Is it possible to be successful on the Web?
Years after the dot com fallout, people are still wondering what a website can do for them and whether it's possible to be successful on the Web.
Back then, the media had whipped up a great deal of frenzied hype about the Web. Everything was "dot com" this and "dot com" that, with the idea that one could be an overnight millionaire on the Web, followed by the "dot com bust".
Unfortunately, it was never stressed that "dot com" meant companies that, possibly after spending millions on their websites and/or publicity, went public with an IPO — selling stocks at astronomically inflated prices. These companies often were banking on capturing "millions of eyeballs" (website visitors) without a viable business plan for turning those visitors into paying customers. Don't laugh; this is true!
Failed dot coms; crashed companies; crashed stock values. Not hearing much else in the media, it still stands that this is what many people believe about the Web.
During all that electrifying uproar, what I never saw publicized was all the other companies that were plugging along on the Web, learning how to make their websites pay — and succeeding. I guess this kind of news is less electrifying (or less gloom and doom) than "millions of eyeballs!" and "millions of dollars!". Heck, plenty of these companies were and are doing well. Some even made it rich.
I must admit that I am one of those people who, seeing a commercial on TV or hearing about a store carrying a product that interests me, turns to the Web to find out more about the company and product. Very often, it is the website itself that finally sells me on the product. I'm also often more comfortable ordering (yes, with my credit card information) over the Web than through an infomercial phone number.
A business website can be anything from an online brochure or advertisement for your products or services to a full-fledged "online store" where people can actually browse and purchase items ... and possibly take delivery right there, unassisted by you.
There are websites in which the desired "result" is to get the customer to call a salesperson — and others where the transaction takes place completely online.
Marketing, ad copy writing, and sales principles certainly apply.
Depending on what you sell, the financial transaction can be processed off-line, or can be transacted at the website in real time (which means now). That is, your customers select items for purchase, fill out a form, provide their credit card information, press a button, and the transaction is verified while they wait through their credit card company and the funds are transferred to your bank.
The product may be available online (example: software can be downloaded after purchase), or may be shipped, etc. The possibilities are many.
Truthfully, some companies can't work out a way to make a website benefit them. If we can devise a good, workable answer, then we have somewhere to go. If not, then it would not be ethical to pretend otherwise. The question is: How will having a website benefit this particular company?
We've often brainstormed with clients to find the right online solution for them at that time and place.
Selling 7/24/365 and saving money too
A website can actually save you money in ways you might not forsee. For instance, there may no need for a physical office or store. If yours is a small business, you'll have less need for employees as well. Some businesses exist entirely on the Web — for all we know, these folks do business in their stocking feet! But there is almost always a need for good customer service.
Unlike an off-line business, your website can do business with people around the globe 24 hours a day, seven days a week — without the need of employees. Your online brochure can be available year-round ... without costly printing and mailing fees.
And updating a website is usually easier — and faster — than reprinting anything, much less reorganizing your physical store.
Where should you start?
You can start small — with a few pages to test the waters — and upgrade your website as funds and growth permit.
I should point out, however, that just as in the brick-and-mortar world, a half-baked, incomplete "online store" is not likely to be very successful. Although this is the Web, it is still real life and you are still dealing with real people — so it is imperative to be professional, and to know something about advertising online in order to take advantage of the free advertising services as well as those which might cost something but result in qualified, interested visitors to your website.
Interestingly, one of our clients called me to inform me that a non-English-speaking mechanic in her town had inquired as to whether he might be able to fill out her application form online. "Online?" she asked me, "What is this world coming to?!"
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