…and why it’s important to have a website for your small business
Last month, someone in my networking circle suggested that websites are going the way of the dodo, much like snail mail. Earlier this week, during his “elevator pitch,” he recanted his statement and then preceded to talk about his Facebook Messenger business automation tool.
I was next to speak, and said with a smile on my face, “Thank goodness websites aren’t going the way of the dodo, as I am a website designer!” I got quite a laugh from everyone at the table.
It got me thinking though…
It always astounds me when I meet someone for the first time and ask if they have a website so I can take a look at the products or services offered when I get home, and the response is, “No, I don’t have a website but I’m on Facebook.”
There’s a surprisingly high number of small business owners who don’t seem to value the benefits of having a website.
Since moving to rural southwestern Ontario, I have come across a lot of local small businesses that do not have a website, and of those that do, many do not function well, have not been updated in a decade, and/or look terrible on mobile phones. Do they not realize they are losing business because people cannot find them online or, if they do, they leave immediately because they cannot navigate their website?
The number of times my mum has tried to order flowers or a gift for me from a local business and has had to give up and shop further away because the local store does not sell online and doesn’t answer emails. They have a Facebook page, but that’s not where my mum goes to look for the things she needs.
She’s in the UK, so she uses the internet to purchase flowers and other gifts for me here in Canada. She’s 72, has recently moved herself, is not keen on driving the winding, country roads in her new neck of the woods, and actually uses the internet for most of her purchases, even her bi-weekly food shop.
So if a 72-year-old is using the internet (searching via Google not Facebook) to shop online, it stands to reason that a good chunk of the population will be shopping online also, whether it’s just to get a phone number, address or store hours, searching for a service provider for their particular need, comparing products at different stores, or to price up their entire purchase before visiting the store.
So why is it that so many small business owners do not value having a website?
Why do some solely rely on Facebook and Messenger while others do not have a web presence at all?
I understand that Facebook has become an important part of marketing small businesses, I use it all the time. It’s a great tool for getting to know new people that I meet, for relationship building, arranging coffee meetings and, in the direct sales world, hosting online parties, team meetings and other events, among other things.
There are no doubt many business owners who, with a substantial amount of time and effort, are successful using Facebook alone. However, there are several drawbacks to relying on Facebook (or any other social media platform) for your business without having a website as well.
Reasons why you should not rely solely on Facebook for your business
I wrote about the 8 reasons why your business needs a professional website, which you can read here, several years ago, well before Facebook became a popular business marketing tool and I still believe these to be important reasons. However, now that we are in the social media age, here are a reasons why you should not rely solely on Facebook for your business.
- Facebook is a hangout not a business location.
If you do not have a bricks and mortar store, without a website, your business is effectively homeless. You’re forcing potential customers to look for you at your favourite hangout without an appointment. Would you expect potential customers to look for you at your favourite coffee shop or restaurant to do business without an appointment?
- Not all potential customers will know your name or your business name
Even if you do have a bricks and mortar business, if your potential customer doesn’t know you exist, how are they supposed to find you? When they do a Google search for the product or service they need, your competitors’ websites will inundate their results page, but not yours. You are missing out on their business because they cannot find your website on Google.
- Not all your potential customers will find you on Facebook.
What if your potential customers do not use the same social media platform as you? What if they can’t find your business on Facebook because they couldn’t remember your name? Trying to find a business on Facebook without a name is probably near impossible, unless your business name is your product name too! You are missing out on their business because they cannot find you on Facebook.
For small businesses, having a Facebook page is useful once you’ve established a connection with potential customers (through networking, vendor events, referrals etc.), for establishing the know, like trust factor, but when it comes to someone you don’t know trying to do business with you, you and your business will not be so easy to find as your own website which, if done right, contains content and SEO written specifically with your target audience in mind.
Other pitfalls to relying solely on Facebook
Facebook is also a great tool for driving additional traffic to your website when you have specials and other announcements to share with your online community. However, there are several other pitfalls to relying solely on Facebook.
- Tracking written communications carried out through Facebook’s messenger system can be time consuming and difficult (wading through all the relationship-building chit-chat to find an order, shipping address etc.), whereas, email communications on a computer can be filed under a customer’s name, saved online and off, and can be easily tracked and searched.
- Privacy and security can be an issue when carrying out business on Facebook. In particular, Facebook Messenger (or any other social media messenger system) is not a private communication tool, so you should not carry out sensitive conversations and provide sensitive information using Messenger.
- It’s free now, but for how long? Facebook could suddenly decide to start charging you to promote or sell using their platform. They have already made it difficult for you to get your message out to your entire audience without “boosting” your message. News feeds are becoming more and more inundated with “sponsored” pages and now “suggested for you” statuses, not to mention the amount of other click bait on there, that people will eventually move to another platform, or move to other forms of communication all together.
- Worse still, Facebook could pull the plug on your business page or ban your personal account at any time. Do something that contravenes their rules, upset someone in the community who complains to them about you, post too many business promotions on your personal timeline and you could end up in “Facebook Jail” wondering what on earth you did wrong. Sometimes a ban is only temporary, or a partial ban, however, some people and/or businesses have had the plug pulled completely and have had to start again. Not so bad for a business who has a website, has maintained a database of customers or clients elsewhere and/or has a big staff to rebuild their Facebook community. Substantially harder for a small business owner or solopreneur who has no other web presence at all.
I could go on. I am sure there are other pitfalls or drawbacks of not having a website and/or solely relying on Facebook for your small business but it’s gone 6pm on a Friday night and it’s time for me to enjoy the weekend (ha ha).
Your website provides a professional business setting where potential customers (and past ones too) can find out about you and/or your company, learn more about your products and services and can easily find your contact information.
Designed carefully, and with appropriate content and good navigation, your website should lead them to your call to action so they can do business with you or purchase from you.
If you want potential customers to hang out with you as well, so they can get to know you in a more informal setting, then invite them to join you on Facebook, where you can then build an online relationship, but remember when promoting your products and services, always send them to your website for more information.
Please feel free to comment below if you know of other pitfalls that I have not mentioned or if you disagree.