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Do you really need a website now?

Many entrepreneurs feel that they need a sophisticated website right from the outset of new ventures. Yet, most of them lack the time, money and skill to create a credible advertisement on the web alone.


Thankfully, there is an alternative: a fast, simple and flexible means of advertising that offers good ‘returns’ for relatively small, safe and manageable investments.


Small ads in newspapers have supported entrepreneurs cost-effectively for hundreds of years. Whatever the commodity and target population, the aims of small ads have remained the same: to attract customers and interest them sufficiently to make them want to find out more.


Traditionally, ‘finding out more’ meant making telephone calls, posting forms or calling into stores. These days, it increasingly means visiting websites as an interim step. Some webmasters even set up special ‘landing pages’ that are tailored to complement every small ad placed by marketing departments.


The task of ‘rich media’, like websites, has remained constant too: to stimulate strong desires in customers and provide them with ways to take matters further. For example, to complete the purchase of goods and services, and develop long-term relationships with proven suppliers.


Small ads are available on the Internet too.


The good news is that electronic small ads are just as quick and simple to write as their print-based predecessors. Entrepreneurs create their own ‘copy’, thereby protecting their commercially-sensitive knowledge and gaining a sense of ownership.


More good news: electronic small ads cost pennies to place, offer worthwhile ways to increase customer awareness over vast geographic areas, and entrepreneurs can re-create their marketing messages rapidly, according to need.


All these benefits are available wherever and whenever entrepreneurs have access to the Internet which, as a small ad delivery medium, offers significant advantages over newspapers.


One advantage is the ability to cater for sellers and buyers with special needs. There is an increasing awareness that websites offer flexible options regarding text size, foreground/background colour combinations and audio readers that newspapers will never enjoy. What is more, accessible websites download fast to mobile phones, Personal Digital Assistants and computers with slow Internet access.


Another advantage is the ability for sellers and buyers to find commodities in ways other than trawling static classified lists, like ‘Property’.


Most small ad websites offer manual search features, at basic and advanced levels. Some offer the ability to search linearly (e.g., More like this ad) and laterally (e.g., ads Also clipped with this ad, by other buyers). A few sites also offer standard, automated searches complemented by rapid e-mail, messenger or SMS notification. Advert short-listing, comparison and forwarding are other useful ‘find’ features.


A further advantage, is robots’ ability to spider small ads and list them alongside larger websites in search engine results. This means, potentially, that humble small ads can have similar commercial value to more sophisticated websites when it comes to grabbing customer attention.


A variety of websites host small ads these days. Dedicated small ad sites range from the gaudy to the sophisticated, allowing entrepreneurs to select from a range of investment options and target audiences. Some host sites look like spreadsheets, whilst others mimic newspaper ads.


Most dedicated host sites oblige sellers and buyers to join some form of club: others operate open door policies. Both approaches have implications regarding competition and target audience size, as well as personal privacy and security.


Of course, many mainstream websites also carry small ads these days. Dedicated small ad sites may hold some advantages for entrepreneurs though.


For example, potential customers generally visit mainstream sites to acquire information and complete tasks other than shopping. When doing so, they tend to block out ‘noise’ like advertisements in the same way that they block out traffic noise in the street.


Customers visiting dedicated small ad sites, on the other hand, do so to acquire information and complete tasks to do with selling and buying. They are, it could be argued, more receptive to marketing messages and likely to make contact with entrepreneurs.


Entrepreneurs should be wary then of commissioning websites too soon in their new commercial ventures.


Careful experimentation with flexible and inexpensive small ads as an interim measure will help them understand their markets. It will also help entrepreneurs specify the functionality and content required of their websites later. Experimentation should prevent major mistakes with software development and costly reworking.


Later, entrepreneurs may still find that electronic small ads have a role to play in their marketing. For example, in gaining the attention of potential customers and interesting them in their more sophisticated websites.


So, entrepreneursArticle Search, do you really need a website now?


© Steve Hawker 2005. All rights reserved. Steve started his career as an Education Officer in the Royal Air Force. He then moved into the training technology industry, where he worked in sales support, project management and systems design in the aerospace, military and nuclear sectors. Steve is a partner at http://www.ehawker.co.uk. E-mail: info@ehawker.co.uk

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