SMBs can use Office 365 to create a website - essential in the modern world of business - with little cost or expertise required.

For some time, it has been evident that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) without an online presence are in for a tough time. As more and more people embrace the digital world, and spend increasing amounts of time on the internet, this issue has become even more crucial. If SMBs want to reach out to customers, attract and retain them, they need to have some form of presence on the web.

Of course, some firms are more suited to online operations than others. For instance, an SMB operating in manufacturing, with a clearly defined role in the supply chain and regular customers, may see little value in investing time and money on a website. Similarly, businesses with an offering targeted at the older demographic may be less likely than others to run into their expected customers online.

But each and every company - regardless of sector, industry or scale - can potentially benefit from being online. Whether they have a fully functional, feature-rich ecommerce site, or simply a static homepage with contact details
and basic company information, this portal can play a valuable role from a marketing perspective. Even if just one or two customers track an SMB down through their internet presence, this is revenue that otherwise would have been missed.

UK 'the leading online economy'

For UK-based small companies, remaining offline could well be throwing money away. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Britain has the largest online economy in the G20, based upon revenue per head of the population. The analyst said it was worth £121 billion in 2010 - more than £2,000 per person - and there is little doubt that this figure has increased in the last two years.

With the internet contributing to 8.3 per cent of gross domestic product, and rising, SMBs need to recognise that consumers want to spend their money online. They are conscious of the wider range of products, and attractive prices available on the web. And in a difficult economic climate, people are looking to make their budgets stretch further. This was emphasised by record ecommerce takings over the 2012 Christmas period, as more people shopped online than ever before.

Making sure you have a website

So why do some companies remain offline? In a few cases, stubbornness and fear of change play a part - their firm didn't need the internet in the past so why should it now? This logic fails to account for the huge shift in consumer
buying habits and in society in general over the last 15 years. What is certain is that the internet is not something that will go away, whether people like it or not. It will only have a bigger part to play in commerce moving forwards.

Other possible concerns involve the fear of incurring additional costs - by setting up and running a website - and a lack of web management skills. However, both of these fears are overstated. It is no longer necessary to understand HTML to set up and run a sleek, professional website - online wizardry has seen to that. And nor does it cost a small fortune to register a domain and create a website - far from it in fact.

Creating an SMB website with Office 365

Office 365 enables SMBs to create high quality online portals, with little expense or expertise required. People starting a website receive help and guidance throughout the process, which starts with the registration of a domain name. Easy-to-use online tools allow even the most uninitiated to design and publish their site in a matter of minutes, and then update the site as and when they choose. With Office 365, there is no need for a specialist web designer - SMBs can set up an online portal for themselves on a budget.

Web hosting fees are included in their solution plan, meaning there are no additional costs to worry about. The only concern for SMBs should be keeping their site up to date and full to the brim with interesting content and
features, as they bid to engage with their customers. The website design tools utilise the Office 365 interface they will already be familiar with, with ready-to-use templates taking the place of internet coding to keep things
simple.

Conclusion

SMBs need to recognise that a website is one of the most important marketing tools available to them. Having one gives them another outlet, and a way for customers across the region, country or even world to find them. Simply by setting up a website, and using it to host key product and service information, they can potentially attract a host of new customers.

SMBs can use social media tools to draw attention to their website, posting on sites such as Twitter and Facebook and including a link. They could also get involved in online discussions on blogs or messageboards, and link back to their website using these platforms. Either way, being online is much better than not. Having a website will not guarantee them new income streams, but it at least gets SMBs in the game and on an even footing with their rivals.

Posted by Jenny Arthur

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