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Web Design:   11 Reasons Not To Have a Web Site
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by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

        WITHIN THE NEXT 60 DAYS you will be asked, "Henry, when is Acme going to get a Web site?" The question could come at a party or mixer or over the telephone, and I want you to be prepared to answer without hesitation or apparent lack of confidence. You probably have a couple of good reasons already. Now you can stock your arsenal with eleven reasons, each of which is fairly believable and contains a good bit of truth. Master them!

1. Too much e-mail

        (Get this one down cold. It sounds very sophisticated.) A Web site might generate too much e-mail from existing customers and prospects for our company to handle. We might have to hire personnel to service these increased inquiries, as well as develop new internal systems. A Web site is just too much work.

        It could happen. Some large businesses have been overwhelmed with floods of e-mail for which they were not staffed. I've had prospective clients who didn't want any way for people to send them e-mail for just such a reason.

        But e-mail is not some evil vampire, it's merely another means of communication. If your existing clients find this means convenient for them it just means they'll use the telephone less, requiring you to shift and retrain some of your customer support staff. Design your response forms to discourage trivial comments, and develop some stock replies to common questions. If new clients come to you via e-mail, feed the prospects to your sales staff and rejoice. Face it. The real issue isn't e-mail overload at all. You just don't really want to go through the pain of growing your company. My experience is that for businesses without a large national marketshare, e-mail volume grows gradually, giving you plenty of time to adjust to it.

2. The Internet is in its infancy.

        (Say this one with an air of assurance.) We don't want to jump in to something which is untried. We'll let someone else make the mistakes, and enter the marketplace when the path is clearer.

        Every new technology has early adopters and later adopters. The problem with adopting a business method (think of the Web as a business method rather than a technology) long after its adoption is that it takes time to learn how to make it work in your business. Early adopters who are persistent waste some time - yes - but they often come out with a competitive advantage which can be difficult to overcome by latecomers.

3. The Internet is just a fad.

This too shall pass.

        No, I don't think it will pass. Evolve? Yes. Change? Oh, yes. But not pass. Already 40 million Americans have access to the Web, with the number increasing by several per cent each month. No, this isn't a fad. (Don't use this excuse in public for risk of embarrassment.)

4. Our industry just isn't there yet.

        None of our competitors are on the Internet yet, so there's no big hurry.
        Wonderful! What an opportunity for you to get there first and make such a big splash that they'll be struggling to catch up! Your competitors won't always be behind the times, however. My mother always reminded my about the early bird getting the worm, etc.

5. The technology is immature and keeps changing.

        We'll jump in when things settle down.

        The rate of change doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Sometimes people resist purchasing a new desktop computer because it will be obsolete a few weeks after they purchase it. They're right, it will be. But it is much more powerful than no computer or the old clunker they currently have. You just have to begin somewhere, despite the moving target. But remember, don't mistake the Internet for technology. We are talking about a business and advertising arena, a method, a place for doing business. Don't let the technology scare you away, it's not the real issue.

6. People just aren't purchasing many products over the Internet.

        We're relying on traditional channels to sell our products, and doing just fine, thank you.

        You're right again. Purchases over the Web for the most part have been slow. But they are increasing at a huge rate each year. In a few years, purchases over the Internet will be a significant slice of all the commerce done in the US, especially in certain industries.

        When Visa and MasterCard finally get the SET standards (or SET II) worked out - and this has been delayed repeatedly - I expect to see a fast growth of customer confidence in Web commerce. Companies positioned to take advantage of this flood of buying will prosper. Those that aren't will find it difficult to play catch-up.

7. We tried a Web site and it bombed.

        We're not going to waste any more money. The Internet is just a lot of hype.

        (Work on this until you can deliver it with a superior sneer. Practice in front of a mirror to get the casual wave of your right hand just right.)

