Some small-business owners are successful without help from the Internet. But as Web presence increasingly becomes a measure of credibility, the advantages and growing ease of creating a business website are prompting more holdouts to make the leap.
One is Lynelle Walker, who runs a geriatric care service in Orange County, Calif. She says she hesitated to use the Internet to market her business, but she's planning to launch a website in the next few months with the goal of obliging potential customers who "want to get a lot of information before they even speak with you." Walker said she's still trying to decide whether to hire a Web designer or learn how to do it herself.
Doing it yourself may not be so difficult. Books and how-to websites offer help to people who don't consider themselves tech-savvy.
Internet tools help business owners increase their visibility and provide useful information that pulls in customers, says Anita Campbell, editor of the blog SmallBizTrends.com.
"It has widened their circles of people they know well beyond their normal areas," she said. "Typically, we were limited to who we could meet, but now we can be meeting people all over the world and doing it all from the comfort of our offices."
Even a rudimentary site with basic information, such as location and hours of operation, can draw potential customers, especially if it appears in a Google Maps search.
Victor Liu, CEO of an Irvine, Calif.-based Web-design firm called Web Advanced, recommended using an array of Internet tools to market a business, including setting up a website and creating a profile on a professional networking site.
Although Liu's company designs websites for other businesses, his service could be too costly for start-ups or small-business owners. He charges businesses about $3,000 to $10,000 to design a basic website, depending on the content.
But Liu said if they spend about 15 hours researching books and how-to websites, people without technology backgrounds could set up basic websites on their own.
Julie Martin, a makeup artist and owner of Resolutions Lifestyle Makeup in Minneapolis suburb Maple Grove, said her business website, which she created and updates, lets customers "see that I'm a viable business."
Martin said her website helps her save time and trim costs by letting her communicate with hundreds of clients instantaneously through e-mail. When customers join her e-mail list, she sends them information about new products, which she sells on her website.
"The response is amazing," she said. "I literally sent out an e-mail at 12:50, and I got an order back at 12:50. This is such a faster way to communicate with people."
And it's cheap. Martin said she pays about $170 a year for a domain name, e-mail address and templates for her website. The number of visitors to her site has nearly tripled since 2005.
Some business owners "might be a little afraid" of using the Internet, but they don't realize its benefits, Martin said. The Internet is also a way to see what competitors are marketing, she added.
In addition to setting up personal websites and blogs, millions of professionals are setting up Web profiles on social networking websites such as LinkedIn.com and MySpace.com. LinkedIn.com, the most popular networking site for professionals, sometimes called "MySpace for grown-ups," saw its number of users climb to 10 million this month. Most business owners say networking on websites such as LinkedIn is secondary to having their own sites. A Web profile gives potential customers background information so they can decide where they want to do business. It's also a way to learn about and connect with other businesses.
Typically, such profiles are not enough to bring in new