Would you search the Internet for a professional (e.g., CPA, physician, attorney, financial planner) and, upon finding a stunning Web site, plunk down your hard-earned money without checking that person's credentials?
That's easy. Most of us prefer working with those Internet businesses having the best reputation for quality of product or service, invoicing, packing and shipping, and customer service.
But how can small or new businesses on the Internet compete with those like Harry and David and Nordstrom? What do successful Web business owners know that beginners do not? Much of it has to do with credentials, credibility, self-respect, and respect for others.
Successful bricks and mortar businesses, regardless of size and location, know that they must have quality products. They know that they must not only get the prospect into the store, but must make sure that they communicate everything clearly: prices, sizes, shapes, attributes, return policy, etc. They must provide pleasantly lighted surroundings with the proper temperature. And they must treat customers with respect. They must show that they value the customers' time.
Their shoppers don't need someone hovering nearby, but they do need to know help is always available, and that they will not be treated as criminals if they bring back a product that was the wrong size, the wrong model, or that has flaws.
The same principles hold true for a virtual business. If you want your business to succeed on the Web, spend some time and effort reflecting yourself. Your ethics. Your attitude toward your community. Treat your visitors with respect. How, you ask, do you respectfully treat a person you will never meet?
J. C. Penney Company has a site just for the full-figured woman. People can create their own permanent model based on the specifications they give online. The concept is dazzling and successful. They're aware of the sensitivity involved in asking someone to give weight and body dimensions. Check out their Just4Me privacy statement. This company is sensitive to the privacy its shoppers require and deserve. Way to go, J. C. Penney!
- Design an About Us page or group of pages. Create a business profile/resume as part of the area. Mention community involvement, such as volunteer work (schools, church, nonprofits, etc.). Note any professional affiliations, and any significant awards. Provide links to professional associations or organizations whenever possible. Write a bio of yourself in the form of a press release that people can easily find on your site. Whatever works for you.
- Consider affiliating yourself with a group of ethical Internet professionals who will hold you accountable for your business ethics. Place the group's graphic on your pages when possible. If the graphic's too large, make a text link to the organization's URL. Put the name of the organization in as a keyword or as keywords in your Meta tags. Be creative.
- Post your business name, address, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail address on every page of your site. Many people cannot click on "mailto" links, so the very best way is to link to your contact page. If possible, list prices for your services. Make everything on your site easy to navigate. This says, "I care about you" to the visitor.
- If you have trouble spelling and punctuating, hire someone to check your site text for typos. If you can't afford to hire someone, try bartering, or ask a friend or relative for help. Everything about your site - your text, graphics, design, and layout - makes a strong statement regarding the value you place on your visitor and on yourself. You will probably make mistakes, even when trying. We all do. And when someone brings it to your attention, you have the opportunity to make a new friend.
- Find a niche. Please! Even if your niche is as a multi-talented specialist. Don't try to sell your product or services to the entire world. Search for a way to show your uniqueness. Are you a specialist in something? Talk about how you use that specialty to ease the businessperson's stress. It doesn't mean you can't have other profit centers/niches. And if you have several specialties, clearly list them.
It's okay to start out being ignorant of the components that help make a successful Web business. It's also okay to work and re-work in an effort to improve your presentation. Talented, enthusiastic people run rampant through the Internet and your community. These wonderful people sometimes offer free help and mentoring for inexperienced business owners and designers. Search for the equipment to paint an authentic picture of yourself.
Make it easy for visitors to grasp the level of your professionalism. Let them see that you are there to make their lives easier. That you're trustworthy. That they can hire you for a project and expect you to see it through to the end. Efficiently and cost-effectively. You've then started painting enough of a picture for them to decide whether or not to transact business with you. It's a process that never stops.
For more information, contact Judy Vorfeld.