Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Your Small Business Online

Recently, my family and I were trying to find a location near the Niobrara where we could have a mini-vacation. We have a large group and most of us planned to tent out but we did have a few requirements: the campsite needed to be close to the river, we wanted a cabin onsite and we needed information about tubing rentals and availability/pricing.

Now, Valentine is less than an hour away from Winner but, like you, I'm busy during the week. I figured that using the Internet was the easiest way to plan this vacation...the same way I've planned every vacation from New York to Maui to DisneyWorld. Right?

Oh, I wish it had been that easy. To be fair, there were sites that did have information but most was vague, there were just a few photos of cabins, zero of the contacts returned my email within two days and only two out of the five returned my phone call.

It got me thinking about Winner, our hunting/tourism resources, the task of promoting the area and (channeling Carrie Bradshaw here) I couldn't help but wonder," How can we in Winner make our online experience worth the click?"

Now, the Development Office and the Chamber have been working on a new, comprehensive site for Winner for a couple months now. We're showing our idea to the City of Winner and the City of Colome this month and hoping to get them onboard as well. will be great. The finished product will be a fantastic tool for all BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH.

To be frank, our site won't be the best version of itself until our small businesses are online as well. We want to link potential customers, potential visitors to your site but, instead, we're giving out phone numbers and addresses. Maybe the customer will call. Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll keep searching for a hotel/printer/flowershop/resturaunt that IS online and can answer their questions now.

Today, having an online presence for your small businesses is more important than ever. Whether you have a portable welding service, retail store or hair salon, your customers WILL seek you out on the web. They'll get their first impression of your business from your site and , whether you sell goods online or not, they'll decide then and there whether your business is worth their dollar by deciding whether your site is worth their time.

There are four basic components you need to be aware of when building your site:

Get a professional web developer to build your site. Knowing HTML or how to use MS Front Page does not a web designer make. You want to create a look and feel that tells a story about your business, product or service. You want a clean, uncluttered page with visually appealing photos and graphics. We developers can help you resize photos so they load more quickly and they can assist you with adding value-added features such as customer contact forms, polls, video and more.

When folks click on your site, you need to make information easy to find. Again, this is where a web designer can help. You want to maintain a consistent look and feel on each page and steer clear of odd fonts or multicolored backgrounds that make reading your text difficult. If your customers can't use your page to dig for the info they need, they'll leave almost immediately. Categorize your information in easy-to-understand formats and provide links for feedback and contact emails.

This is where you need to really dig deep to determine what content your consumer needs to know. Do they need to see your organizational chart? Probably not. They do want to know a direct phone number and an email address for, let's say, billing. Make doing business with you as easy as possible.

Your content also includes photos and other visuals (see Design.) Hire a photographer to take some high-resolution, quality photography of your product or service and make it the focal point of your sales pitch.

Keep your content brief and informative. If you customer needs to scroll down more than once, there's a very good chance they will decide it's not worth their precious online time.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
What good is a website if no one can find you? Your web developer should be able to asist you with make sure your site contains the appropriate keywords to make you easy to find in Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Make sure they are abale to provide you with a statistics page, using their own software or Google Analytics. It's important you know what information your customers are looking at, what pages they are entering from, what pages they're leaving from, how many visits a day, etc. Again, if your developer can't help you with this, keep looking for one that can. It's important to realize your ROT (return on investment) with any kind of marketing/advertising campaign.

As it turns out, I DID find a campsite (after what seemed like a bazillion phone calls) but it wasn't the one I really wanted. The campsite I wanted had a pretty informative website that featured good photos, contact info, pricing. But when I called for reservations? "I'm sorry, Ms. Bartels. Our cabins are literally booked until after Labor Day. We have been for awhile." THE PROSECUTION RESTS.

We already have a number of locally-owned, stand-alone businesses that have built great sites. For inspiration, check out:

Frontier Motors:
Prairie Portraits By Shelley:
KWYR Magic 93/Country 1260:

If you'd like a base of reference on some of the better (in my opinion) web development operations in the area, stop by the office. I'd love to visit with you about developing an online presence for your small business or discuss ways the Tripp County Office of Development can help your business grow.

Contact me at or call (605) 842-1551.


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