I write about technology. I am especially interested in social media and cloud computing.
A business owner should always think without limits
A small business may be a little shop in a suburb, just like it could be a cafe in the centre of a medium-size city. Independently from how small your company is, the best way to approach your professional activity is to stop thinking basing on sizes: you can choose to manage your little shop like if you are administering a big company, so that you are putting yourself into what you have created, without stopping at the 'I am small, I don't need to do big things' mentality some entrepreneurs still have. Running a small cafe in a small town does not mean you should not manage an online presence, by creating a social network profile, by doing some little marketing and by showing your customers you are not simply acting like someone who 'thinks small'. Some businessmen are used to think that only big chains like Starbucks, KFC or McDonald's should have social media, do marketing, manage an online presence in general, anyway this is one of the wrongest ideas about how to do business, because they are showing their customers they are essentially undervaluing their activity. Despite a small cafe is not surely as famous as realities like Starbucks, thinking like 'the giants' is a great way to show your customers you are not simply managing a local activity, but you are putting all yourself into your project, just like a big entrepreneur would do.
The importance of having an online presence
Nowadays, managing an online presence is very important for any kind of business, as internet is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reach people. Also, internet is really something everyone can approach without necessarily investing much money: while a small business may not probably be able to afford to be sponsored in a national TV channel (and it would be useless too, as your marketing activity should be targeted to the area in which you are serving your customers), internet is something everyone can use for marketing purposes without necessarily investing much money. It all depends on how much you want to do on the internet: you can simply run some accounts on social media platforms, just like you can build a professional website and make it the 'centre' of your online presence. Thinking like a big entrepreneur does not mean you should necessarily manage the complex online presence a big chain may afford to, instead you can decide by yourself what is the best approach you want to apply to your online presence: the only important thing is to do at least something and to do it good, in order to show your customers you truly value what you have created. In this article I will express my opinion about the advantages and disadvantages for a small business in terms of building and maintaing a website instead of simply limiting to manage social media.
Do your customers have any reason to visit your website?
Let's always take the example of a small shop, like a local restaurant or cafe. If you own a business which serves mostly local customers, you may be tempted to not give any importance to your online presence, despite, as written before, you should actually care about it. Still, you can decide to open some profiles on social media, run some paid ads on platforms like Google or Facebook, post something on these profiles without doing much more, otherwise you can choose to have a full online presence by also running a professional website. Is the last solution really worthy of your efforts and money? In order to answer this question, you should think like your customer. In a world where we spend more and more time on social media, some customers may be tempted to find more about your business without exiting their favorite social network. If you are targeting a customer who always spends their time on Facebook, maybe by using a mobile phone and relying on the official app, here we come to the example of someone who may decide to 'do everything' within the app. In this case, having a good presence on social media is surely important, as these platforms are nowadays places your potential customers may use for more than simply commenting photos of their best friends. You should make yourself a question: do your customers have any reason to visit your website? If you run a website containing simply some photos, a phone number and your opening hours, you are simply proposing the same stuff you can add to your Facebook business page or your Google Maps. If your website has something more to offer, just like additional information you cannot 'pack' in a standardized social media page, some special content, blog posts about your business, interactive content, then you are doing a great job in keeping a website.
