From fashion to interior designs to events management and even branding, the lists of small businesses are ever ever increasing. This trend is highly commendable noting the fact that its widely postulated that small and medium enterprises are major catalysts to drive the growth of economies especially in developing nations such as ours.
However, being in the business of perception management and having the rare opportunity of inter-phasing with these small business owners, I realized that most of them do not understand the intangible value of a functional web presence in growing their businesses. Many small businesses still don't have websites, and those that do are not utilizing them as effectively as they should. In this piece, I wish to share my considerable knowledge and practical experience as an entrepreneur.
First, I should start by asking if you have ever seen a serious business such as banks and global institutions use yahoo, gmail or hotmail email accounts to communicate officially? This is rare and almost impossible. You can imagine how you will feel when you get a business related email from your bank using an email account that reads as such "Skyebankcustomerservice@yahoo.com". It is rather unprofessional and in most cases first association you get is that the email originated from fraudulent sources.
Believe it or not, 80% of Nigerian SMEs use email addresses that follow such pattern. Most complementary cards you pick up today have email addresses that reads "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com". Businesses that are caught in this web have higher chances of being perceived as unserious than their counterparts who have emails such as "firstname.lastname@example.org"
In another case scenario, imagine a friend attempts to refer a business prospect to you and the prospect requests for your website address so that he or she could look up your range of services, your existing clientele and your business fundamentals just in a bid to form the first perception to determine if you might be the right candidate to do business with, only to realize you don't have a website. Survey has shown that the prospects interest in patronizing you drops by 20% relative to a competitor who has a website where the client can turn to for fundamental background check.
As I have always stated, it is all about perception. How your business is perceived determines the premium placed on your products and services.
5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD STOP USING FREE EMAIL SERVICES FOR YOUR BUSINESS
1. email@example.com looks more serious and professional than firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Not being able to own your domain name (e.g. www.sholaevents.com) makes customers feel you are cheap and hence place low premium on your services
3. Your own business email adds credibility and shows that you are here to stay
4. Free emails can be easily hijacked and used to defraud
5. Having emails such as email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com creates the impression that your business is big and well organized.
I can tell you from a practical point of view that my business experienced a leap from the moment I started to leverage on web presence in my business operation. I recall that my first big-break in business came from an email transaction and the first physical contact I had with the company I was serving came at the point when I went to pick up my cheque for initial installment with respect to the transaction. I didn't even have a physical office at the time but I was trusted to execute a job of about 2million naira. I can vividly recall the shocking expression by the company's representative the day he discovered at the later end of the project that I was working from home. In his words he said, "all along, we have had this impression of a big agency..." This is largely due to the fact that I created the right perception backed by a very solid web presence.
All small-business owners need a Web presence, but one major barrier we have observed is the impression that it is not affordable. Fortunately, I can say that this school of thought is not totally true. It is easier than ever to create a low-budget, high-impact website. You can find the right mix of tools and resources to create an exciting small-business Web presence without breaking the bank.