Web approach

While many business owners recognize the need for having a Web site, most don’t have a clear strategy. Instead, they see their site as a simple electronic brochure where prospective buyers can learn about their business, but a Web site should be much more — it should be designed as part of your business’ online strategy.

E-commerce has too often been viewed as a separate marketplace. It was that view that resulted in the wild run-up of stock prices for Internet-based companies before the dot-com crash. Since the implosion, many business owners have been confused about the importance of the Internet.

The best business strategy to emerge has been forged by large companies that have recognized the value of a multifunctional Web site. These companies have built sites that complement their bricks-and-mortar businesses, viewing the Web as simply another market. And for good reason. The growth in e-commerce has more than doubled the regular economy. In the second quarter of 2004, e-commerce sales reached $15.7 billion, a growth rate of 23.1 percent, while total retail sales for the same period grew by only 7.8 percent.

Today’s business leader needs an online business strategy to produce a site where potential customers can get information and transact business. Several things are needed to accomplish this goal.

First, Web sites, by themselves, do not attract new customers. If your Web site does not show up on the first few pages in a keyword search, your chances of being seen are slim to none. Web sites need to be registered with search engines and designed so that key search words can find your site.

The most effective way for a business to get a first page ranking is to pay for placement. Several organizations offer bundled packages of services that include search engine registration, paid-for placement submissions, optimization and inclusion in Internet yellow pages.

Second, Web sites should be designed so that visitors can either place an order or transact business. That transforms your site into a fully-functional e-commerce store on the Web, with payment gateways for credit card transactions.

Third, Web sites need to have customer service functions integrated into the design, with database look-ups to access information and forms to request information while capturing e-mails.

Fourth, your site should be designed to play an active role in your business, with things such as a marketing program that creates a campaign to stay in contact with customers with things such as e-mailed newsletters and special discount offers. The cost of generating additional business from an existing customer is significantly cheaper than finding a new one.

Business owners who have a big picture view of their Web site will see that developing an online business strategy can both increase revenues and lower costs while expanding the marketplace of the business without a major outlay of capital.

Tom Ryan is director of sales development for International Profit Associates. IPA’s 1,700 employees offer consulting services to businesses throughout the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada. Reach Ryan at at www.ipa-iba.com or (800) 531-7100.