Should your business have a website, even if your business is small and sells products or services you don’t think can be sold online? Yes, if you have a business, you should have a website. Period. No question. Without a doubt.

Also, don’t be so quick to dismiss your product as one that can’t be sold online. Nowadays, there’s very little that can’t be sold over the internet. More than 20 million shoppers are now online, purchasing everything from books to computers to cars to real estate to jet airplanes to natural gas to you name it. If you can imagine it, someone will figure out how to sell it online.

Let me clarify one point: I’m not saying you should put all your efforts into selling your wares over the internet, though if your product lends itself to easy online sales, you should certainly be considering it. The point to be made here is that you should at the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, potential employees, business partners and perhaps even investors can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you have to offer.

That said, it’s not enough that you just have a website. You must have a professional-looking site if you want to be taken seriously. Since many consumers now search for information online prior to making a purchase at a brick-and-mortar store, your site may be the first chance you have at making a good impression on a potential buyer. If your site looks like it was designed by a barrel of colorblind monkeys, your chance at making a good first impression will be lost.

One of the great things about the internet is that it has leveled the playing field when it comes to competing with the big boys. As mentioned, you have one shot at making a good first impression. With a well-designed site, your little operation can project the image and professionalism of a much larger company. The inverse is also true. I’ve seen many big company websites that were so badly designed and hard to navigate that they completely lacked professionalism and credibility. Good for you, too bad for them.

You may be a small operation, but when it comes to benefiting from a website, size does not matter. I don’t care if you’re a one-man show or a 10,000-employee corporate giant; if you don’t have a website, you’re losing business to other companies that do.

Here’s the exception to my rule: It’s actually better to have no website at all than to have one that makes your business look bad. Your site speaks volumes about your business. It either says, “Hey, look, we take our business so seriously that we have created this wonderful site for our customers!” or it screams, “Hey, look, I let my 10-year-old nephew design my site. Good luck finding anything!”

Your website is an important part of your business. Make sure you treat it as such.

There are many reasons why any business should have a web site, below are some of the reasons:

1. To provide basic information that establishes credibility. Just as a listing in the Yellow Pages shows you are serious about your business, having your own company domain reinforces your legitimacy as a serious business. Most people expect that any professionally run business will have a web site.

2. Establish and grow client relationships. People generally prefer to do business with people they “know.” On your site you will give people the opportunity to get to know your business (and perhaps you) and feel more comfortable with you.  A picture or profile of you or your associates will make you more real to the client and make the client more likely to contact and communicate with you.

3. Help clients find your business. Sometimes this is the hard part, but not when you include an interactive a map to your business location.<

4. Information 24/7/365. To make business information available to customers and clients all day, every day, all year around. Regular and emergency contact information, hours of operation, tips, product care, etc.

5. Have answers to frequently asked questions and reduce labor costs. With a web site you can put the answers to these frequently asked questions online. You can even email them out a link to these pages or email out an electronic brochure that connects them back to your site.

6. Educate your customers. The first step of any sale is getting the client familiar with what you are selling. Include articles of interest telling your potential clients about your services. When they call you to discuss your services, half the sale is already done; you’ve already given them your “pitch”. You will even save time (and money) because the ones who do call are interested, warm and sometimes hot prospects, not just someone calling to gather data.

7. To sell your products and/or services and reach your local market. Most customers explore alternatives and research options over the web before buying. The web may reach the world, but customers shop for local information more and more frequently than the phone book.

8. More advertising for less money. With a web site you can have pages of full-color advertisements that run 24 hours a day and 7 days a week without the costs of printing expensive brochures, catalogs, or postcards! This tends to build peoples’ trust, which in turn, makes them more likely to purchase your products and services.

9. Bolster your current ad campaign. Include your web address in your current ad campaign and people will turn to your site for more information, rather than needing to print a lot of details in expensive print media.  In addition, as you collect email addresses your print cost continues to go down with less and less print requirements.

10. Easily publicize specials you are offering both online and through email blasts.
A newsletter can be an expensive promotional action and printing, postage, and time spent the costs can add up. With a web site you can have people who would like to receive your newsletter send you their email address. You can then email your newsletter to all of the people in your database. Continual contact with prospects leads to more clients!

11. Get referrals. Referrals are a number one way for small businesses to get new clients. On your web site you can add a “refer a friend” link where your current clients (or just visitors) can send your link to a friend who may be interested in your services. You can even include discounts to those people who referred a new client or customer, driving even more referrals!

12. Create a new customer base. Did you ever notice that many people who use the Internet do so in place of the traditional information lines (newspapers, yellow pages, etc)? With a web site you will be able to reach a whole new segment of potential clients that may have missed your current ad campaigns.

13. Obtain feedback from customers. It is easy to see what your customers respond to on the website which can help correct issues before they become a big problem.

14. Stay in easy contact. Connect with customers, salespeople, and suppliers using an email directly linked to your site (ie. On your site will be a link where people will be able to email you for additional information. This is a fast and effective form of communication that enables you to get the answers or information needed for the client at your convenience. Time is money in a small business; with email you’ll be saving both.

15. Reach the media. Newsletter and newspaper editors may like something on your site and refer to it in their articles.  This is FREE advertising.

16. Test market new services and products. You may also learn that you have a market you hadn’t thought of.

17. Reach the specialized or international markets.

18. Enhance your business relationships. Tell your clients about related businesses they might be interested in, and maybe get a referral fee for it!