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Put Your Business On the Web
by Izzy Goodman

You may be asking: I'm a small, local business. People know me. Why do I need the web?

     If you have a business, you need a presence on the web today. People have grown accustomed to searching for information on the net. I can think of numerous occasions where I needed a plumber, handyman, or car service and the first place I turned to was a search engine like Google. Years ago, I used to look in the local Pennysaver, a weekly publication consisting of nothing but local advertising which was left in my outdoor mailbox. Now I can't remember the last time it actually made it into the house. It is taken out of the mailbox and dropped right into the recycle bin. I would bet this happens in most homes, which means the advertisers are paying based on the circulation but the only readers are roaches. Which might be good for people selling roach motels, but there won't be repeat business.

     One of my clients owns a dental clinic in Brooklyn. He didn't believe there was any reason to spend money to set up a web site. Wouldn't people have to know it existed to find it in the first place? Yet he was spending thousands of dollars on newspaper advertising and direct mail. When he found out he could have a web site designed for only $300, he went ahead. Unlike newspaper ads and direct mail, which is forgotten minutes after the ad is seen and discarded, a web site is permanent (as long as the web host is paid). The $300 is a one-time cost. Unlike advertising, which is seen by many people who aren't interested, when people surf to a web site, they generally go there because they have an interest in the products or services offered. This is called targeted marketing. If a hundred targeted customers see your ad, perhaps 20 will buy. If a hundred untargeted people see your ad, perhaps 1 or 2 will buy. So which is more effective - a targeted site or an untargeted ad? Obviously a site targeted to specific groups.

      How do people learn about the existence of your web site? Through careful planning of your targeted market and search engine optimization. In my dentist's case, they can find him through a search for dentists in Brooklyn, or a search of clinics offering specific services, or by visiting the site of their insurance company to find which dentists in their area accept that insurance. As part of setting up his site, I also advised him to contact all the insurance companies he accepted and update his record to include his web site. If the web site brought in one new client a year, it more than paid for itself, but there is no doubt it brought in much more than that. He has since given me other sites to build.

     You can see the site at AdlerDentalGroup.Com. The site was basically a copy of the brochure he was mailing. I had to edit some of the photos in Photoshop and take a few myself to replace some which weren't of sufficient quality to be edited. The color scheme, layout, and text were copied right off the brochure.

     Another client installs security entrance systems at building complexes. This is exactly the sort of service you would only find on the web. Since these systems cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, one sale more than covered the $300 cost of the site.

Another client is offering something which would be just about impossible to sell anywhere except on the Internet - a device which reduces or eliminates the discomfort of acid reflux.

Why do I need a web site? Can't I just use ebay?

     Ebay is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I have run into numerous sellers who believe sales on the web translate to ebay and ebay only. They forget that ebay has stiff fees and stiff rules. Ebay does very little FOR you, aside from giving you a venue, and does much AGAINST you, such as canceling your auctions for pointless reasons and allowing deadbeats to bid with impunity. Like many sellers, I started out on ebay to build up a clientele, then I pointed them at my web site, where I was able to offer discounts. Except for a few esoteric items, I have been ebay-free for years as a seller. No "partner" is standing by to charge me for each item I put up, whether or not it sells, and again when it sells, and again when the customer pays me with Paypal.

     After I have purchased something on ebay, I occasionally e-mail the seller to ask if he has more. Some sellers respond "check my ebay auctions." Why do they insist on paying ebay for a sale they could have made directly? I am not talking about an off-ebay transaction, where I am inquiring about an auction in progress. I'm talking about repeat business with someone who has already completed a transaction with me. If I find a store through an ad in the paper, I should be allowed to return to that store without waiting for them to run another ad.

     Having your own web site is like having a permanent ebay auction with buy-it-now, except that there are no listing or selling fees and no limit on how many times that buy-it-now button can be clicked.

What keeps people from putting their business on the web?

     Some are afraid of learning how to do it. HTML is really not that difficult. There are free lessons right here. But you don't even have to know HTML. Someone else can design the site for you. Unless you have a reason to change a lot of it frequently, most people can make simple edits by themselves. My clients, including one who is 70+, have been maintaining their own sites and rarely have to call me for help.

     Others are afraid of the cost. But the cost is actually cheaper than regular advertising. A typical site cost about $75 a year for the name registration and the space on a web server. Then there is the one-time cost of building the site. So far, our most expensive site was $500 and most ran $300. That one-time cost of $300 is for permanent advertising. If an ad in the paper costs you $50 a week, you will have spent this amount in 6 weeks. It probably costs at least $300 to do a direct mailing, and that doesn't include the cost of designing the material. And if someone is searching for a business offering the exact product or service as yours, they'll be searching the web for a site - not the garbage for the flyer they threw away.

     So it's time you thought about putting your presence on the web. It's the most effective form of advertising today and it's a lot cheaper than you think.

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