The Web has become increasingly critical to doing business in today's economy and small- and mid-sized businesses no longer have the luxury of treating it as an afterthought.
For years, many companies have continued to treat their Web presence like a brochure: very static in nature, with a revision or redesign every couple of years and without a real strategy. In the meantime it has become a vehicle for doing business, a sign that the business plays in today's marketplace, and a place over which people will be talking about a business whether its owners like it or not.
At the same time, it has become a powerful tool to enhance communications both within the business and without, and a powerful new front-end to customers and employees. With all this potential risk and benefit, small- and mid-sized businesses must pay close attention to their use of the Web, partner with well established hosting and Web services providers, and plan accordingly.
There are a few key areas to consider for success on the Web today.
First things first: do it! While businesses might have been reluctant in the past to deploy a Web site, the barriers of cost and technical expertise have been crumbling. Off-the-shelf software is widely available to create a basic professional- looking website. For only a few hundred dollars, rather than thousands, a site can quickly and easily be developed.
When building a site, think about current and future needs, but don't go overboard. Many businesses tie themselves up indefinitely trying to build a Web presence that will meet needs that are five years out. The market changes too quickly today to forecast so far ahead for most small- and mediumsized businesses (SMBs). Instead, aim for growth through scalable hosting partners and keep an eye on future ambitions. At Primus, our philosophy is to recommend businesses buy what they need today and add as needs grow. Scalable Web hosting packages are backed by a fully redundant network to ensure Web site data is secure and Primus technical experts are available 24/7 to support you.
Next: think inside the box. Your web presence should start within the office, with a private company intranet that employees can use to access company files and information. Gone are the days of legacy file servers; now files can be easily uploaded and accessed via smart Web applications that employees can even access from the road or from home.
The Web needs to be treated like a business application, not 'marketingware'. Customers will use the Web to interface with business, and it is an excellent tool for employees to access business resources. With that in mind, security needs to be given the same critical respect given to other business applications, especially if sales or other transactions are going to take place. Data loss, not just from potential hackers or theft, needs to be guarded against. Again, this is an area where choosing the right hosting and technology suppliers becomes a crucial part of the business' plan.
A business' Web plan can't stop at simply developing the Web site. SMBs looking to make the most of the Web for their business should be on a constant journey of reviewing and refining their presence through Search Engine Optimization and Web Analytics. It shouldn't cost very much to add the right keywords to your Web site to draw Google search traffic. Be aware, even if a business has no Web presence of its own, it is already on the Web. Customers and potential customers are likely sharing comments and information in places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; at least a successful business better hope so. Increasingly, the first sites that appear in a search are recent tweets on the subject. What are those tweets telling potential customers and partners? Pay attention to what's being said about your business.
Finally, engage! The Web has gone from the one-way monologue of the '90s to a multi-point discussion. Should your business be on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networks? Should it have a Twitter account? Do you have informational videos that could be posted on YouTube? Your company should have a social media strategy and a clear way of communicating with those who are engaging you in these realms. Managing your Web presence is a small time investment to secure potential customers while keeping a pulse on existing ones.
Finally, like other aspects of your marketing plan, don't engage halfheartedly. Take ownership of your Web presence and use it to maximize success and differentiate yourself from what truly is global competition.
Vice-President of Sales and Marketing
Primus Telecommunications Canada
This advertorial originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Backbone Magazine.