The #1 Problem With Small Business Websites


Evolving Beyond The Yellow Pages Mentality

The problem with most small business websites is that they treat the web like a yellow pages directory. They slap up a quick website and are content to be “listed” on the web, missing out on most of the advantages of doing business online.

This backwards mindset runs rampant in professional service industries like accounting and law. Perhaps this because of the habit of marketing through listings like a phone book where they are just one entry competing with many other listings, and there is not much they can do about it.

Competing Online

Some of the more savvy small business owners are starting to catch on to the idea that it’s not enough just to be online, you need to successfully compete online.

I recently posted a case-study on the effectiveness of a law firm website we designed, and over the next three days received contacts from several different law firms.

One of the firms I met with mentioned that the quality of clients that come through the web is much better than any other source. Their Internet clients are easier to work with, more educated, and more likely to pay promptly. They were anxious to increase their online leads, and these were some of the ideas I shared with them.

  1. Dress Your Website For Success– First impressions are critical when meeting with potential clients. Your website is frequently the first impression clients receive of your company, so make it a good experience for them.Just because your nephew or secretary knows a little HTML doesn’t mean they will be able to build you a professionally designed site. Going with a professional web designer might cost more, but the investment will pay for itself.

    As mentioned in our case study of Long Okura, P.C., most of their clients said they selected them over other firms they found on the web because they had a better website.

    If you were hiring from several applicants that seemed to have about the same qualifications, it would make sense to hire the one that was better dressed and presented a more professional image than the others. That’s what potential clients do when they shop for professional services online.

  2. Make It Unique– A website isn’t limited to a crammed box in a phone directory, so add something personal and unique. It could be an award, interview, media coverage, or personal interest.The Long Okura website has a section that explains their environment-friendly practices and the green organizations that they passionately support. This unique perspective helps differentiate themselves from other law firms and has generated contacts from the magazines, radio, & TV stations looking for interviews, and even a contact from a well-known figure in the global “green” community.
  3. Blog– A blog allows you to keep your website updated with fresh content without having to hire a developer to make the updates. It also helps share information, establish you as an expert, and start dialogs. Blogs also help you show up on search engines for the topics you write about.The Long Okura website picked up several new clients in just their first several blog posts. If you’re looking for new cost-effective marketing ideas, it’s hard to beat blogging.
  4. Customer Self-Service Tools– Let your customers help themselves. By giving them online tools, you increase customer satisfaction and reduce the operating costs of having these functions handled manually by your staff.Some of the self-service tools I’ve worked on include:
    • Online bill-pay, downloadable forms, & “click-to-talk” phone call button for Long Okura
    • Telephony account administration (manage voicemail, faxes, etc) for I-Link.
    • Print Job management (define, submit, approve proofs, track shpiping) for Vision International.
    • Seminar/conference online registration & payment for ManageMen.
    • Product surveys, sponsored athlete application & shopping cart discounts for First Endurance.

    Almost any manually intensive task can be streamlined by creating an online tool to manage it.

There are lots of other ways to make your website outshine your competitors, but these 4 should give you a good start.

If you have any questions or comments on increasing the effectiveness of your small business website, please leave them in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: How Can I Recycle This

Comments (14)

  1. These are great tips. I think it’s a matter of time… you know, just a few years ago most small businesses didn’t even have a website (can you imagine a business with no online presence??). I assume that 10, 20 years from now, the web will look VERY different, as far as small businesses go.

  2. Hi Sterling,

    What a phenomenal website you’ve created for Long Okura P.C. It is VERY professional looking. I totally understand why they’re attracting such great clients. That site is “dressed for success”

  3. Hi Sterling – I’m so glad you mentioned this. I’ve spoken to so many business owners who have some crappy website that does nothing for their business. When I ask them why they bothered at all – they always say they’re not planning to get any work from the site, but they were told that they needed a web presence. It’s crazy.

    Having a blog is great advice, if they have someone who is willing to work on it. And I’ll be checking out the other tools you mentioned too. Thanks.

  4. @Vered – Good point. A few years ago the #1 problem with small business websites is that they didn’t have one. Thank you for commenting.

    @Barbara – Thank you. It was fun to design.

    @Cath – That it is a great description of a mindset that contributes to the problem. Small business owners were told they had to be listed in the phone book, so they were. Now they’re told they have to be listed on the internet, so they are. If they’re not planning on getting leads online, then they probably won’t until they change their mindset.

  5. Sterling,

    Great great great article, it seems to me a lot of small businesses either have a website just to have one or just ignore having one all together. It’s funny to see sites that are just not user accessible and are flat out ugly (not to say that I could do a better job or anything).

    I really like your 4th point and having a blog is great. I feel that small businesses should establish a blog with helpful free content and fresh news. Chances are someone will find useful content and most likely buy the service.

    Wonderful article, hope to see you post more! By the way, haven’t seen you twittering much, busy with work?

    -Jimmy / mmafight

  6. Sterling, this is so true. I have a cousin who’s an entrepreneur and owned a business for awhile, wasn’t very educated in things online, and slapped up some stock template boring corporate website for his company.

    He paid no attention to cosmetics and usability to it. Instead, he paid big advertising $$ on radio ads which ultimately cost him his business (he wouldn’t listen to my advice about growing his business online – he’s stubborn).

    I think this is a big problem with many entrepreneurs, especially the baby boomers and before generation. They are use to doing things a certain way and as entrepreneurs, many times they can get thick headed and think they know everything.

    In today’s world, advertising offline is fine, but a powerful website is what greatly improves the chances of winning over the client. Create a boring and hard to navigate website, you just lost a customer.

  7. Great post. You only get one chance to make a first impression and many times it’s your website doing it for you. They call this the information age for a reason websites should be resources of great content and yet very few even bother to provide content for their visitors.

  8. @John Hoff – You bring up a good point with the generational gap. I think it is harder for people who have been used to doing business a certain way for decades to adjust to doing business online. Thank you for dropping by.

    @Mike McMahon – I agree, first impressions make a big difference in closing sales. Content is great way to deliver value to visitors and establish your self as an authority in your niche. Thank you for your comment.

  9. I especially like #1. I’ve seen so many people put up a website for the sake of putting up a website and it can’t be done that way. It has to be polished and ready for presentation. I mean c’mon, we all know first impressions matter! I mean, you wouldn’t show up to a business meeting wearing shorts & a t-shirt would you? So don’t hit that publish button until the site is absolutely ready to go!

  10. Sterling – I think my site’s unique? There is not a lot of competition for strange songs and such – I can name my own market, I guess. Be as weird as I wish.

    And I want to thank you very much for your recent comment on my uke song / video. I hope you will learn to play yours too — your two sound like beautiful instruments! As I mentioned in my response to you, now that I am out of “the institution,” I can maybe get some strings on mine!

  11. These are good points. Small business owners especially should realize how important it is to have an outstanding website. If for no other reason, a professional website will give future clients confidence in their product or services.

    ~ Kristi

  12. Pingback: This Week’s Top 5 Recommended Blog Posts for Growing Your Small Business « The Power to Fight the Big Boys

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