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Is Your Business "Internet-Friendly"?

by Vada Penner

Here's a checklist of important factors to consider for your online business operations:

  1. Your Business NEEDS a Website
    It's no longer an option. Consumers are using the Internet to do research before they make purchases. Business people are using the Internet to do research before they develop a business relationship. If you don't have an Internet Presence, your business won't be competing in the online marketplace. Besides, a business website is an extremely cost-effective and resourceful marketing tool!

  2. Your Marketing Strategy
    With the Internet, we're operating in a global marketplace and that means greater competition. Having a marketing plan has always been important but now it's absolutely necessary because you have to find some way to compete effectively. You need to plan your marketing strategy carefully to ensure that your business stands out from the crowd who are offering similiar products or services to your customers.
    • Concentrate on some aspect of your industry and develop a niche market where you're offering a specialized product or service. Become an expert and then cater to those who value what you're offering.

    • Determine exactly who your target market is -- who are your potential customers? Become familiar with their interests and then aim all your marketing efforts toward achieving visibility so they'll learn about the product or service you offer.

  3. Consistent Marketing
    Whether you have a single webpage containing basic contact information about your business or choose to have a large multipage website, it needs ongoing marketing. Imagine that your website is a magazine. How will you make it accessible to the public? Distribution of a virtual presence is different but it's just as important. If potential customers don't know about your business and the goods or services you offer, you likely won't find that your Internet operations are very successful.

    For online promotion, you can either pay for this service or plan to manually register your site yourself. The bottom line is that potential customers must be able to locate your website. Plan to repeat your promotion efforts consistently - at least every few months and again whenever there are upgrades to your site.

    Utilize your online presence as a marketing tool and increase the effectiveness of other promotional materials. Include your website and email addresses on your business cards, letterhead and all of your local advertising.

    Don't be discouraged if you don't see an immediate response from your efforts. Take that first step and then keep working to improve your presentation until you see results.

  4. Communicate Effectively
    We're all deluged with information and will often respond to a lack of clarity by moving on. If you want people to remember your business, make sure they have a clear understanding of what you do. Forget the polished phrases. Keep your content simple and easy to understand. Go into depth to describe how your product or service will be beneficial to the reader. If you use technical jargon, you'll be communicating with your competitors, but your message may not reach your intended target. Remember too that English is a second language for some of your audience.

    The more that people know about you and your product, the more comfortable they'll feel transacting business with you. (That's why a photo can be so effective on the webpage of a service business)

  5. Make Transactions Easy
    A customer arrives at your website. Are your products or services clearly identifiable? Is there a simple procedure the visitor can follow to transact business with you? If it isn't easy, they'll likely just leave.

    I've noticed that a considerable number of service business provide no indication of their fees -- potential customers may be hesitant about making contact in this situation. Consider how you could offer optional service packages.

    Another aspect involves payment options. The ability to offer payment by credit card online can be a valuable addition for your business, but many people still prefer paying by cheque or money order so keep this in mind and ensure your mailing address is clearly visible. Remember too that some of your visitors will be new to the Internet so keep striving to make each step of your site navigation as simple as possible.

    If you also operate a retail outlet, determine how you can utilize the Internet to provide more services for your local customers. I made inquiries at two music outlets in my community to order an American CD and learned that I could purchase it for less by ordering it directly online and would receive it much faster. When I pointed these facts out to the clerks, their response was basically "But that's the Internet; an entirely different world and we have procedures to follow so we aren't going to compete". If we want to continue in business, we have to deal with these changes and find ways to create benefits to our customers.

  6. Customer Service
    Answering your email promptly is mandatory if you want your customers to keep coming back!

    One of the reasons I appreciate email so much is because it allows me to respond to inquiries or comments at my own convenience. That can backfire though, unless you create some guidelines to manage your electronic communications. There are some excellent articles that deal with solutions to this issue far better than I'm able to. One lesson I've learned is that I should only download email when I know I have time to respond to it immediately. This isn't always possible but answering email is one of my main priorities.

  7. Set Goals
    Both short and long term goals are necessary to provide you with a blueprint to follow for your business development. Daily operations and decisionmaking will go much more smoothly if you've already determined your basic direction and what you want to achieve.

    During the past few years, the Internet has developed into a tremendous asset for our businesses and I expect it will continue to evolve and create new opportunities. But you may be finding, as I do, that changes seem to occur at an increasingly accelerated pace. That just makes it even more important that we each have a conscious understanding of what we want to achieve long term. When you know where you're going, it's easier to recognize the vehicles that will take you down the right path.

  8. Keep Track of Your Progress
    Most of us have a lot of demands on our time and attention and good intentions can get lost in the rapid pace of daily living. So it's important that you schedule time to ensure that your efforts are producing the results you want.

    Go to your calendar and block in some time on one day (or evening) of each month to track your progress. Maybe you only have one hour to spare. Then use that time as effectively as possible by mentally preparing ahead for it. By the time you sit down to actually examine your progress, you'll already have determined which of your short term objectives are on track and which need revision to get you on a clear path to your long term goals.

    If you find you've gotten off-course, take some time to determine how and why this happened and then use your increased understanding to plan your next steps. I guess this is a good example of the importance of learning from our mistakes!

  9. Monitor Your Time Carefully
    I would swear that time speeds up whenever I'm online! So many sites to visit and so much information available on every subject! It's sheer heaven for a knowledge junkie! We have millions of websites to visit and then there are mailing lists, forums and chat lines. If you don't monitor your time carefully, there may be little remaining to actually operate a business!

    If you haven't the time or inclination to surf the Net frequently, newsletters can provide a goldmine of valuable information. It will take some time to discover those you want to receive regularly though -- go ahead and subscribe to a newsletter, then read a few issues before deciding if it's right for you. If you don't find it's worthwhile for your particular needs, unsubscribe and try another.

  10. Observe Your Competition
    How can you market a product or service effectively unless you know what else is being offered to your customers? It's vitally important that you keep up to date with new products and services as they become available and be aware of your competitors' pricing policies.

    If you make a habit of objectively observing your competitors' marketing efforts frequently, you'll discover that this can spark some brilliant new ideas for your own strategy!

    The Internet has made it easier for businesses to market to a large audience but it's also made it easier for customers to locate and compare value.

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