Many small business owners rely primarily on referrals for their new customers.
It is common for owners of referral-based companies to think they can forego a website. Consider more than half of small businesses in the United States do not have websites, per a prominent poll. However, the same survey found that 84 percent of small businesses that have websites described the sites as critical to their success.
Refining your brand message requires a clean, modern, and mobilized website design for today’s small business.
And, investing the time to create or update your web presence during COVID-19 to reshape and enhance your brand awareness is imperative.
Websites are extraordinarily valuable, even if you are largely referral-based.
Prospects will want to look up your website before they do business with you, and the way your site looks will determine whether they want to move forward.
That means you need a clean, mobile-friendly website that, at minimum, does the following:
- answers customer questions (helpful both for people already on the site and for those finding their way there through the search engines);
- showcases your business contact information; and
- provides overviews of services and products.
You probably also want to highlight reviews or testimonials, fundamental to how many people buy.
Why you want a website
How can having a website help your business? Here are various ways that a website can fuel your success:
A website gives you a place to create an audience and interact directly with it, such as by publishing blogs and through an email newsletter.
It enhances how legitimate your company appears. According to the above-mentioned poll, the vast majority of US consumers, 84 percent, said that they thought a business was more credible when it went beyond simply having a social media page to having a dedicated website.
Once you have a site, it will start to appear in the search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO), which involves actions to get your site higher in Google and other major search providers, can be critical to growing your business. A basic step is to focus on keywords that are highly relevant to the ideal prospective client in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
In the above poll, nearly all of respondents — 93 percent — said that they research online prior to buying something. With a website, you allow people to know about your products or services they buy, as well as the companies that create them. With a well-designed site, better than what is provided by your industry rivals, you can gain a competitive advantage.
Why you need a website
Does a website matter if most of your business is referral-based? Even if you rely heavily on referrals, you can garner the above benefits from a website. Plus, referrals are likelier to find you and to stick. It is easy for a potential customer to forget someone their colleague recommended or to lose a business card. On the other hand, once they have come to your site, they can bookmark you and come back when they need you.
That is the real reason you need a site. Referrals will still want to research you, so if you do not have an adequate web presence you could risk losing that referral business.
How can your website support your personal referral-based business? In its most basic form, a website is like a simple pamphlet conveying information about your company, as well as a basic sense of your branding. Even a site that basic comes in handy for referrals in two different scenarios:
- The referral occurs unbeknownst to you, but the referred party is able to research your site and develop comfort with you before the conversation starts. In this way, the site allows you to turn a warm lead into a hot one.
- You are asking for a referral, in which case you are able to provide your web address directly. Since so many people associate credibility with businesses that have websites, offering your site for them to pass along gives them something of value: the fastest path to your company’s identity and unique value proposition.
Either way, your conversion rate of person referrals is likely suffering if you lack a website.
Beyond credibility: customer referral program
A website is not just about establishing trust. It can also serve as the space where you build and promote a customer referral program. Here is how to do that:
Step #1. Establish goals for the program. Ask everyone on your team the current source of referrals to the business. Decide how many referrals you feel you have to convert. (10 percent is one industry benchmark).
Step #2. Create a list of potential sources of referrals, including groups such as:
- your vendors;
- industry leaders;
- your current customers;
- former customers; and
- leads you were unable to close.
Step #3. Identify a core group of sources from your list. You probably will see better results if you perform the selection and segmentation of your core group manually. You want core members to be those whom you think might not need an incentive to make a referral.
Decide when it is best to contact these core group of people. Ideally, you feel you can contact members of this group right away because they seem ready and able to promote you. (Additionally, if you work with non-core sources, your industry will help determine appropriate timing to ask for referrals. Example, the referral ask may directly follow the sale, as with apps, while the ask could require the development of a longer-term relationship.)
Step #4. It is important to track the accounts referred to you. You want to have this data:
- the referrer;
- date and possibly time of referral; and
- whether they converted.
Using that information, you can decide when it is ideal to reach out to them to join the referral program themselves.
Tracking your referral sources is also critical.
Step #5. You want a broad online program of resources that lets your customers know about the program and helps them use it (and possibly expands beyond that). You also need to let everyone know about the resources. Key elements of this marketing effort include email marketing, newsletters, revisions of email signatures, blogs, and possibly even e-books.
Step #6. Create an incentive system (or don’t). Optionally, you can go beyond the core group. If so, assign your contacts to levels, and determine which ones receive incentives; then figure out the specific offer for each incentivized level. Money should perhaps not be used: non-cash incentives work 24 percent better, per research from the University of Chicago.
There’s one more quick note about updating your site, and that’s this – make sure your site is mobile optimized and using a secure protocol (https). Sites that are not mobile friendly or using https run the risk of not showing up as a potential reference in search engine results pages. A study by the digital marketing company, Blue Corona found websites that did not switch to mobile-friendly platforms before the update in 2015 were hit with a 50% plus reduction in traffic. Additional results factors will further limit the visibility of non-mobile friendly website designs or designs with slow mobile page loading.
Investing time and resources to update your website during slow times is NOT a waste of time or resources.
A website design update is exactly what you need to do now to stay visible in front of your audience when it counts later.