Owners of small businesses have one thing in common – they are focused entirely on their business. It’s their “baby” and they nurture it, care for it and are keen to ensure it develops well – just like any good parent. But therein lies the problem for small business owners; they are too close to their business. They can’t see it as others see it.
Online this is a huge problem. Small business owners are so hooked in to their own company, they rarely see it in the same way as their website visitors. Take, as an example, a website for a small hotel or guest house. To the owners of the establishment it’s the quality of their rooms and the brilliant home cooking that people want to know about. And maybe that’s true – but it’s only true for one class of website visitor. It’s only true for the people who have already made their mind up they are likely to want to use that guest house.
But what about the people who don’t yet know they want to stay in a guest house? What about the people who don’t even know that this guest house is a good alternative to the local 4-star hotel? What about the people who don’t even have any plans to go away? The website that emphasises the benefits of the guest house itself never reaches these people.
Most small business owners have web sites which are actually only useful as the “last link” in the chain – for people who have already made the decision to purchase or who are very close to doing so. But what about all the people who don’t even know they want the kind of service the website is offering? That’s a much larger number of people and is a great untapped resource which small businesses miss out on.
For instance, imagine an accountancy firm that offers tax advice. Its website may well be geared to explaining how it goes about offering such advice, the likely fees and the details of the people who will offer such information. There may be directions to the office, an archive of newsletters about tax affairs and so on. But none of that is of any value to anyone unless they already know they need tax advice and are looking for it.
The people who don’t know that a new tax law will affect them don’t know they need tax advice – yet they are the potential customers for the business. Clearly the company website won’t work. The business needs to add links to the chain in order to get such potential customers to engage.
So, for example, our guest house owners could start a website for couples in their 50s whose children have just “flown the nest” and headed off to university. The website could be devoted to what such couples can do with their new found freedom. Clearly, much of the content could well be about having holidays without the children – for the first time in years. Oh and guess where these people might want to go? Yes, you guessed right, a lovely guest house with home cooking.
Or our tax advisers could produce a website for people who own holiday homes with tips and hints on how to make it attractive to potential customers, or how to arrange regular cleaning and so on. Oh and guess what this website will also include? Yes, you’re right again, the need to ensure you claim all the tax benefits you are entitled to on letting a second home.
In other words, you need websites which are about the interests of your potential customers – not the interest of you, the business owner. The less you focus on your “little baby” and the more you focus on what other people are interested in, the more people you will be able to interest. And once you have them interested in a website on their favourite topic you can entice them into your subject and eventually on to your website as by that time they will have almost certainly decided to buy.
It means, ultimately, that a website focused on your business is the last link in the purchasing chain. Before that, your chain needs several websites focused on the interests of your potential customers – the people who don’t yet know they need you.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+