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Do consumers trust a small business without a website?

We’ve all seen so many people talk about the value of having a website: It helps build credibility, makes you look professional and serious, helps you reach a new audience, and drives traffic to your business, yada, yada, yada. In fact, there’s so much online about websites that even ChatGPT and Bard have a lot more to say than you’d expect. I know because I asked them both.

If you’re still unsure a website is worth your money and time, you’re likely a micro business with little to spend on things you don’t see immediate value in. If the internet hasn’t convinced you already, then AI recycling all those articles isn’t going to convince you either.

But I’d still maintain that you need a website. Hear me out.

Social media isn’t a substitute for a website

If you’re a micro business and you don’t have a website yet, then chances are you’re using a different platform to run your everyday operations—like Facebook or Instagram. After all, globally over a billion people contact brands through Meta’s products: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

The data checks out, too—Meta makes it easy for businesses and customers to engage with each other. All you have to do is set up a page on Facebook and/or Instagram, set up a “book now” button and you’re well on your way to making money. Because Facebook groups are so community-oriented, you can engage with your ideal audience and directly convert them. It sounds so easy, straightforward, and, most importantly—free.

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But you have to ask: Is anything ever really free?

Meta is helpful, yes. But only for as long as it’s around. Remember the media bargaining code incident in 2021? The government wanted Facebook and Google to start paying media outlets for every news item they display on their respective platforms. After a lot of negotiations, and Google threatening to remove Search from Australia, we all woke up one day to realise that Facebook had pulled all media channels’ pages from its platform. What upset me most was deleting the Bureau of Meteorology (the BOM), but I might be in a minority there.

Facebook restored all pages within a few hours, of course. But it had made a point: the company could do what it wanted to any Facebook page or account.

That’s the risk in relying on Meta to run your business. If it goes down or rogue, you’ll lose all your data, including your booking history and your customer information. Instagram is the same.

Your website puts you in control

When you have your own website, with a booking form and an integration with Facebook and Instagram, you can still continue to collect bookings and make sales from the Meta platform. Except, now, you’ll really own every piece of data that you worked so hard to earn.

There are four types of media that a business encounters: owned, earned, shared, and paid. A website is owned media—you have complete control over what goes on the website, how your visitors engage with it, and how they consume your content. It also means that you’ll almost always have access to your data. I say almost because realistically, even if you set up your own website, it’ll be hosted on a bigger company’s servers—like Amazon Web Services—and if that goes down, so will your business website.

Case in point: This happened to us at Zoho. Our domain provider pulled the plug on us without warning, and zoho.com was unavailable to millions of our users across the world. So our CEO decided that we need to own every step of our software development and deployment cycles. This is why every piece of Zoho software runs entirely on Zoho’s physical and cloud services. As a company, we want to minimise our reliance on external vendors.

To be fair, most businesses can’t and don’t need to go as far as Zoho. If you’re a micro business with a website on a credible third-party server, you can be confident that your website will reliably meet your business needs. Your provider should also offer periodic backups to reduce the risk of losing data. This is why owned media is invaluable for a business.

Besides, as other articles say, a website is the centre of your branding. Your social connections, newsletters, blogs, video content, and digital marketing efforts all branch out from your website—it’s the first and only content medium you really own.

Setting up a website has never been easier

It’s a common misconception that a website is costly and hard to set up. Yes, it costs money, but you pay to ensure that you have complete control. If you find that you’ve hired a website developer or used a site-building platform that doesn’t give you enough autonomy on your website’s content and how often you update it, don’t be afraid to explore alternatives.

Businesses used to have websites they never changed or updated because it was too complicated—it involved dabbling in backend technicalities and HTML. Pages were frozen in time, with old content and limited uses. Based on these experiences, many businesses are reluctant to try. They see a website as something separate from their business and difficult to deal with. But that’s not how it should be.

There are countless DIY website tools you can use to set up a website. If you set up a WordPress website, for instance, you might hire a web developer to help tie up loose ends and ensure that search engine bots can access your website. But your website will also be intuitive enough for you to edit and make everyday changes yourself. Wix, Squarespace, and Zoho Sites are all popular, reliable, and easy-to-use website builders.

Having a website is a great way to add value to your business. It’s not as easy as pressing a button on Facebook, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Just ask the small business owners Facebook group. Setting up a functional website that highlights your business and personality has never been easier or more affordable. Give it a shot!

Source: Zoho

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