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February 14, 2013

Do You Need a Website for Your Business? Maybe …but Maybe Not

Torn about whether you need a website?

I’ll be honest, you might need one, but perhaps not.  Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll decide if having a website would be smart for your unique business needs and would pay off in terms of time, money, and commitment.

“But I’m already overwhelmed with communications from prospects and customers as it is.   I can’t handle inquiries from a website, too!”

Ahh, but wouldn’t it be great if your website could answer those inquiries for you? Yes.

A well-designed website does exactly that.  

Here’s an example: My Web design clients are always so surprised when I tell them we answer very few support requests from my transcription clients before receiving their orders.  Usually, the very first contacts we receive are the orders.

“But how can that be, for a field like transcription?” they ask.

Highly unique cases aside, the vast majority of pre- and post-sale questions are already answered in our online help center.  (It’s basically a publicly-available online FAQ.)

Whenever prospective clients submit support tickets (e-mail us), the help center searches its own FAQs for possible answers while a client is composing a ticket.  Before the ticket is ever submitted — often before a client is even halfway done composing it — the client is presented with a short list of possible answers to their questions.  Many times, they’re saved from ever having to write us.  (And we’re “saved” from having to see that support request, or know that it almostexisted.)

How awesome is that?

Unfortunately, this particular help desk system doesn’t offer stats for how many clients are saved from the need to request support. But, the simple fact that we continue to get orders, but very few pre-sale questions, is a testament to the effectiveness of being proactive about supporting your website visitors.

The takeaway: Any way you can save your users time, do it.  Having a comprehensive, user-friendly, well-organized FAQ list in a visible location is a brilliant, affordable, and easy way to intuit the needs of your customers — which can instantly increase conversion rate,by the way.

Therefore, you can’t afford not to have a website to help ease your support burdens.  A well-organized, smartly-designed website should be able to do most of the work for you.

If you’re using social media, your clients expect you to also have a “real” website.

Really, a social media page (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc.) is just a “prelude” to your Web business’ offerings.  It’s like the appetizer for your main course (or should be, anyway).

Don’t whet your prospects’ appetites and leave them hanging!

It’s always such a jolt to visit a Twitter page and not see a URL waiting in the profile description there.  Negative “startle” factor aside, when there is no website in these instances, you’re basically and literally limiting a prospect to reading about you in 140-character snippets.  These mini-bites can of course come nowhere close to providing an accurate, clear, and complete picture of everything you have to offer prospects.

You can even be missing out on joint venture partners who won’t partner with a Web business owner who doesn’t seem established.

Yes, even being an established business without a website still makes you seem like an amateur.

From Dictionary.com:

am·a·teur [am-uh-choor, -cher, -ter, am-uh-tur]

1. A person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

Notice that? “Compare professional.” Ouch. If we saw no other part of the definition, those two words hit hard…

Because the reality is that no matter how well you run your business offline, and how organized you seem, your business seems behind the times to your online customers if you still don’t have a website.

Do you want to appear to be a dabbler, engaging in business works for pleasure and just for fun,” or are you seriously trying to build something here? Of course you are.

So it all boils down to this: If you’re using online marketing channels, lacking a website makes you appear less than professional.

Yes, even if you don’t yet have your own products. When I started online (selling affiliate products, in 1998), I questioned why I needed a website, too.  Companies of the products I was selling already had high-converting websites.  That was what my affiliate site was for, I thought.  So why in the world would I need my own website to direct prospects to theirs?

I didn’t, of course. No, it wasn’t that I needed a website to act as the bridge between my ad and my affiliate link — that could hurt response.  I simply found that I had so much that I wanted to say to the world (above and beyond one little product)… but I hadn’t any way to say it. In fact, my very first website was born from the need to simply organize all my online “stuff.”

Sooner than later, I found myself with several affiliate sites that I had to advertise all separately.  But me, being the lone-credit-card-wielding, no-money-having college student that I was, I wanted to place just one ad, and promote everything all at once.  And, darn it, I needed a website for that.  (Yes, the “all in one” strategy did work — it was 1998!  Affiliate sales were much easier to push from a centralized location than they are these days.

I’ll tell more of that story another time but, the point is, I needed a medium I could control.  I needed a “repository,” where I didn’t have to worry about a third party site shutting down and taking my website with it, or changing its terms and conditions to own all the content I wrote, or anything scary like that.  For only a few dollars a month, it was a no-brainer for me — college student or not.  And boy did it pay off.  But again… another story.

So… Do You Need a Website?

Well, if you didn’t think that you do, at least on some level… you wouldn’t be here.  Simply the fact that you’re now entertaining the question can mean that it’s time.

Ask yourself why you’re on the fence about it now:

• Do you think you need a place to field customer inquiries?

• Is providing individual support to every single prospect finally becoming overwhelming?

• Do you want to begin automating your business before overwhelm becomes an issue?

• Are you connecting with clients and prospects through social media or elsewhere online, and just need to take the next step?

• Do you want to ensure that you maintain control and ownership over all your intellectual property?

• Do you really think it wise to build your business at the mercy of a third party “community” or social site… that may not even exist in six months?

These are really not questions I can answer for you.  It all comes down to an honest self-evaluation of your own needs.  Kick some ideas around. Determine the ways in which you expect a website to make your daily business life easier … and then talk with a designer about it.


Harmony Major began building business websites and marketing online in 1999, converting her e-biz to full-time in less than one year — at age 19. These days, she does simple, conversion-focused websites and redesigns for service professionals, non-profits, and minority- and woman-owned businesses.  Find Harmony at: ExcellentPresence.com or blog.

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