How Does a Small Business Make Money on the Internet?

Today’s topic was inspired by a couple of conversations on another online forum.  It’s such a huge topic that I’ve decided to address it here, (1) because of a more diverse audience and (2) because it’s not something that can be covered in a short entry.  (Maybe someone else could be more brief, but that’s never been my strong suit.)  In fact, today’s post is the start of a series.I suppose that deep down we all see ourselves as the next Amazon.com, making lots and lots of money selling things online.  That opportunity is definitely out there, but is it the best use of our time, especially if we have a brick and mortar business to run?  That’s a question that every business owner has to answer on his/her own, but I’m going to suggest that it’s hard to do and may take more of your time than it’s worth.   

As you prob

ly know, our company bought Nancy’s Notions, an online/mail order/brick and mortar retailer in 2004.  Trust me, it’s possible to run such a business profitably but it takes a lot of work.  Nancy’s has dozens of employees and a sophisticated computer system, not to mention a nationally known sewing expert with a long-running PBS show, Sewing with Nancy, as namesake and spokesperson.

Not to oversimplify the issue, but it’s a much smaller jump from mail order to online sales than it is from brick and mortar to online.   

So if online sales isn’t an option, how can a small business owner use the Internet to make money?  I’m going to suggest that you use the web to advertise your business much more economically than in the traditional media and to build your reputation as an expert in your field.

We’ll start by discussing advertising.  There are a lot of ways to advertise on the Internet.  The first and most obvious is your own web site.  If you’re in business, you need a web site.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  It doesn’t have to feature lots of fancy animations and music and other tricky stuff that makes the web designers lots of money but really doesn’t add that much to your users’ experience.  In fact, most of these things slow your site down and frustrate your readers. 

Your web site should reflect your store.  It should be neat, clean, and feature your products and services in their best light.  If you don’t welcome customers to your store with flashing lights and loud music, you shouldn’t welcome them to your virtual store that way either.

 

Before you begin work on your web site you must decide what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you going to set up an e-commerce site?  In spite of what I said earlier, you may decide to go that way, and that’s fine.  But if you’re going to sell on the web, then sell on the web.  Everything on your site should be designed to get that user to push the “buy now” button.

If your site is intended to get customers into your store, then that should be the focus of every page and every link.  I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve looked at where you have to search for the businesses contact information.  No matter what your “web designer” may tell you, if you want potential customers to contact you, your address and phone number must be on every page.  No exceptions!  It may not be as pretty as a picture of flowers, or a sunset, or even a picture of your family, but if you want me to come into your store, you have to hit me between the eyes with the address and phone number.  A map, or a link to one, isn’t a bad idea either.  A “Contact Us” page is a nice thing, but it’s no substitute for constant reminders of where you are. 

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at blogs and podcasts.

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One Response

  1. More people should read this page

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