Do Small Businesses Need an Online Presence?

December 10, 2015

Have you ever run a Google search for a local business, only to find it has no online presence at all? Perhaps you were able to track down a Facebook profile or Yelp review page, neither of which contain any information about the product or service you’re seeking to inquire about. According to a 2013 study, the majority of small businesses still don’t have a significant online presence. Many of them set up social media profiles on sites like Facebook only to post sparingly and never really provide valuable information to potential customers.

Why? The time, effort, and cost involved in bringing their business to the web are frequently cited as reasons. Think about it. Many independent businesses struggle to keep the lights on and pay their staff. From a marketing perspective, the internet is still fairly young. Small business owners know the offline standards work. They know about banner printing, promotional events, billboard advertising—they may even have a grasp on newsletters and email marketing. But when it comes to creating an online destination for their brand, most of them are entering completely new territory.

In addition, a lot of business owners simply don’t believe their humble operation could find an audience on the web. Their forays into setting up social media profiles probably don’t help to change that perception, either.

Is this perception accurate to grow small business? Of course, circumstances are different for everyone. But according to Forbes, small business owners who invest their time and energy into building an online presence reap some significant benefits. Among them: the ability to showcase and advertise products and services 24/7.

Imagine driving past a storefront that seriously peaks your interest. Problem is: you’re already late for work and have no time to stop. If you’re lucky, you could get out of work with enough time to pay a visit—if you even remember by the end of the day.

When businesses don’t have detailed websites, they’re losing out on a lot of potential business. In the old days, you could probably just look through the phonebook and place a call to inquire about goods or services. Now, phonebooks and local papers are falling out of favor with younger demographics. The replacement? A good, easy to use, informative website. Potential customers can get all of the info they need at their own convenience, and that’s a huge plus in today’s ever more convenience-based marketplace.

Speaking of convenience, there’s a reason online retail shops like Amazon do so well. Many people simply prefer to buy products online. You can’t really blame them. Online shopping makes it easy to compare prices and find the best deal possible—all without getting out of your pajamas. In addition, being “open for business” 24/7 opens up a whole new world of potential customers. People with tight schedules may not have the time to physically stop by a storefront, and therefore may do the majority of their shopping online.

Setting up an online store might seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually fairly simple. Numerous web hosting services offer online store creation for a small fee. Once that’s set up, the only extra work a business needs to take on is packing and shipping orders.

But wait a moment—isn’t setting up an online store pointless when most shoppers will gravitate toward the big name retailers? Not in the slightest. In fact, that’s one of the biggest, most persistent myths about building an online presence. If you’re offering something unique, and you dutifully advertise your website both online and off, you will get buyers.

But what if your business doesn’t really specialize in anything unique? For one, you’ll probably catch a lot of the aforementioned online-only shoppers through word of mouth or offline advertising. But there’s another, more significant factor in making sure customers don’t flock to the competition: brand loyalty.

Building brand loyalty is often a simple matter of creating buzz around your business. There are, of course, a plethora of options for doing this. One of them is through social media marketing. It’s a topic too in-depth to cover in full, but it breaks down like this: people will buy from brands that entertain them, even if there are cheaper alternatives elsewhere. Courting an audience on social media takes time and patience, but it’s an investment that pays off in dividends.

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