When Your Offline Business Goes Online

As a web page developer in a medium-sized town, I often come across small local businesses that want to get online. They are usually afraid of getting on the Internet, or they just want to establish a presence because they feel it’s a necessary part of doing business in the ’90s.

A common solution for many of them is to have the local ISP build them a “quickie.” When they receive little (if any) return or referrals from their web site, they sometimes hire a development firm to redesign the site and promote it by submitting to search engines and running banner campaigns.

Create An Online Business Model

Too many companies are falling into that same trap. The key is to reduce the effects of the slow Internet learning curve. And the way to do this is to create an online business model that works for your business, a foundation from which to grow. It may sound like a clich , but you cannot have a house without a foundation. Your online business model should answer the following questions:

  • How will I use the capabilities of the Internet to enhance my current offline business?
  • How can the Internet be used to sell my products and services?
  • What does my business bring to the Internet?
  • What can the Internet bring to my business?

You can have the best web site on earth with the savviest Internet marketers promoting it. But unless you devise a plan for your business to succeed on the Internet, it’s all worthless.

A successful online business is more than just a great web site. It’s a separate business entity that exists in cyberspace. In order to be successful, you have to approach your online presence as if you were developing a new business from scratch, then integrate that new business into your current offline business (if you already have one).

Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos wrote a comprehensive business plan for his online bookstore before a single line of code was created. He developed an online business model before the web site was even designed.

The mistake many business people who want to be online make is to see the development of their online business as the creation of a web site and nothing more. But the first step is to create the online business model — you can’t walk before you crawl. With your business model in place, the next step is developing and promoting the site.

A few months ago, I met with a local company to discuss updating their web site and further developing their online presence. I met with the company CEO and their accountant.

The CEO, an extraordinarily dynamic person, was very excited about the possibilities the Internet presented for his company. His accountant, on the other hand, wasn’t really all that impressed. She had no real interest in click-through rates, Java scripts, unique designs, or search engine positioning. Nor was she interested in how much traffic we could drive to her company’s web site.

Her primary concern was the effect the web site would have on the bottom line of the business. The company was a business consulting firm, and she wanted to know how the web site would generate more income. “We don’t sell anything, we’re not going to sell advertising, we’re not an Internet-related business. How can we use the web to build our business?” she asked.

I considered her question for a moment, then explained how they could cut costs by turning their web site into an interactive online brochure. Instead of spending thousands of dollars creating full-color brochures, they could direct prospects to a web site where they can download company information in MS Word or Adobe Acrobat format.

After all, over 90 percent of their clients were online, and the remaining 10 percent were in the process of getting there. When prospects request information about their company, they can direct them to the web site rather than sending them an expensive brochure. They can also use the web as a vehicle for generating leads.

Beyond The “Gee Whiz!” Factor

What sold her on my company’s web development services were the two reasons stated above: The concept of a web page as an online brochure, and its usefulness in generating qualified leads. Not fancy programming, rich media, flashy page designs, or Internet marketing prowess.

The lesson to be learned here is that the “Gee Whiz!” factor of the Internet is decreasing, and Internet consultants and web developers are going to have to create realistic solutions for offline businesses to succeed online.

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