If you have not thought about your company as a brand, this may be new to you, but bear with me. One of the main reasons your company needs (or has) a web site is to demonstrate that you're up with the times, that you're at the leading edge. You want to communicate an image about your company that will register with potential clients. Marketers call this "brand development".Prospect generation -- Online sales transactions -- Advertising and referral income
Your brand is the image of your business in the minds of customers and prospective customers. As with other aspects of your business, everything about your web site contributes to your image. The quality of the design, the clarity of your text, the sense of interest, the colour scheme, the download time, all contribute to your image, and your image is your brand identity. The goal should be that when people leave your web site they will remember you positively.
There are no real shortcuts here. Major corporations spend millions of pounds developing their brand image and keeping it fresh in the minds of consumers. Can small businesses compete with this? On the web, yes they can. Without breaking the bank your site can still compete for that important first impression.
To compete in the market place you need to have graphics training and artistic skills yourself, or you need to buy it in. A DIY approach will undercut the strong brand identity you are trying to build. Ok, it may be cheaper to do it yourself or to have your niece do it on that new computer she just got. It also means, as far as the web is concerned, your business won't get off the ground. Design includes the colour scheme and graphics, but also structure of the site, the navigation system, the size and quality of the photos or images. All of these affect your brand image. Does your niece understand brand image; or marketing? And if she does; where will she be in a few months when you want a new product added to your pages?
You need professional help. You need the services of an experienced web site design team with the backup of a skilled hosting service.
Whether you are Virgin Atlantic or a one-person small business, development of your image should be first on your list of objectives. It is a precondition for sales. If you fail at this you will fail with the core purpose of your site.
The bottom line for all companies that want to stay in business is revenue generation. Your web site can help in three primary models.
In the first, the web brings you leads and provides information to support the sale. The sale is then closed by phone, email, or face-to-face. Many small businesses, especially service businesses, use the web successfully this way.
If yours is the kind of business where people take a while to come to a decision, or need specific information before they purchase then prospect generation is probably your main revenue source on the internet. This is particularly true of products or services that are higher priced or need customisation.
You can do a great deal to support the sale, however, by providing a wealth of information online. Don't be afraid to have all the relevant information available online - if it isn't on your site it may be on that of your competitor. A rule of Internet business is that your competitor is only a 'click' away. Your web site presentation and information should be so complete and compelling that your prospective customer has no need to look elsewhere.
Online Sales Transactions
The second revenue model is completing the actual sales transaction over the Internet - often referred to as "e-commerce." Naturally, this depends on your product or service. Online shops with facilities to handle secure server transaction are not cheap - but neither are 'real' shops, and the internet allows you to extend your market outside your geographical area, something 'real' shops cannot do.
Growing even faster than online retail is business-to-business e-commerce. Nearly 80% of online transactions are between businesses. If your existing customers use this service it may not represent 'new' income - but considered as a new sales channel, it can represent substantial cost savings by reducing transaction costs.
Advertising and Referral Income
The third method of revenue generation is advertising and referral income. I've grouped these, because from the advertiser's point of view, referral fees are often considered an advertising cost.
Many web site owners dream of laying on the beach and letting advertising revenue from their site support their life of luxury. Let's be blunt - this isn't going happen. However, it is not inconceivable for a business to recoup costs, or even make a profit, from having third party adverts on their pages. A hotel, for example might carry an advert for a taxi firm or local attraction.
It is possible to consider cost savings as a form of revenue generation. Many businesses are able to lower costs by moving business processes to the Internet. There are two main areas for consideration.
Simply stated, the Internet saves time. It costs less -- and is more accurate -- to have a customer enter an order over the Internet than it is to take it by phone (or post) and then key it into your computer system. Beware, however, you may need to increase staffing in other areas -- answering email queries for example. As people find it easier to ask questions by email - many more customers do so, overwhelming some businesses. Some companies have reacted to this by making it impossible to email them at all I find this incomprehensible, surely every query is a potential customer.
Distribution of Sales Materials and Company Information
If you've ever sent sales materials to (potential) customers, or company brochures to keen students, you will be aware of how much money and energy is invested in printing and postage. The web is a way to distribute great amounts of information inexpensively. Many companies put their entire catalogue on the web and keep it up to date - telephone enquirers are then referred to the web site before being offered a posted brochure. Prospective employees can complete an application form online and read all about the organisation with no cost to the company. Imagine the day when all clients are online, and you never again have to pay for a printed version of you company literature.
A web site can offer your customers the best in post sales support. This could be as simple as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ ) page or a troubleshooting section. Providing customer support on the Web is not only efficient for your clients, it is also an advantage to customer support departments, who can refer callers to their web site for detailed and complete information, so shortening phone calls (a real saver if you offer Freephone facilities).
Only when you have addressed, and answered, these questions can you take your business onto the web and hope to achieve online success.