If your business ain’t online, you don’t exist

If you run a brick-and-mortar business, you will do well to have a presence online. Just over 5 years ago my younger brother who has a small business delivering flyers and related business promotional materials in Ipoh, Malaysia related about his difficulties in gaining new clients as his business, Flyersam was relatively new in town. As I was already very familiar with Google Sites and Google Apps (having used these extensively in my previous appointment as the deputy principal of a college), we decided to make use of what I know to put Flyersam online.  The free version of Google Apps was still available in 2010.

With an investment of just US$9.90 which was the cost of registering the flyersam.com domain name via Google, we set to work. Sam’s job was to get me the relevant content and photographs to be included into flysam.com. I constructed a simple website using Google Sites. By March 2010, flyersam.com was bringing in about 2 – 3 enquiries per month from clients, many of whom found flyersam via online search and most were not even located in Ipoh.

The flyer distribution business requires the distributor to show proof that they have completed the job as assigned to clients by taking and sending relevant photographs to the clients. Thus it was easy for me to suggest to Sam that he should upload some of these “proofs of delivery” photographs to his website as updates. However, Sam was still not confident enough to post updates to his website regularly. But like most Malaysians, he and his sons were great users of Facebook.

My next project for Flyersam was to set up a Flyersam Facebook Page where Sam or one of my nephews could easily post “proofs of delivery” as updates. Sam himself having learned to use Wechat with his smartphone recently is now also posting similar updates regularly.

As flyersam.com is registered under my name, I routinely get at least a couple of calls a month from prospective clients. Thus for the yearly expenditure of only about US$10.00, Sam has been getting at least 5 additional enquiries per month, most of which are usually translated into sales. Sam buys the beer these days whenever I visit him in Ipoh.

Flyersam is a typical example of how a small business can leverage on a simple website and social media to generate sales. The Google sponsored Get Malaysian Business Online (GMBO) campaign of 2011 was a huge success with 12,000 businesses having benefited from it and having a web presence. Building on the success of GMBO, in 2012 the Malaysian Government set aside a budget of RM50.00 million (US$15.63 million) to provide small and medium businesses (SME) with RM1,000 (US$312.00) grant (GMBO Grant) to build their websites. The grant had been fully utilized before the end of 2013.

The entire domain name registration, web hosting and website creating business is so competitive these days, both locally and internationally, that someone with a rudimentary website creating knowledge can easily put together a simple business website for about RM100.00 (US$32.00) per year. Google Apps for Business which costs US$50 (RM160) per year for 1 user is another alternative that is very simple to use, if one is willing to do some trial and errors. Thus even if there is no more grant available, the cost of having your business website online is still very affordable.

However, I do not think everyone of the beneficiaries of the GMBO campaign or the GMBO grant would have the kind of success as did Flyersam.com which was created without GMBO privileges or GMBO grant. Many of these business websites do not receive regular or any updates after their creation and there lies the problem.

Having a business website without regular updates gives visitors very little confidence on the dependability of that business. The visitors have no way of telling if the business concerned is still active. Hence my insistence on having Flyersam.com linked to its Facebook Page and having regular updates at least on Flyersam’s FB Page is the crucial success factor for Flyersam. In today’s connected business environment, customers will not look up the telephone directory if they want their flyers distributed. They will most likely do a search online to find out who can provide this service to them.

For a brick-and-mortar business to have an online presence is just as important as for those running online businesses. In today’s internet age, if your business is not online, to most of your prospective clients, you do not exist! But having a business website but not bothering to update it is as bad as not having a website at all. People checking out vendors for services will look closely to see if your business is still active before they will be confident enough to try your services or products out.

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