Can My Business Survive Without Being Online?

I never thought I’d say this, but I love teaching. When I’m in front of a room of professionals or students, I’m surrounded by people hungry to expose themselves to something new. That intellectual curiosity is inspiring, so I rarely turn down a request to give a presentation.

My favorite moments are when I get questions from students or audience members that give me pause. This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I was teaching a marketing class at St. Charles Community College, and after a great discussion of finding your “why,” the conversation moved to online marketing – websites, blogging, social media, and the world of Google. A student who was in the early stages of starting a new business asked me something I’d never been asked before:

“Can my business survive without being online?”

He was concerned about developing a website, keeping it fresh with new content and participating in social media channels.

I’m a walker when I talk, and that question literally stopped me in my tracks. I looked at him and replied that I’d never been asked that before. Usually, entrepreneurs and business people are quick (sometimes too quick) to jump into a multitude of channels without considering the why, what, and who that goes into the strategy behind the tactics. I applaud this man for contemplating whether being online was the right avenue for him. But now, to the answer of the question:

Perhaps you can “survive,” but is survival really what you’re going for in your business, or do you want to thrive and grow?

Let’s consider the website part of the question first. Your website is the first place customers go to qualify or disqualify you as someone they’d like to do business with. As your b2c crm software might have apprised you, they want to get to know you first before taking that huge step of picking up the phone to call you or visiting your business. If you’re absent from the internet, they can’t do that. They may not even think you’re a legitimate business, or assume you don’t plan to stay in business very long because you’re not committed enough to have a website.

When it comes to media, a friend of mine at a local television station once told me: “If I get a press release from a company, the first thing I do is go to the business’s website. It could be a great story, but if I can’t see their website first – or if the website is really bad – I won’t cover the story.” Moral of the story, lack of a website (a good website) could result in lost media opportunities.

While your website is your “home base” property for your communications online, social media provides the channels for you to share content and engage with your audience. On social, you get the opportunity to:

  • Share epic content: provide valuable information, tips, commentary that your audience will want to see, and keep coming back for. Kind of like this recent post about what the heck that extra hole is in your running shoes. Not only did it get shared all over social media, but it was also picked up by traditional and online media outlets.
  • Make your audience feel special: Share exclusive specials and deals with them. Give them a sneak peak at new products, or VIP nights to preview sales.
  • Do a little down & dirty market research: Want to know what your audience is thinking? Ask them! Social media is a great place to gather feedback, and give you some insight you may not otherwise have.

Notice what all these things – your website and your social media – have in common: they help you build a relationship with your audience. Your potential customers and followers get to see who you are, what you believe in, what value you can add to their lives, and even have one-on-one conversations. These are all things that individuals in your audience are looking for today. They don’t want to be “marketed to.” They want conversations, and they want those conversations to be tailored to their needs and wants. Your online strategy and timely execution of tactics allows you to do just that.

So the big question revolves around the resources it takes to do all this and do it well. My advice is always to create a plan around what you can realistically bite off. Regardless of how large your organization is, or even how much money you have, it’s best to think strategically about how you’re going to create your online plan, who will be in charge of it and how it will best be implemented.

So, can your business survive without being online? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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