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Let's say your small business specializes in 4th of July merchandise - sparklers, picnic supplies, or red, white, and blue underwear. Whatever the product, you want to expand your customer base, sell those Old Glory neckties from Anchorage, Alaska to Bangor, Maine. For that, a friend advises, you need a Web site, something that will spread your name and business across the country. But you're having trouble justifying the cost, commitment, and expense of such an undertaking. More importantly, you just don't understand how, or why, a Web site can help your business grow.

Here are 5 ways the Web can do just that:

  1. Buys You Credibility Having a business Website has become one of the signs -- along with business cards and a business phone number -- that you're serious. It's all the better if you have a business domain name and custom e-mail address. You can't put a price on credibility, and a Website is an easy way to acquire it.
  2. Puts You Ahead of Local Competition Most of your local competition isn't likely to have a Web site, so having one - as long as it's credible and competent - will put you a step ahead in getting new business. Of course, if a local competitor down the block already has a site and you're a step behind, it's imperative that you meet, then exceed, the challenge quickly.
  3. Keeps You Up With the Joneses Nationally Your customers have a choice: Your small, service-oriented company or some impersonal but nationally-known giant. If the giant has a Web site and you don't, you've just given customers another reason for not choosing you.
  4. Makes You Think Through What You're Doing For many small businesses, creating a Web site is their first comprehensive marketing effort. If this is you, you'll find yourself really thinking through what you're doing and why people should buy from you - perhaps for the first time since you started your company. This effort can make you rethink and improve what you offer.
  5. Gives You a Base for Your Marketing Efforts If you're expanding your marketing effort to use (or better use) resources such as the Yellow Pages, fliers, advertisements, e-mail, direct (postal) mail, and telemarketing, you'll refer people to your Web site over and over again. Even if people don't visit, the mere fact of referring people to it will help make them take you seriously. Real marketing efforts are a web - no pun intended - of strategic planning, customer identification, customer communication, and selling. Your Website can be the linchpin of your year-round marketing effort that takes your business to the next level. If you don't have time for that, you need to make some.
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