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Can small businesses succeed on the Web? written by Claudie Clot, CEO of

Despite the popular belief that having a web site will open new markets and generate new sources of revenue, most small companies have yet to see solid results materialize from their Internet activities. For many, one thing is becoming clear: a presence on the Internet does not guarantee success. In fact, even a strong presence can not ensure that your company will benefit from the Internet. As bitter as the realization can be, it is crucial to building a winning web site because it forces one to accept that some commonly-believed myths about doing business on the Web are just that: myths. Overnight success; think again. What works for others will work for us; I would not bet your company's future on it. If you build it, they will come, look and buy; we all know the answer to this one. So, stop waiting for success to knock at your home page; it's time to take control of your Internet activities. The important thing to remember is that as a small company you must make the most out of every opportunity to turn visitors into customers. Competition on the Internet is becoming increasingly intense and expensive. You need to optimize the impact of your efforts at every stage of the customer online experience. In this article, we highlight 7 areas that represent the best opportunities for small businesses to enhance their performance on the Web.

1.Priority email

What is worse than a web site without a contact us form? A web site with contact us form where no one responds to prospects' queries. Our research shows that a very small percentage of businesses actually take the time to respond to visitors' questions or requests for information. This is not limited to small companies; this unfortunate practice is widespread and affects even the biggest and best companies. What does it mean for your company? A great opportunity to generate sales by establishing a relationship with potential prospects. Always respond to email correspondence; and try your best to respond quickly (within 24 hours is ideal). By the time other companies react (if they react at all) to the prospect's request, you will have initiated a very important dialogue and started transforming her into a customer. This will play to your advantage when the time to make the decision comes because it will indicate the type of customer service she might expect to receive after purchasing the product.

2.Keep an eye on your competitors

Knowing what your competitors are doing is important for obvious reasons. What may be less obvious is the fact that your prospects will form an image of your company based on your competitors' web site. It is very likely that while conducting a search on the Web, your prospect will visit the web sites of several companies providing the products and services she needs. This means side-by-side comparison of all alternatives. Will your site and, eventually, your company stand out? Or will your competitor overshadow your offerings? Don't be afraid to pick up ideas for web design elements, auxiliary services, offers, or strategies that will level the playing field. This is becoming increasingly important with the emergence of numerous sites offering comparative shopping services. Plus, you never know; your competitor may have come up with a great idea for reaching, educating, or convincing your prospects. It is always good to benefit from their research efforts.

3.You are not a web expert, but...

OK, your are not an Internet guru; in fact, you have difficulties keeping up with the new technologies and products. Don't despair; this is not what your prospects are looking for (unless your are offering Web or Internet products, of course!). You know something far more important and valuable to your audience: your products and services. It is not surprising that content ranks high survey after survey on the list of what drives visitors back to a web site. Remember that visitors come to your site because they must satisfy a need. Demonstrate that you have the answers they want. Use your expertise to create powerful content that will entice visitors to learn more about your offerings and come back to your site.

4.Keep it professional, please.

Today, there are no more excuses for amateurish web sites. Except in a few instances, you can always tell when you are visiting a small company's web site. Page layout, graphics, buttons; all can be as powerful as your toughest competitor in encouraging prospects to buy elsewhere. For most visitors, the first thing they see about your company is your site... For many, this may be the only thing they will see... Make it count. The 1996 look is no longer acceptable. If you are serious about doing business on the Internet, you must present a professional image. Fortunately, there are several solutions available to help you polish your online image. In fact, armed with photo CDs, ready-made web pages, and simple HTML editors, anyone in your company can give your site a professional look in minutes.

5.Volete una dimostrazione di questo prodotto?

With a web site, you will be able to sell your products to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Such is the promise of doing business on the Web. With a web site, you should not expect to sell their products to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Such is the reality of doing business on the Internet when you are a small company.. Unless you have the resources to establish a global online/offline presence to meet the needs of international customers, do not focus your efforts on being everything to everyone. Take a closer look at the companies benefiting from the international exposure: IBM, Apple, Cisco. All have already established a solid presence (staff, offices, partners, marketing campaigns) around the world;. The Web is a normal extension of their current strategies. Sure, you will get International sales; but think of it as the icing on the cake. It is far more important to start focusing your efforts on a well-defined target market. The scope of your approach will depend, of course, on the amount of resources you have to reach your prospects. It is to your advantage to start small and focused than to execute a national campaign which will simply fail to make your company stand out. You will be able to compete more aggressively against other companies, even larger companies, if you concentrate your efforts.

6.Measure, measure, measure

The best advice for small companies is to spend money on what works. Nothing revolutionary... true, but if more professionals followed this simple advice, fewer would be waiting for their sites to produce results. Know where you visitors are coming from; know where your prospects are coming from; know where your customers are coming from. The distinction between the three is important. Do not stop at measuring traffic to your site. If you are to build on success, you need to know what works best. Several software solutions, such as WebTrends log analyzer, will generate detailed reports about your web site activities. Combine this powerful data with your sales records to identify patterns as well as customers groups who tend to purchase more. Eventually, you will be able to know which campaigns or strategies add to your bottom line and which simply add more hits to your log files. Spend wisely and measure aggressively. The greatest advantage of doing business on the Internet is that you know right away what works and what doesn't. Act quickly; modify your campaigns as soon as you spot problems.

7.The power of a domain name

While this area has received its share of publicity in the past year with the sale of several multi-million dollar domain names, it is far too important to take for granted. Your domain name is essentially the equivalent of your business address. If you are not located in the right place or are not easy to find, you may never succeed in cyberspace. Not happy with your current address? There is always the option of secondary domain names. Be creative and you could get a great Internet address while saving thousands of dollars (see The Power of Secondary Domain Names in the tips section).


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