By JoAnne Sommers
Does your business have an online presence? If not, you have plenty of company. According to RBC’s 2013 survey of Canadian small businesses, only 46 per cent of respondents have a dedicated website, and less than half (48 per cent) of them sell their products and services through their websites.
Those findings shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with last year’s survey of Canadian ECPs by Breton Communications. It found that about one-quarter (25.8 per cent) of respondents did not have a dedicated website, while 11.2 per cent said their practice still did not have Internet access.
At the same time, according to Statistics Canada, more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population is online; and a report by Boston Consulting Group predicts that Canada’s Internet economy will grow 7.4 per cent annually through 2016.
“With the majority of consumers choosing to research and shop for products and services online, businesses without a web presence are missing a significant opportunity,” says Jim Mulligan, national director, Retail, RBC Royal Bank. “Businesses need to be visible where consumers choose to be, so investing in an online strategy is fundamental to attract new customers and stay competitive.”
Mulligan’s comments are borne out by the results of RBC’s survey; it found that 38 per cent of businesses that have eCommerce-enabled websites generate over one-quarter of their revenue through online sales. Fully 22 per cent of those surveyed say that more than half of their revenue comes from online sales.
Given that the Internet economy represents a significant opportunity for small businesses, why do so many of them continue to resist it?
Dana Sacco, RO, is a licensed optician with Rossland Optical in Whitby, ON, and a Predictive Index trainer and consultant. Sacco, who has had a web presence for over 10 years, believes the reason for the reluctance stems from the fact that most ECPs have little or no actual business education.
“They’re highly skilled and good at what they do but most lack specific business training. That makes it difficult for them to embrace modern, visionary business practices,” she says.
For Sacco, a web presence is not an add-on – it’s an absolute necessity. “If you don’t have one these days, it’s like not having a debit machine,” she says. “Many people begin the buying process by looking for information about products and services online. If they can’t get that information at home, you’ll lose out on at least half of your potential client base.”
Extending her client base to reach a global market is the focus of Sacco’s current efforts. “I’m getting into online sales in partnership with several exclusive designer brands that are not available through Internet-based companies like FramesDirect.com,” she notes.
Having a web presence doesn’t have to cost a lot, nor does it require much technical expertise. In fact, a lot of solutions are available at low to no cost. Competition in the website business has forced down prices for domain registration and hosting. It is also possible to design your own website using automated software provided by web hosting companies, such as Go Daddy and Homestead Technologies.
Several years ago, Sacco, who admits she’s no techie, invested in Web Builder, a software program from Millbrook, ON-based CBS Group that enables her to maintain her own website. “It’s very user-friendly. I just log into the site and it lets me update specific content areas. And Google Analytics provides me with valuable information about the people who visit my website.”
Sacco says her website is a critical aspect of her social media effort. “I have a Google blog on Gmail where I express my opinion on various subjects. It’s all part of realizing my business plan.”
While only 39 per cent of Canadian small business owners surveyed by RBC promote their business on social media, it is easy, inexpensive, and potentially profitable to do so. That’s especially true if you have a blog that generates fresh content to share. Blogs can be easily set up with services like Google’s www.blogger.com. These are mini-websites. Check out what they are capable of and consider whether you need a full-blown website or simply a blog. Once you have your website and/or blog established, you can begin building a social media presence. It can be overwhelming to know where to begin so we suggest that you set up a professional presence on LinkedIn and join Google+, where you can establish groups or circles of people based on your affiliation with them (e.g. customers, colleagues, community affiliations, family and friends). You can then invite others to join your circles, which is a great way to establish or re-establish contact.
You can use Google+ like a blog and share information with your customers or potential customers, gearing the information to their needs and their relationship with you. This is a great business-growing tool and is considered by many to be the next wave in social networking. You can learn about Google+ in Guy Kawasaki’s book, What the Plus!, which is available as a Kindle download (Not there yet? You can download a Kindle reader to your computer for free!). There are also great instructional videos on the Google+ website.
• If you need help getting started with your online presence, there are many books available about ecommerce, including Starting an Online Business All-in-One For Dummies.
• Google Analytics is free of charge. You can set up the web tracking code by visiting http://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1008080?hl=en.
• RBC hosted a three-part webinar series on social media, which you can view/download at http://www.rbcroyalbank.com/business/campaign/fall2012/webinar-series.html.