Want to drum up some business? Good word of mouth is undeniably crucial, but in this day and age, a solid online presence is just as important, according to a new study from Vistaprint.
Yes, the business card people are also interested in how consumers and small businesses engage with one another online. See, while Vistaprint may be known for its business card printing services, the company has expanded into small business website and marketing services over the years.
In its survey of 2,000 American consumers, Vistaprint discovered that "online presence is neck-and-neck with word-of-mouth" in terms of how consumers discover small businesses for the first time, Scott Bowen, vice president and general manager of Vistaprint Digital Services, told Small Business Computing. Roughly a third of respondents will patronize a small business because of a recommendation from a friend, and nearly 37 percent of people surveyed say they seek out local shops and service providers online.
"Our customers tell us that their customers find them online," Bowen added.
Alarmingly, many small businesses remain virtually invisible online. "About half of small business owners don't have a website, don't have an online presence," said Bowen.
Vistaprint's findings align with a study conducted earlier this year by Clutch, a Washington D.C. market research firm. After quizzing 350 U.S.-based small business owners and managers, Clutch found that 46 percent don't have a website to call their own.
Do Online Presence Right or Not at All
Before you rush out to secure a domain name and slap up a website, Bowen warns that there's a fate far worse than being a nonentity online.
"A shoddy or antiquated online presence is actually worse than no online presence at all," cautioned Bowen. Nearly half of the people polled said they were unlikely to shop at a business with an unprofessional or poorly-designed website. Their reasoning: they fear it reflects the quality of the service and products that they can expect.
Today, a polished website looks and works well on mobile browsers. As small business owners weigh their options, they need to think beyond desktop browsers and seek out providers of mobile-optimized and responsive website services, suggested Bowen. "Pinch-and-zoom was a novelty years ago, but it's not a thing [anymore]."
Bowen also advised small business owners to work social media into their online marketing strategies. Sixty percent of the people polled said a social media presence is important for a small business. One out of every four millennials finds small businesses on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites for the first time.
Finally, "online reputation management is also important," said Bowen. Seventy-five percent of consumers say it's important to read online reviews before setting foot in a small business. To start building your online reputation, get listed on Yelp, Google, and social media. Claim and manage those listings to make certain that you have a voice in how consumers perceive your business when they visit those sites.
It takes work, but laying the groundwork gives you a greater chance of growing your customer base.
Shoppers Love Small Business
Amazon, with its same-day shipping, a seemingly endless stockroom, and the possibility of drone-delivered packages inspires more than a little fear (and some loathing) in small business owners. Don't worry too much, urged Bowen. Small businesses still hold a special place in shoppers' hearts.
One-third of shoppers said they frequent a small business at least once a week. Three-quarters reported that they shop small at least once a month. Small businesses "continue to enjoy great traction—a ton of traction—in the local community," said Bowen.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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