        You're right about one thing: the Internet is swimming in hype. And the make-a-fast-buck Internet speakers who blow through town don't help much. You may have tried it - sort of. You may have had one of those awful looking do-it-yourself sites that turn the stomach, or one so overloaded with graphics that your visitors get impatient and leave. More likely you never aggressively promoted your Web site; you just built it and they didn't come. Like conventional businesses, you need to get a number of things right up front in order to succeed. Business plan, sign, store layout, customer service, literature, advertising mix, staffing. Fail to implement some elements correctly and the business can falter. Building an business Web site without counsel from those who have done it before sets you up for failure. Of course, however, in this case you can blame "the Internet" rather than your own ignorance or ineptitude.

        Of course, some types of businesses by their very nature just don't do well on the Internet. Or the competition has such a lock on that area already that it's prohibitively expensive to break in. But don't blame the Internet. Remember, this isn't about technology, but about a business arena, a business method.

8. We can't compete with big business.

        With huge companies pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Web sites, there's no way a small business can compete or be noticed.

        (This argument will be particularly well-received by business people who have been failures most of their lives. Work on it and you'll see listeners nod their heads knowingly.)

        You're right: some businesses are pouring outrageous sums of money into an Internet presence. But small businesses can effectively compete on the Web in many industries. (a) Large businesses tend to be conservative, committee-driven, and slow on their feet. You "guerrilla marketers" who can move fast, learn quickly from your mistakes, and reposition are able to run rings around your elephant-size competitors on the Web. (b) Smaller businesses can spend thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to produce a Web site every bit as good as their large uncles' sites. You may not be able to compete in real estate or size of your workforce, but the look and functionality of a top quality Web site just aren't that expensive. Your Web customers don't know what your physical storefront looks like, and don't care. (c) Web search engines that millions of Internet citizens use shop for goods and services don't favor larger companies. (d) Considering the national and international marketplace the Internet opens up, all you need is a thin slice of the market share to make a huge difference in your company, while a large company needs large results to see a noticeable difference. What would a 10% to 15% increase in your business mean? Count the dollars!

9. Other means are successful.

        Our business has done quite well with direct mail and small display ads in magazines. We don't think the Web will bring us a significant increase in business.

        Let me disagree. First, the same products and services which can be sold successfully via national direct mail campaigns and display ads in national periodicals are very likely to do well on the Internet. Thus the Internet opens a whole new arena in which you can do business. Second, think of your Web site as an adjunct to your traditional advertising. When you give your Web address in an ad or mailer you have just put an on-line brochure into the hands of your prospects at pennies on the dollar compared to printed media. You pique their interest with the ad, then send them to your Web site to get more information and make a response or purchase. Give them the old one-two punch!

10. It's too expensive.

        Advertising on the Internet is just too expensive.

        Where have you been lately? Yes, there are still a few people trying to charge you a fortune for a Web site, but look again. Prices are stabilizing. A six-page Web site will cost you in the range of $1,000 plus monthly Web hosting fees of perhaps $30, bringing the first-year costs to $1,500 or so. Now compare what that $1,500 will do for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks out of the year compared to a single display ad. Astute business people don't measure advertising by how much it costs, but by what it costs per sale. How many new sales would you have to make over the next 12 months to cover the $1,500? To make a profit? Do the numbers and become astute.

11. Local business limitations.

        Our ability to provide services to customers is limited by their driving distance. The Web just doesn't reach enough people in our area.

        I agree. If you have a donut shop or church in Des Plaines, Illinois, don't waste your money on a Web site to promote it. Right now Web sites are most successful for companies which aren't limited by geography. Get on the Web and you'll get customers from all over the world.

        However, even if you put the Web on your business's back burner, don't take it off the stove entirely. With the rate of growth of people who have Internet access and use the Web regularly, the barber shop in Des Plaines may one day find that a Web site is indeed cost-effective advertising.

        You need to thank me - I've done you a favor. You now have eleven reasons not to build a Web site, where once you had only one or two. Now refine your phrasing and practice so you can deliver them flawlessly at the next party. Or, maybe - just maybe - you'll bypass parties for a while, giving you time to develop the Web site which will take your business to the next level.

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