The internet permits every size of business to:
- Improve communications
- Access information
- Cut costs
- Improve efficiency
- Find new business opportunities
- Work more closely with customers
- Work more closely with suppliers.
To take benefit of these benefits, it is vital that you fully understand the potential for the internet to enhance the ways in which you do business now and in the future.
Basics of the Internet
Connecting to the internet
Most businesses connect to the Internet via a broadband connection, with the main benefits of this being its speed. Mobile broadband i.e. on your phone, is also becoming increasingly popular, chiefly for those who travel for business or who work at different locations.
A website for your business?
Decide whether your business would really benefit from having a website. Many businesses benefit from having a bare-bones website which provides:
- Contact details
- Products and services
- Prices or rates etc.
- Building-up your brand awareness.
Typical reasons to have a website include:
- Reducing costs
- Selling products and services
- Improving customer support
- Showcasing your portfolio
Consider what customers will want when they visit your site i.e. your phone number, your product prices, photographs of your previous work. How you can initially attract them and what will encourage them to return i.e. special offers.
Buying and selling on the Internet
The internet can bring new opportunities for your company to buy and sell goods and services online – this is generically referred to as e-commerce.
Business relationships online can be roughly separated into two main kinds:
- business to consumer (B2C) – selling products or services directly to individual consumers
- business to business (B2B) – selling goods or services to other businesses.
Business to consumer
Selling goods in a B2C environment generally requires a website with an online shop front with people anywhere in the world browsing it. When they choose to make a purchase they proceed to an electronic ‘checkout’ where there will be some form of payment-processing function to handle the debit or credit cards.
Business to business
One of the most significant B2B developments has been the growth of online auctions. These are computerised versions of traditional auctions where prices are set by buyers bidding against each other. Another B2B development is the e-marketplace where buyers and sellers trade goods and services online.
Using the Internet to work more effectively
The internet can act as the foundation of secure business, client and supplier networks. It allows computer systems to talk to each other, enhancing the way your employees and customers access information. It can also help to improve efficiency and productivity, reduce costs and cut maintenance time via outsourcing.
Promoting your business via the internet
If you make a well designed website, you can quickly compete on an equal footing with your larger competitors online. likewise, the use of online marketing activities gives businesses of any size reasonable access to the mass market.
If you build a website you can reach anyone with internet access, anywhere in the world. Online marketing will permit you to tap into new markets and compete globally for only a small investment.
A properly planned, targeted online campaign can reach the right customers at a much lower cost than traditional marketing methods. Online marketing also gives you with measurable results, so that you can see how effective your campaigns have been.
Methods of promoting your website
- Paying for advertising on search engines or relevant other websites.
- Constructing your website site so that it appears higher up the list of search engine results – a strategy commonly referred to as search engine optimisation (SEO).
- Using email and text messages – SMS (Short Messaging Service) – to carry out marketing campaigns.
The name of your website (your domain name) is a vital element in your online promotional activities. The domain name should symbolize your image effectively and make your product or service clear to potential clients. Ideally, it should be easy to remember, easy to spell.
Benefits of email and the internet
Email has become a necessary method of business communication and if used properly it is an particularly efficient and effective form of communication that can be used to transmit all kinds of electronic data.
Some of the advantages of using email include:
- price – sending an email costs the same in spite of of distance and the number of people you send it to
- speed – an email should reach its recipient in minutes
- convenience – your message will be stored until the recipient is ready to read it, and you can easily send the same message to a large number of people
- permanent records – a record can be kept of messages and replies, including details of when a message arrived
Some potential disadvantages of using email include:
- spam – unsolicited email that can overwhelm your email system
- viruses spreading through email attachments
- emails being easily sent to the wrong person accidentally
One of the major benefits of using email is that you can quickly and with no trouble send electronic files to a large number of people at the same time.
You can also set up your email software so that:
- it automatically creates entries in your address book for every message you send or receive
- incoming emails are responded to automatically
Using email for business
Email is a powerful and cheap communications tool that businesses are using to market their goods and services and also enhance customer services.
Marketing by email
Your email can give a cost-effective way of marketing as your customers can be targeted cheaply and instantly. Encouraging the recipients of marketing emails to forward them on to their friends and family is known as viral marketing.
An important point to remember is that you must only send emails to those people who have agreed that you can contact them, as doing otherwise is considered as spamming.
Improving customer service
Email can be a useful tool for enhancing your customer service. Encouraging customers to contact you by email can benefit both parties as they do not have to hold on the phone or make contact during working hours and you do not have to respond straight away, which can free up staff from answering the phone as give you more time.
However, it’s important to set a sensible reply period and stick to it or you may find customers giving-up on email and going back to the telephone.