The majority of the projects that we handle as a small design studio are for local and non-profit small businesses, as well as organizations. This is one of the core pillars of LovelyPixels, and we hope that our business model will forever focus on providing high-quality design work to our local, small business community, at reasonable and manageable rates. When working with small businesses, we often run into a common theme – the client asks “why is it so important that I have a website?” or “I have been in business for over 20 years, why would I need a website now?”

With these types of questions floating around, we can safely assume that the business owner falls into one of two categories. Either they are just not aware of how the marketing and advertising industry has changed, or their concerns revolve around a websites “return-on-investment” value.

First, lets look at how the market has changed in the way of how the majority of people search for information. Ten years before the Internet became a house-hold utility bill, if you were looking for a handyman to come over to make a minor repair around your house, you had three major resources you were most likely to migrate to. One was the Yellow-Pages – where you could thumb through specific handyman or home repair sections, then call to talk to someone. Second – you could ask a friend, and if that friend knew of a good handyman, they would share their experience and recommendations based on their experience. Finally – you could look for an advertisement. Aside from their Yellow pages listing, the majority of small businesses relied on pumping money into marketing campaigns such as flyers, billboards, coupon packs, yard signs and radio ads. All of these advertising outlets are still used successfully in today’s marketing, but the target audience has drastically altered how they seek specific information.

Today, it is estimated that over 85% of people begin looking for a service provider or product by searching for it online.

Along with that, the vast majority of those people using the search engines report that they judge a company’s worth and quality on the way their website looks – and how much information the site provides.

So, if missing out on potentially 85% of the people looking for your product or service isn’t enough of a reason for you to consider building your online presence, allow us to provide some deeper perspective for your consideration.

Do Not Be Ignorant to Your Direct Competition

Every small business has direct competition. And most of the time, that competition is some corporation out for world domination. You can bet that they have teams of people pushing advertising and website campaigns that put them at the top. But rest assured, you can get a piece of that business because many communities and consumers recognize the need to promote and purchase from local businesses to ensure their direct economy flourishes.

Aside from corporate companies, you also recognize that you more than likely have a few direct, local competitors – and these competitors probably have an online presence. How does your compare?

Customers Want Convenience

How convenient are you to find right now if someone has misplaced your business card? If they search online, will you come up in the rankings?

A business has a need to stay in front of customers as well as be easily found. This is why when you are looking for a storefront for your business, you typically choose the one in an incredibly high traffic area – unless of course you are a mushroom farmer. Mushroom farmers do not have a real need for foot-traffic.

Your Credibility is on the Line

This is probably the hardest concept for small businesses to accept, but we are going to continue to drive this one into the foreground of our web conversations.

Your website contributes to a major percentage of your credibility.

If you have a website from 1998 that is full of clip art and lacking in valid content relating to your products and services, your potential customer base will see that as laziness on your part. If you have no website at all, you are in an even worse situation; a large portion of that 85% mentioned earlier will likely never find you. And if on the off chance they do find you in an online business directory, it is estimated that less than 3% of those online searcher will reach out to a company via an online directory.

So, in order to build credibility, you need to build trust. Trust is built by giving your audience examples of your work, success stories, client testimonials and relative information. Do any of the advertising methods you currently use convey trust? If not, you are losing audience.

Never Pass Down the Opportunity to Build a Relationship With Your Customers

What are the benefits of a small business to a consumer? The first one that comes to mind is the personal attention you tend to receive from a smaller company. Small business owners typically put more care into their client base because they are able to establish that one-on-one contact with their customers. Why not carry that over to a website?

Keeping an active conversation with your clients via a monthly newsletter, or providing them with on-site offers such as discount coupons can keep your relationship involved. Building a relationship with your customers outside of when you are accepting their money is (or should be) a founding principle to any business.

It is Incredibly Cheap Advertising!

Yes, that is right. Your website is the cheapest form of advertising you could ever ask for. The possibilities are endless as to how much information you put on your website. You can go into elaborated depths about your products, services, experience, etc. Pair that up with clean, high-end graphics that are professionally designed, and you are guaranteed to see a return on your investment almost instantly. Promote your website with some creative off-site advertisements or some basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to push people to your website, and you will expand your audience reach.

A Website Can Save Your Reputation

People turn to the web everyday to report good and bad experiences, but let’s be a honest about human behavior. When someone has a horrible customer experience, they are substantially more likely to voice their complaints than they are to voice good reviews.

People discuss bad customer service and products on Facebook, blog posts, twitter and  sites such as the Better Business Bureau. One fowl customer review can be enough to cause detrimental online damage if you do not have a website and social network following to prove it otherwise.

Everyone has those clients you just cannot satisfy. They complain about everything, always demand you go the extra mile for free and see your services as something they can barter for. These people can be completely irrational and impossible to serve. To better protect your company image, having a website puts control back in your hands. If someone says that they will never visit that local café ever again because the food was cold and stale, you can easily counter-attack these claims by posting positive user reviews, testimonials and company updates to let the public know what you are doing to correct any public issues. It also allows your social followers to get involved in the conversations.

Social Media Cannot Stand on Its Own

Quite a few businesses think that having a Facebook Page is enough for their business. Truth be told, Facebook (or any other social networking site) can be an irreplaceable resource for businesses to find leads and turn them into clients. But ultimately, you need to keep in mind the common trends of people today. When someone is actively looking for a service, they are going to Google, Yahoo or Bing to search the internet. An incredibly small amount of people look on Facebook or Twitter for a business, so again, this points back to the main issue of not adapting to your audience.

Think of social media as the extra to a website. The sole purpose of a social media account in business should be to stay in front of your followers and connect with them on a regular basis. A social networking account cannot compare to the marketing power of a well-designed website, nor can it reach as many people as a professional website will.

Advertising has changed. There are tons of studies on the new sales cycle and how it has changed business on almost every facet. Technology continues to truck along at record speeds, and with new technology and trends come new behaviors in everyday life. It is not something you can afford to ignore anymore.