If you run a small, local, independent business in 2017, you may think you don't need a website. After all, you are working alone -or with a very small team- and are busy enough just dealing with business that comes from recommendation and word of mouth. You also have customer enquiries and customer service to attend to, so you don't have time to update a website. And anyway, you are quite comfortable using that 'golden freebie' which we know as the Facebook Page.
These are some of the reasons I often hear from potential clients, but I do take note of the fact that most of these reasons are related to time and 'being busy enough already'.
Other common reasons why small business owners think they can make do without a website is -obviously- the perceived cost of setting up and maintaining a website.
A website can help you take your business to the 'next level' just as it can immediately make your reachable customer-base a national -or, even global- one, but even if you're not out for world domination, there are many reasons why -as a small business- you shouldn't be without one.
1. It will save you time
Running a small and independent business is difficult. Even if the finances are working out just fine, you have a gruelling daily schedule in order to keep it that way.
If -like me- you are your entire team, then your work day is spent juggling different hats and uniforms as you switch from cleaner to customer service representative, to stock handler, to phone handler, to social media updater, to the actual service provider, to financial administrator, to...my God, I'm exhausted just listing the daily roles of the small business owner. And that's the truth isn't it? There are many more roles that I could have listed, and each of them are draining on time.
A good website is like a great personal assistant
Once your website is set up and running, it performs many of these roles for you! Just think of how much of your time is spent answering questions about your services, terms or fees, whether by phone, email or Facebook page messaging. Even the more basic website contains all the information your customers need about yourself, your individual services, your opening hours, your fees, your current promotions and even those nitty gritty terms and conditions. This will greatly diminish the need for customers to email you, message your Facebook page or -especially- call you while you're in the middle of another job.
The fact is that, these days, the Yellow Pages is long and gone: the majority of our customers prefer to find information online so they can absorb it in their own time...like little, shy mice who want to take a peek from a distance.
But that's okay! We should take advantage of this and place the information where they can find it (five minutes scrolling down a Facebook page newsfeed does not count). Providing all information about our business on a website is not only an improved experience for our customers, but it will greatly reduce the amount of time we spend answering enquiry messages or phone calls...and if we include online booking on our website, we can also save the time we would have spent taking a phone booking.
2. It will save you money
You might think that -as a small business owner- you don't have the money to spend on a website, and may have been scared off by cheaper but time consuming options such as Wix, or multi thousand pound quotes from ambitious web agencies.
Seriously, though, let's get a little mathematical (sorry, but it has to be done!) and take a closer look.
A good website can cost as little as £400 for the first year (for initial design, construction and hosting), and a fraction of this cost over the following years. If this website includes time saving functionality as mentioned above, you immediately make financial gains.
As a small business, if you save time...you save money!
Time, as 'they' say, is money.
If 50% of your daily enquiries are reduced because your customers find the information they need on your website and simply book your services, you have an estimated extra hour each day to provide the services for which you actually get paid.
Let's say you charge £10 an hour and save an hour a day, now you don't need to answer so many enquiries.
Five extra appointments on a Monday to Friday work week puts £50 in your pocket each week. That's £2,600 extra a year...and for dealing with fewer customer enquiries.
Spend less on more effective marketing
Let's take one more example.
I encountered a great instance of this when I had a flyer through the door for a local salon. After looking at their website, I decided they very much needed my help, so I put my pants on over my trousers, grabbed my cape and went to say 'Hello!'
Unfortunately, the owner was adamant that she didn't need an improved website because they were busy enough...which begs the question: Why, then, had she just spent at least £300 producing and distributing flyers in the local area?
Most smaller businesses that are without a website often invest in 'old school' advertising, such as adverts in community newsletters and local papers, or community flyer dumps through letter boxes or shop counters.
These methods are known to serve a purpose, but they are also known to have a measly 1-2% success rate. We can view arbitrary statistics on that point, but let's go with our own experiences: Don't you more often dump community newsletters and flyers straight into the bin? (Yes, I found that salon's flyer, but I look at them for business opportunities).
The flyers you produce for your business are costly of your time -if you design them yourself- and your money. Decent, attention grabbing flyers cost upwards of £40 for 1000, require time and more money for their distribution and are often outdated before you've even had them delivered to yourself.
A website with a news blog, however, means you can inform existing and potential of customers of your latest promotions with great images and the possibility of further engagement, on a daily basis and all year round.
Even better is the fact that social media is proven as one of the best business marketing strategies for small businesses: every share, like or comment is a positive review and reaches each customer's network; each blog entry can post out to multiple networks with a click. Every post is current. You don't end up with a stack of 700 costly and outdated flyers -that are no longer relevant to your business- propping up the table in your back room.
Perhaps the best reason to use a blog instead of expensive flyers, though, is that with every promotion you post, you are more visible by Google and more likely to feature on their listings for your business type.
When most consumers dump flyers in the bin without taking a look, but sit at the bus stop and search Google for the type of service you provide, isn't it better to visible? If you want to be found, you need to be where people are looking.
One week ad in a newsletter: £50
Flyer Design: £50
1000 Flyers: £50
Flyer Distribution: £30 - £50
Obviously, there are a range of prices, but these are low-averages for one campaign.
Website for one year with many time-saving benefits and with unlimited campaigns?
3. Your customers deserve it
It's not just about us, is it?
Last, but certainly not least, is that it is us who run smaller, independent businesses who very much rely on providing excellent customer service. That is to say, it is our job to do all we can to ensure they have the best experience possible.
It's also worth keeping in mind that our customers are absolutely spoiled for choice with service providers and product suppliers, but those that stick by us local and independent businesses are not just invested in the local economy, but are also invested in us as service providers. Size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts (apparently).
If we nudge aside the fact that we shouldn't test or exploit that loyalty, we can still focus on the idea that a website for our business will make it easier for our customers to view our seasonal opening times, check out our latest products and prices or even get in touch with us at a time that suits them, via a contact form, and not by a morning phone call during their busy morning schedule.
Now, before you get moody at me for this third point, let's remember that we are more often consumers and customers than we are service providers. We, therefore, understand and can relate to the idea that we prefer to retrieve information in our own time and at our own convenience. And, fair enough, some customers may prefer phone calls while others prefer to submit a message as an enquiry, if they can't get the information elsewhere.
Culturally, though, we are those little, shy mice who want information now and with ease. Our customers should have the choice.
Speaking for myself, with my customer hat on, I know that navigating to Facebook, finding the business page and scrolling through three weeks of posts is not how I want to search for opening hour updates, and if I could jump to a website and see the information on the home page to avoid a phone call, I'd certainly be happier with that option! I think my customers deserve better. I think yours probably do too. After all, they are loyal...and they really don't have to be.