Everyone out there will suggest you should always have a website
This is simply a fact: if you search on Google about opinions of people regarding the need of a website for a small business, you will mostly read articles suggesting you 'absolutely need' a website. Most of these articles are probably written by people who work in this area and who are essentially trying to convince you having a website is always a good idea. I will write instead my neutral opinion about the real utility for a small business to have a website, by starting with a premise: having a website may be a great idea for your business. Still, this statement does not end here. As written before, you will have to target several kinds of customers. Some of them may be so used to their favorite social media app they will love to find everything they need to know about your shop directly on that platform. Some other customers simply look for local businesses by searching on TripAdvisor (in case of restaurants, hotels or similar activities), Booking.com (for hotels and temporary stays in general), other platforms and, more in general, on Google. Here we come to a question you should ask yourself as an entrepreneur who is trying to manage an online presence: how much are you caring about the way your information show on Google? How much are you keeping updated your business listing on Google Maps, by providing the correct opening hours of your shop, by uploading great high quality photos, by answering to reviews posted by your customers and, in general, by actively managing your presence on these platforms? The world is full of businesses that think to have achieved a good online presence by simply having paid hundreds or even thousands bucks for a super cool website they maybe update 2-3 times per year. Businesses that are so focused on their website that they are essentially forgetting that customers look also on other platforms, or even just on a search on Google Maps. Are these businesses doing a better job compared to a small entrepreneur who chooses to not have a website, but instead actively manage social media channels and presence on Google Maps, TripAdvisor and similar? Surely the answer is 'no', even if for many marketers writing about 'the importance of having a website' these entrepreneurs are maybe doing a good job.
Should your business have a website (really)?
The answer to this question in a very short way: it depends. It depends how much you want to do online. When you start to have an online presence you should make stellar social profiles and business listings on platforms like Google, Apple Maps, TripAdvisor and all the platforms most of your customers are probably used to visit. After having managed to find your comfortable way to keep everything, here we come to the question: do you need a website? The answer may be yes if:
- You are willing to make your website unique and worthy the efforts of your customers to do an additional click in order to leave their 'comfortable zone', which may be their favorite social network, Google Maps or something else. Are you creating a website in order to add something these customers are not going to find also on your social media platforms? Go for it. Are you creating a simple land page with the same opening hours and phone number your customers can already find on your Google Maps listing? I suggest you to save your money for something else in this case.
- You are willing to regularly update you website: posting about new promotions, making some articles about your products, adding an online ordering system with new offers, etc. Your website should be actual and constantly on the piece. Are you able to keep your website fresh without giving up on updating social media profiles and listings on Google Maps and similar platforms? If yes, you are surely doing a good choice to have a professional website as an additional way to reach your customers. If you simply don't have the time to regularly update a website, care about it (also from the technical side), pay attention to regularly renew your domain (I have already seen businesses losing their domain name because they have forgotten to pay for the renewal fee), making sure you are complying to all the legal aspects (like privacy rules, for example GDPR in Europe), then you should focus more on making sure your social media profiles and business listings are updated and constantly managed also when it comes to interact with your customers.
A final consideration: every practice is good
When thinking about how to manage your online presence you should do a self analysis of what are the best strategies that may work for your specific business. Every commercial activity has a specific kind of potential customers, so every place needs a customized plan for having an online presence. For example, a restaurant mostly targeted to serve people who have business lunches should surely focus more on having a good listing on Google Maps than on having a TikTok profile. At the opposite, running a shop mainly targeted to young customers (like stuff for school or gaming) may mean focusing even on specific practices like being on TikTok or posting funny and informal stuff on social media profiles. Again, every business is different, the same, it may be different the approach of entrepreneurs who decide to have or not have a website. One should think about whether the website is a real added value to their business or simply a 'customized copy of what already available on social media profiles and business listings'. At the same time, you should think if you are able to afford to seriously manage your website in every aspect, without giving up on keeping updated your presence on Google, Facebook, etc, or not. After having asked yourself all these questions, then you are ready to do the choice you think is the best for you. Every way to manage an online presence may be good, if it is something coming from what you truly think, and not from what others suggest you to do (like some articles pretending you 'absolutely' need a website): because it can be very easy to shift from the initial status of someone who decides to have zero online presence (which is wrong, meaning you should at least add some information on Google Maps and similar platforms if you really don't want to do something more in addition and also have a Facebook or Instagram profile) to the opposite status of someone who does too much... and then forgets to renew the domain of their website at the expiration date (maybe, a website which was a simple landing page with information not updated since the last year) or simply give up on keeping updated all the other profiles. Because having a good website, something your users want to visit, something which can integrate to your social media and business listings (and not replace them), is totally different from 'having a website at every cost', like some articles out there seem to suggest.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Alessio Ganci