While it’s an extremely high priority for new and struggling businesses, it’s important for marketing specialists to realize that there are a lot of established businesses out there who, believe it or not, aren’t out to find new business. In fact, chasing new business would actually violate their business philosophy.
It’s a common philosophy. And, as a business philosophy of setting and maintaining a stable ideal and a brand philosophy of ‘one of the community’, this approach can work pretty damn well.
Now, everyone knows websites are a powerful marketing tool to reel in new business that would be otherwise unable to find you. But what about these referral-based, face-to-face, ‘community-minded’ businesses?
Should businesses that don’t need new clients still have websites?
This question has both a short and long answer. Of course, I’m going to go into the long of it, but the short answer:
Probably, yeah. And if you don’t need one now, you will eventually.
The long answer… well, it gets a little more involved.
It’s a very common philosophy in older businesses, and one that’s tied with pre-industrial notions of community. The business philosophy boils down to “Not everyone wants to be a General Electric or Microsoft. My business is an active part of my community, and their referrals are all the business I need.”
It means not running yourself ragged or stressing over expansion when you can make a comfortable enough living with your business in its current state. You’re serving a customer base that you know inside and out, and who see your business as an integral part of their lives.
This is a perfectly valid philosophy, and one that, on some level, I share: I would rather personally oversee excellent work for a handful of clients than sit in an ivory tower ruling a media empire that mass-produces ‘meh’.
So, while understanding this perspective helps us understand the question, the answer isn’t in the philosophy itself.
Websites aren’t just for finding new customers.
Websites can be extremely helpful for your existing customers. A basic site can allow you to provide company news updates, showcase new inventory, show off recent achievements, announce sales and events, and answer common questions about your service.
That’s just with a simple website.
There are a bunch of ways that a specialized or customized website can make life easier for your customers (not to mention yourself). Want to make it easier for your clients to pay you? Your website can provide online billing. Want to make it easier for your customers to browse your products? An online catalogue makes it easier for them to find what they want, no matter how general or specific their search. Do you have a highly technical product? Support forums can let you answer technical questions in a public forum.
In other words: Not having a website will rob you of an opportunity to better serve your customers.
Websites are also for customers who discover you offline.
Even if your business is established to the point that it can get away without having a website right now, you’re definitely going to need one at some point in the future. That’s simply how the business world works. Recent studies have shown that up to 81% of shoppers do online research before making a purchase, and that trend has been steadily rising for years now.
Referrals aren’t exempt from this desire to know what you’re getting into. Even if it’s coming from a trusted friend, it’s natural for a customer to ask: Who are they, really? Do they have a social media feed full of unanswered complaints? Do they have a high rating on review sites? What are their qualifications? Do they possess any relevant certifications?
A website will answer at least some of these questions. They’ll give you a chance to explain a bit of your back-story, showcasing your credentials, illustrating your service, and giving them a sense of what to expect from you and how you conduct your business.
A website makes you look good. Or bad. Or absent.
It’s unfortunate, but true: People will judge your business by how it is presented. If you have a great website, it will instill a sense of competence and professionalism. If you have a 10-year-old website that looks outdated and doesn’t even display properly, it will instill a sense of neglect and disinterest.
So what does it say if you don’t have a website? Nothing.
And therein lies the problem: Anyone searching for your website will draw their own conclusions.
Can you not afford a website? A company experiencing severe financial problems is hardly dependable.
Are you technologically outdated? One could insinuate that this fear of technology might extend to your billing or bookkeeping, which would mean that you are more likely to make billing errors and lose important records and receipts. This is particularly relevant in the wake of the widely publicized 2014 VHA scandal.
Are you even still in business? When a company goes belly-up, it takes time for word to get around. A company website disappearing is often the first sign that they’re no longer in business, and if they can’t find you, they might make assumptions.
Sure, it could be the case that you don’t have one because you’re successful enough not to need one… but how certain are you that your referrals know that?
So, does your community-based business need a website?
Maybe. The best way to answer this is by asking your customers. Do they think it’s strange that you don’t have an updated website? Do they do any online research before going someplace new? If so, what does it say to them if they find a cheap website? What if they find no website at all? Do they use websites to find businesses’ contact information, location, or store hours? Would they find a website helpful? Is there any way that a website can make their lives easier, such as news updates, online ordering/billing, digital catalogs, and so forth?
Customers are at the core of this business philosophy, and your answer should stem from them.
Sure, you might not need a website to attract new business. But that isn’t the only function that a website serves. And if your customer community could benefit from a new website, then perhaps your ‘no website required’ policy should be revisited.
Want some ideas on what a website can do for your customers? Send us a request for a free consultation. Know what you want and ready to get started? Say the word and we’ll get you going. Want something simple just to let people know you exist? We do websites of all shapes and sizes. Drop us a line and we’ll get started right away.
He is also unable to make a 'Penseur' pose without looking at least a bit ridiculous, as evidenced by his profile photo.