain over and over. Your website will do your job even while you’re sleeping or on vacation. Then, why don’t you take advantage of this benefit?
Post valuable information on your site and share with your customers.
For example, if you run a bike rental shop, write an article such as “Secret tips to enjoy Beach Biking like movie stars on Kauai”. Introduce secret spots and the best photoshoot background. On your business card or brochure, you can say “Please check this article … at www.yourbeachbike.com”
If you run a steakhouse, write “Why people from Honolulu visit Kauai only to eat our steak?” and explain how your beef is special and is produced on Kauai. On your to-go menu or brochure, you can say “Please check this article … at www.mysteakhouse.com.”
If your business is growing and people ask you the same questions repeatedly, you can make FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section in your site.
You’re running a business to share value with the community. That’s what your customers pay for. If you research how to share more value, you will find many resources to write about.
This is a process to build your online presence. We call it “Digital Branding.” It takes time and effort to build your brand. But once it’s built, it will be recognized as an authority in your community.
3. Get Links to Your Site – You will find unexpected customers
Getting links to your site is another important step you need to focus on. The quality and the quantity of the links that your site has influence the search engine page rank.
When you have a chance to be shown in your local media, ask if they can add a link to your website in the article. Whenever I find articles about local businesses, I click the link to find out more about them. Unfortunately, many of them linked to their social media page because they don’t have a website. They missed the juicy part of PR. In other words, they’re rewarded with a check but didn’t cash it.
Also, you can look for a local community bulletin board. As you introduce your service/product on the board, you can post the link to your site. In Kauai, Heartbeat of Kauai – Connecting the Hearts of Kaua’i Together is a good place to share information. Post what your business can share with this community and put the link to your site. It has a free listing as well as a premium listing.
Joining a Chamber of Commerce is always a good idea. They link members’ names to their websites. Kauai Chamber of Commerce
If you join any association such as contractor’s association, artists’ association, surfers’ association, check if they can link your name to your site.
When you pay attention to getting links, you will find many creative ways. That will bring people from unexpected sources. Just visiting your site doesn’t mean they become your customers. But, when all those small links gather, they build your branding power.
4. Your site can save your time
Your site can save your time. Let me introduce two examples.
Since my wife discovered the Starbucks online ordering app, we visit Starbucks more often. She has her favorite drink, Lightly Chai Latte with several options: 2 pumps sugar-free cinnamon dolce, extra hot, almond milk, cinnamon sprinkle, and so on. She says it takes almost 5 minutes to order all the options at the counter.
So, she can’t comfortably order if people are waiting in line behind us. Since we found the app, she orders and pays with her phone while I drive. When we arrive, two cups of beverages are ready to be picked up. The baristas at Starbucks can take other orders while we’re ordering online. And, we order more at Starbucks.
One construction company asked me if I can put a request form on his site. The form asks a series of questions and can upload a few photo files. A request form is one of the basic functions of the website. This basic function saves lots of time and energy in his company. They don’t need to grab a phone, ask a bunch of questions and write down the answers for 15 minutes. Instead, they can spend the time to provide better service and find new clients.
These are two examples out of many cases. If you use the functions of your website well, you will save time and energy. Discuss with your web designer/developer.
Running a website is not an easy task for small business owners. You may have to take care of everything: manufacture/service, sales, marketing, accounting, even legal matters sometimes.
As I know, a business grows based on its values, mission, and the owner’s perseverance. And the website becomes a media center to communicate its values and mission. Even though it doesn’t make short-term cash, it builds a strong trust with their customers.
It may require a few days a month to study and manage your website. Yet, think about it. The business owner who builds an online brand will have a huge advantage in the next decade. If you have a long-term vision, you can start to take care of your website today.