Safety net Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Columbus Woodruff II is adamant that he’s never leaving Cleveland, but Hotcards Inc., his 100-employee printing company couldn’t survive on its Cleveland business alone.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to, as Hotcards’ Internet presence allows Woodruff to take orders from around the world and compete with much larger printers.

“The fact of the matter is that if someone has a 17-inch monitor, your store is as big as every other store on the Net,” says the founder and CEO of Hotcards. “They’re all 17 inches.”

Smart Business spoke with Woodruff about how to build your Internet presence and how to write a blog that helps your bottom line.

Q. How do you create an effective Internet presence?

Step No. 1 is to have a great Web site, not just a good one. The one thing I see people do is say, ‘Oh, I have a company; I want a Web site.’ And then you ask them, ‘How much would you like to spend?’ and they give you a few hundred dollars.

Then you ask them, ‘What do you expect the site to make?’ And they say $30,000 a month. You expect to spend a few hundred dollars to make $30,000 a month? That’s not going to happen.

You have to make an investment into the most important employee you have: the Internet. It works tirelessly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It can be a customer service rep; it can be your secretary. It can be all these different things if you invest the money, the time and effort that it takes to have a wonderful site.

When I say wonderful site, I mean it has to be built correctly. It takes money to do that, but there is no better return on investment than an awesome Web site.

Q. How do you create a great site?

First, there is a difference between a Web designer and a Web developer. Designers can make your site look nice. A developer makes it work nice. Doing all the great things a good Web site should do is way more important than it just looking nice.

Any company that is looking to make an impact should do a great Web site because it levels the playing field.

Say you’re ABC Landscape Co., and there is another landscaping company. If anyone’s like me, they go on the Internet to check your company out. If your site is awesome and all the next person has are a couple pictures of some lawns that they have done … I’m going with this guy over here, because his site gave me a free quote and let me schedule an appointment and asked me how big my yard was [and] it did a calculation. Then I looked and they had a blog about lawn care, and it had a feature on why you should use this fertilizer and when you should cover your plants.

So become a resource. Spend the money you need to spend to build an excellent Web site because it definitely has a better chance of having a great return on investment than just having one of your friends’ nephews or kids build a site.

Q. How do you know your site is helping your bottom line?

To know that it’s working, you’d have to base it on what was happening before you did it. If you were getting 10 orders a day before and now you’re getting 30, it’s working.

It depends on what you want your site to do. If you just want leads and all of a sudden you’re getting phone calls and getting e-mailed leads from your form on your site, that’s time you weren’t taking yourself to answer all those phone calls.

It’s like if you have a car that has four airbags and you have eight airbags. Four was good, but eight doesn’t hurt. There’s no way it can hurt me to have more airbags than I had before.

Q. What does a company blog need to do to be effective?

The one thing they need to do is stay focused on their industry. Try their best to become a resource. For instance, we are a printing company; we do a lot of political printing. So a lot of our blog has to do with political printing. A lot of it has to do with printing in general, good design, nice ads, tutorials, ideas.

But it all revolves around our industry. So we wouldn’t start doing blogs on cool cars. It doesn’t make any sense for us. It needs to stay revolved around your industry so people can seek you as a resource.

There is no industry that could not have a blog. It’s great when people look up to you as an authority because you have a blog. Just keep things going, make nice entries on your blog. It’s a great way for any business, on any level, in any industry, to help themselves generate interest and traffic.

How to reach: Hotcards Inc., (216) 241-4040 or www.hotcards.com