I’ve been involved with the Internet and its predecessors since 1980, so it’s a fair bet that I am about as wired as possible. During this time, I’ve watched quite a bit of technological evolution, including the rise of email and the subsequent rise and extraordinary dominance of the World Wide Web. It’s so pervasive now that it even looks weird to call it that, doesn’t it? For most people the Web and the Internet are actually interchangeable, and certainly when you consider that big companies like Google are moving us towards an operating system with the Web browser at its heart, it seems inevitable that one day they will be the same thing: all our Internet interactions will take place within the digital context of the Web.
There isn’t a business in the world that shouldn’t be present in some manner online, whether you run a gas station, offer doll repair services out of your basement, sell quilts on a site like Etsy and at local craft fairs, or have a restaurant catering to college students with the late-night munchies. But being accessible to the online world—and that’s a bigger and bigger percentage of all customers each year—doesn’t involve just having an email address and phone number; it’s all about having an online presence.
To be fair, not every company needs a complex 200-page website with an active blog and busy Facebook fan page and Twitter feed. Then again, if that’s where your customers live, if that’s where you want to be more visible, then there’s a good argument that can be made that you should indeed have a presence in the so-called social media world along with an active and informative website.
I don’t want to talk to you about the website itself, however; I want to simply point out that the foundation of all successful business is trust and that there are some very simple things you can do with your online presence that will help establish trust in the eyes of your potential customers. More trust = more customers = more profit. That should be motivating!
One of the easiest things you can do as a business to create this trust is to take the step of actually registering and using your own domain name. It’s true, if you have an email address such as @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, @comcast.net, or anything else where it’s a different company name, not your own, it casts doubt upon the legitimacy of your business. After all, would you eat at a restaurant where the signs were for a hardware store and the door proclaimed their business with a hand-lettered 8″x12″ sheet of paper? Not likely, unless you’re hunting trichinosis!
It’s not always easy to find an available domain name, and you might need to be a bit careful if your name is very similar to a well-known trademark (sorry, Tom Hilfiger or Ed Bauer), but with a bit of brainstorming, just about everyone can combine their name, business name, location, and industry and come up with something that’s easy to remember and—more importantly—easy for your customers to remember.
For example, when I wanted to rebrand my parenting blog I knew I wanted “dad” or “daddy” or “father” in the title, but a lot of those domains were already taken. With a bit of creativity, however, I was delighted to find out that GoFatherhood.com was available. And now it’s mine. Doesn’t that sound more legitimate as a father-oriented publishing business than, say, “dave-the-daddy.blogspot.com”? A domain that’s specific to your business is an easy way to improve your online appearance, especially if you then make sure that it’s the email address you share with people.
Should you have a website up on that domain? Quite probably, but even if it’s a “coming soon” or “under construction” or a simple 1-page site that invites them to come into your store or email you, having something is unquestionably better than relying on your customers (or customer reviews, which can be good or bad) to convey the story of your business to a potential customer.
Sorry, Comcast, Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc. Those email addresses work fine for personal use, but if you’re running a business, or even just trying to turn your hobby into a revenue stream, it’s a no-brainer. Spend the time to find a good domain name for your business, and get it. Then use it.
About the author: Dave Taylor has been online since the dawn of the digital age, and he offers tech support on his popular AskDaveTaylor.com. He’s a long-time advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs and is honored to be able to contribute to this site.Google+