Is your website doing the business? CEO of Actinic Chris Barling examines how to make your offline offering a more powerful player on the web.

How is your company website? Is it looking fresh, nice and easy to use, optimised to prime traffic from search engines and generating healthy sales conversions from visitors?

Unless your core business is online, and perhaps even if it is, then the honest answer is that it’s probably not ticking all of those boxes.

The truth is, while most businesses now have a website, few are using it as a vibrant contributor to revenue.

If you’re one of the offending companies that got a site thrown together at the height of the dotcom boom because you felt you should and have hardly touched it since, you’re quite simply turning business away.

Alternatively, if you’ve invested heavily in an all-singing all-dancing show-pony of a site that’s a wonder to look at and a nightmare to use, you’re probably turning business off.
 
Either way, it’s time to make some crucial changes because operating your website correctly offers you the potential for a hugely effective shop window and revenue generator.

According to analysts Verdict Research, one in four UK consumers now purchases goods online. That means one in four of your existing customers – and one in four people who are not your customers but could be.

The likelihood is you’ll be able to either sell from your website directly, or at the minimum, generate business channelled through a more traditional route. But you have to get it right – and that means right for you and right for your customer.

It’ll also involve as much focus as any other part of your business. Cut corners, and at best it’ll continue to be little more than a white elephant; at worst, it’ll lose you customers who expect better.
 
Selling on the internet shouldn’t involve stepping into the dark – the same business rules apply. Here’s how to ensure your successful offline business principles translate online:

Assess your suitability

Not every product or business model is suited to the internet. Products that need to be touched, tasted or smelt are among the hardest to sell on the web, and trying to force customers into an unsuitable way of buying will smack of desperation and simply won’t work.

That said, products such as perfumes – where repeat purchasing of the same product line is the norm – often sell online very well and there are actually very few products or services that can’t be either sold or positively promoted via a website when positioned sensitively.

Products and services that are not fixed-price but involve some degree of negotiation are also hard to sell on the internet. But again, even if you
cannot sell directly from your website, the internet is a great way to provide information to your customers and prospects outside normal business hours – or add value and build customer loyalty.

The key is to maintaining a realistic sense of what you can credibly offer.

Attack a niche

The internet is no longer new, and unsurprisingly the majority of business opportunities are already being exploited.

There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but be realistic about competition from established dominant players in your market and try to find a niche where you can play to your strengths.

It’s likely you’ve taken such an approach – be it better customer focus, flexible payment terms or a particular line of focus – to establish a foothold offline.

Apply the same strategy when attacking the online market. How will you stand out from the big boys? Why should someone buy from your website instead of Amazon?