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Should your business sell products online?

By Anthony Doesburg, MSN NZ Money writer
Monday, May 7, 2012
Selling your business online. Image: Getty

What kind of small business shouldn't be attempting to sell products online?

That's a far harder question to answer than whether the Internet should be part of your trading activities — to which the only response is, yes!

Those small business owners making a perfectly good living without going near the Internet might protest that an online presence would be a waste of time and money.

Perhaps so now, although they might be surprised at how an appropriate website could make a good business even better. And as time goes on, any business that is absent from the Internet will find itself at a disadvantage.

What sort of website?
The key question is what kind of site is appropriate to our business? What level of web presence you should have depends on the kind of business you're in.

For some small businesses, the Internet is their entire reason for existence. The most famous example of a business that depends totally on the Internet is Amazon, the US company that started selling books online in 1995.

Almost a decade-and-a-half later, Amazon is anything but a small business. Today it sells everything from DVDs to scientific instruments — and, including computing services — bringing in revenue of about US$15 billion ($22 billion) a year.

Your small business will probably have more modest aspirations than Amazon. However, a Web presence is bound to be of benefit, even if it makes no sense for you to be selling your products or services online.

The all-powerful Web
If yours is the kind of activity that precludes Web sales — you might have just a handful of customers to whom you deliver an unvarying service — a website can still be a powerful tool.

On the Web, no-one knows how grand your enterprise is — the two-person home-based design firm in Taumaranui can foot it with the hotshot San Francisco bureau — making it an excellent promotional medium.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. The look and feel of your site is as much a giveaway about your business as your premises, stationery and any other elements exposed to customers. But sophisticated site design doesn't have to cost a whole lot more than a clunky effort.

For a small business starting out and wondering what Web presence is appropriate, a good place to go is the websites of similar outfits. Take a critical look, decide what works and what doesn't and take your wish list to a website developer whose work has caught your eye.

Is there any small business that shouldn't be online? No, even if your website merely acts as a point of contact for potential customers, suppliers or partners.