In Recession, Businesses Must Be Online

Like the chairlift, there's always a way to get back up the mountain.
Like the chairlift, there's always a way to get back up the mountain.

It has been said by many that we’re now in the biggest world economic crisis since the stock-market crash of 1929, and the ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s. However, in this day and age, the world is very different from that of seventy to eighty years ago. If you think about it, just in the last ten years the world has changed at an exponentially increasing rate. We’re in the Information Age, and because life is now centred on information as a key resource, the means to survival in an economic downturn or recession has to be approached with this in mind. The Internet is the world’s fastest growing medium of interaction, be it personal or corporate, and if times are calling for a tightening of one’s money belt, being online and having a website are the cheapest and most efficient means of surviving out the tough times.

One could argue that having a website for your business is always important, recession or not, and they’d be right. When it comes to marketing, there’s no better way to interact with the community than via the World Wide Web. Having a website is extremely cheap when compared with other options like paper newsletters, ad campaigns, sponsorship, advertising, sales promotions, door-to-door selling, cold calling, TV, radio, magazine, newspaper and billboard advertisements. Plus, it has many different dimensions in terms of reaching both current clientele and potential customers. When money is tight, especially as it might be at your small business now, sticking up posters/billboards/adverts at local shops isn’t going to keep you alive in this dog-eat-dog environment for financial survival.

Having a website hosted on the Internet gives us a 24-hour a day portal to promote ourselves in the world. This is not like a hit-or miss-letterbox drop, or magazine ad that you have no idea how many people will read or be interested in. A website gives direct access to people who are already interested in the product or service you provide, plus with our sites we have access to interact with people who may have similar interests, but who otherwise don’t know we exist.

One powerful aspect of owning a website online is the ability to network. For a couple hours a day, you can search the Internet for forums or other websites and blogs that relate to what you do. For example, if you have a website selling cameras, you can go and have a chat with photography enthusiasts in a forum, even sharing some of your expertise. Subtly, you leave a link to your site for people to check out. Constantly updating your site means visitors can always see exactly what’s in stock, what’s new, and what’s coming out, without having to waste any money on paper advertising.

The time when we donned our suit, got in the car, and went door-to-door is coming to an end. It’s all very time and money consuming. In this era of technology, even relatively low socio-economic classes have access to computers and the Internet. That’s one reason this time we have such better chances of surviving than in the Great Depression. We have tools in hand that are cheap to operate and connect us with everyone we need to know. Having a website can cost as little as $20-$30 to connect, and $100 a year to get hosted online. How much does it cost to create and distribute a traditional newsletter? You need money for stamps, paper, labour, and printing. There’s no assurance that people will even receive them; old customers move house, and if given to the general public, only a small percentage may actually be interested in what you have to provide.

Speaking to Ms Chun Yin, Southern Marketing Co-ordinator of Universal Labour Services, and recent graduate of the Master’s Degree course in Business Marketing at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia says, ‘Being online is the ultimate way to increase brand awareness and loyalty; it’s more efficient and targeted marketing. Shop owners can target and speak to clients directly, decreasing use of middlemen and re-sellers, saving resources, and supplying clients with what they desire. In a shopfront you pay rent, have to get a loan, pay interest on that loan, hire people to sell your product, do renovations etc. A website has a do-it-yourself mentality inherently attached. With it you save time, labour, and money.’

Ms. Yin was especially emphatic about the importance of information transferral. ‘Current customers always get new product information instantly, sent via emails or online newsletters. You can publish articles related to your industry in online magazines, putting links straight back to your own website. Plus, you can network with others who have affiliated products, linking back and forth to each other’s services.’

The other side of the coin is the possibility to gain valuable marketing information simply by being online, and having access to one’s website statistics. Ms Yin intimates, ‘Time spent browsing, how many times people clicked on your page, where they were directed from, and what products people are most interested in can all be measured to help focus future marketing strategies. Dedicated customers and site members can then be sent personally related product information right when it comes out.’

In an economic crisis, people are scared; many are searching for cheap deals. ‘Venders need a cheap way to get access to customers,’ Ms. Yin says, ‘Online bargain-hunters can be targeted by getting them to register as members on your site to receive a discount. Some people give cheaper prices to website visitors. These are different means of gaining client information; if someone becomes a member on your site, you can give them a questionnaire. If they’re happy to supply data, they can receive a gift…but you do have to be careful as always not to impinge upon moral issues. This is instant data collection, so different from the days of waiting for people to drop their surveys into a box, and with payment services like Paypal, security online is no longer an issue.’

Customers are already using the Internet as a multi-dimensional tool. What better way is there to tell the consumer community, who, what and where we are? This cheap way to share information is perfect for a community who is using the Internet as a platform to find cheap deals. ‘We can now save resources, target people directly, and supply them with what they desire. Clients can get cheaper goods, as money is saved via this less expensive approach to sales.’ says Ms. Yin.

Attention is currency, and having a business portal online gives us the means to attract it via a more personal approach, where suppliers interact directly with the community at large, relating and sharing information in a cheap and safe environment. If you’re concerned about a lack of funds to keep your business afloat, you better use at least a small portion of it to get yourself online, and in the game.

By Jesse S. Somer Oct. 2008
Jesse S. Somer is a firm believer that having a website is one of the most valuable assets a business can have.