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Integrating E-Business into Your Small Business
E-Business is an Important Part of Your Business
E-business can be defined as the use of the Internet to conduct business.
For the most part, e-business is about your companyís website and how you use
the site (and your e-mail) to help operate and grow your business. In todayís
marketplace e-business is a very important tool that can help you increase
sales and reduce costs.
Why Does E-Business Matter?
E-business is very important because the number of your customers that are
online and looking for information about products and services is always increasing.
Consumers expect to be able to communicate with your company through your website
and via e-mail. They expect your company to deliver the information they need
immediately. According to Statistics Canada, in 2003 about 64 percent of Canadian
households used the Internet regularly. The number of businesses using the
Internet is even higher. The important point to note here is that the majority
of Canadians are now Internet users, and this percent will only increase with
national broadband initiatives. If you havenít embraced the Internet yet, you
are among a dwindling minority.
Key E-Business Issues to Consider
You should always think about your goals and objectives and plan how e-business
is going to work for your business. Hire a professional to help you determine
your needs. It is also important to consider the return on investment. Any
e-business initiative should pay for itself, either by increasing your sales
or reducing the costs of operating your business. When integrating e-business
into your small business there are several key issues to consider, including:
- Proper planning Ė Hire a professional to help you
- Return on investment Ė The e-business initiative should pay for itself
- Sales and marketing Ė How does e-business fit with your sales cycle?
- Customer relationship management Ė Provide a superior customer experience
- Business productivity Ė Increased efficiency translates to profit
- Managing and updating your website Ė Stay connected with your audience
How E-Business Works with Your Sales and Marketing
Sales and marketing is all about communicating with your target audience,
and e-business is a great communications tool. E-business can help you reach
your target market and convince customers to purchase a product or service.
E-business can also help you manage your sales and marketing process more efficiently
which, in turn, increases your profit margin.
Sell More Stuff
E-business isnít always about your customers buying directly online with a
credit card. Many business models just donít fit well with direct online sales.
It all depends on how your customers buy from your company. Your website might
work best as an information resource that tells visitors why your company is
great and why your products offer value. Or your website might be a product
catalog with deep information that helps people begin to configure their orders.
After the sale, your website can act as a support tool, answering common questions
your customers have about their new products, or it can provide technical support
Reach More Customers
E-business can help you get a lot more out of your marketing budget. A website
(and e-mail communication) can reach new markets at much lower costs than traditional
marketing. For example, your website can offer an online product catalog, allowing
you to spend less money on printing paper catalogs. Instead you might spend
that money on a teaser brochure that you can send to a wider target audience
or on a targeted e-mail marketing campaign. These marketing tools can direct
people to the full online catalog. The result is that you reach far more people
for the same amount of money.
Keep It Professional
Now that youíll be reaching so many more possible customers with your website,
itís important to have a good website that mirrors the quality and reputation
of your brick-and-mortar company. Hire a professional consultant to help you
sort out the issues of how your e-business strategy will work best with your
business. A poor website will spread a negative impression of your company,
and you certainly want to avoid that.
Build Stronger Relationships with Your Customers
E-business can help you improve your customer relationships which, in turn,
should lead to increased sales and good word-of-mouth about your business.
Customers expect your business to have a good website that delivers useful
information, and they expect to be able to communicate with you quickly and
easily through e-mail. Donít disappoint them.
Know Your Customers
Every business should have a good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software
package (whether itís on the office computer or web-based). This software allows
you to build a database of all your customers, and enter all sorts of details
about each customer. Good CRM software will help you see purchasing trends,
track customer requests or complaints, and much more.
Communicate with Customers Regularly
Through your website and e-mail communications, you can stay in contact with
your customers at a very low cost. As you interact with customers you should
build up a permission-based mailing list, so that you can start sending out
a regular e-mail newsletter. Itís important to get permission from your customers
before putting them on the e-mail list. Customers appreciate useful information,
but they will have a very poor impression of your company if you spam them
with useless information they didnít request.
What Kind of Information Should You Send to Customers?
The simple answer is this Ė information that is useful and meaningful to your
customers. Here are a few examples of information you might send to customers:
- New product announcements and details of new product features
- Product information tailored to a customerís specific request and preferences
- Relevant news items about your company
- Price changes or special offers such as website-only deals
- General industry news and helpful tips
Run Your Business More Efficiently
Using e-business properly can help you work more efficiently and increase
business productivity. Working smarter usually translates directly to your
bottom-line profit. While e-business usually refers to your website and e-mail,
it also means using computer technology to make your business operation more
You Can Always Work Smarter
Here are just a few examples of how companies use e-business to work more
- Website Statistics
Website statistics allow you to monitor how many people are visiting your
site, where they come from, what information in the site is the most popular,
and much more. Monitoring site traffic can help you identify opportunities.
For example, you might notice an increase in visitors from another country.
This may mean you have an export market opportunity.
- E-mail Communication
E-mail is fast and affordable, allowing you to communicate easily with your
customers, your own staff, your suppliers, and anyone else involved in
your business. E-mail is a great way to keep everyone on the same page
and reduce communication problems. Another benefit of e-mail is that can
be a searchable database of all your business communications.
- Employee Training
You can use the Internet to deliver training courses at a much lower cost
than in a traditional classroom situation. Your staff can upgrade skills,
learn about new product support issues, and much more. Online learning
is fast, effective, and affordable.
- Sourcing Business Needs
You can use the Internet to source almost anything your business needs, from
finding new suppliers, to searching for new employees, or even finding
a business partner in a new market. The Internet can save you a lot of
Managing and Updating Your Website
Updating your website with timely and useful information is a key strategy
for success. Your customers expect you to keep your site current, with new
pricing or product information, news articles, company information, and more.
Pay Your Developer to Update Your Website
Unless your business is building and managing websites, you should consider
outsourcing the job of updating your site to a professional. There is a huge
time and opportunity cost in doing it yourself. Having someone inside your
business update your website costs you not only the money you pay that person
for that amount of time, but it also costs you the time that person could have
spent working on your business. A good website will pay for itself many times
over, including the cost of updating, so itís a poor use of time and resources
to try a do-it-yourself solution. There are some content management solutions
that can make it easier and more cost effective to update your own website.
Make a Plan and Stick to a Schedule for Updates
While you may not be updating your own website, you do need to be actively
involved in providing your technical partner with the content to add to your
site. Talk to your web developer about how you will deliver information (such
as in a Word document) and set up a schedule for regular updates (once per
week, once per month, quarterly). Your website developer should be able to
Appoint an Editor
You should decide who in your business is going to be responsible for organizing
the content for updating the site. This person is essentially an editor, and
it is his or her job to gather up content for updates and make sure it gets
to the website developer on time and in the correct format. Itís still important
to keep an eye on the opportunity cost. Make sure people in your business arenít
spending too much time creating content for the website. Look for efficient
ways to source content for your website and identify which content is most
valuable to your customers. Often you can get permission to add industry newsletter
or magazine articles to your site, or even content from other websites.
There are lots of resources and information available for anyone who wants
to explore the subject of integrating e-business into your small business.
Your local Business Service Centre is a great place to start. Below are some
other good resources:
- e-Business 2.0: Roadmap for Success, by Marcia Robinson
- The Complete E-Commerce Book, by Janice Reynolds
- Internet Marketing for Dummies, by Frank Catalano