Twenty-five years after the World Wide Web was created, it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the internet in our lives.
In 2013, 36 million adults in the UK – or 73% of the population – accessed the internet daily, 20 million more than in 2006 when records began.
As mobile broadband becomes faster and smartphones cheaper, this figure is only set to increase, with the internet likely to play an even more integral role in our daily lives.
Despite the possibilities offered by the internet, a staggering number of small businesses remain offline. Research carried out by Optimisa Research Limited in 2013, in association with Lloyds Banking Group and digital campaign Go ON UK, last year found that 36% of small and mid-sized businesses in the UK still have no website. That’s more than 1.5 million companies.
Incredibly, one in five of the 4.7 million small and mid-sized businesses are ‘deliberately disconnected’, remaining unconvinced about the value of going digital.
And of those that do have a website, 15% of the sites have no functionality beyond providing basic information – close to another half a million.
You may think that as a non-digital business such as a butcher or caterer, your offline presence is enough; but a website can add significant value to your business and potentially attract an untold number of new customers, whatever your sector.
Brought to you in association with .co.uk, the UK’s number one domain for British business, we reiterate the biggest reasons for you to invest in a website for your business.
1. It’s quick. Launching a website used to be a long, drawn-out process, but that’s not the case now. After brainstorming and deciding on a suitable domain name, you can instantly check whether it is available using online tools such as this one, then very quickly register it. For addresses ending in .uk, this process normally takes just a few days. After this, you can employ a web designer – or use a number of free tools available online – to create a site. All in all, a basic five-page website can be registered, built and online within a month.
2. It’s cheap. Domain names do not cost a lot to register. A .co.uk address, for example, will set you back around £3.50 a year. Basic hosting services for small websites are regularly offered at less than £10 per month. If you plan to launch an e-commerce website, shopping cart software with a lifetime licence is now available for just a few hundred pounds, or you could use a commission-based payment provider such as PayPal, which is simple to add onto an existing website. Your most substantial expense is likely to be web design, but even these costs have significantly reduced over the years – and free do-it-yourself alternatives have become increasingly credible, with many businesses now using tools such as WordPress to build a site themselves. All in all, you could spend less than £1,000 to launch a credible, well designed website – a very reasonable expense in light of the potential benefits.
3. It’s always open. This one may seem obvious, but it is important to remember. If your business only has an offline presence, you are limited to making sales and generating revenue during opening hours. With a website you can literally make sales and generate new business in your sleep, dealing with the logistics in the morning.
4. It’s easy to test. You can measure virtually anything about your website. Traffic, ad clicks and where site visitors came from can all be easily monitored using free tools such as Google Analytics, so you can easily see what elements of your site are working and which aren’t. You can then instantly measure the impact of changes to imagery, messages, and promotions, which could help you to quickly develop a smart sales strategy as the site evolves.
5. It’s instant to change. If something on your website isn’t working, or needs tweaking, it is normally a painless and simple process to change it. Text, images, and other content can be edited or replaced in seconds using a ‘what you see is what you get’ content management system such as WordPress, and it is perfectly possible to change the entire look of a website in just a few hours. It goes without saying that changing the signage or décor of a shop is not nearly as easy.
6. It’s national and global. Unlike a bricks-and-mortar store, setting up a website means you have instant global reach, giving you access to an untold wealth of consumers. No longer being bound by location means you can sell to consumers across the world instantly, as the considerable barriers to launching physically in other countries no longer apply. Smart search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies will see your page achieve greater prominence in search listings – if you are an e-commerce business, this is particularly valuable, although national reach is very important for the vast majority of small businesses.
7. You can match larger businesses. When customers look you up online, all they see is a website; they have little way of knowing whether you are a one-man band operating from a garage or a successful global business. You might be just starting out, but a well-designed, professional website will almost certainly give visitors the impression you are much larger. Indeed, with the low overheads of running a website it is perfectly possible to match much larger competitors – while this might take a clever strategy and additional investment, it is definitely a feat easier to achieve online than off.