Believe it or not, as a web designer, I still get asked to defend the reasons for why a business (especially small businesses) should have a website. It's not that uncommon to meet someone who will point out that their business is built on tried and true methods for building relationships through customer service and referrals and that they're doing just fine without a website.
The misconception they're operating from is that a website's only possible function is for getting new business. This can be one of its functions (and an important one at that), but it's not its only function. The second problem with that kind of thinking is that a website isn't an alternative to referrals, as if the two were mutually exclusive. They should be working together, along with other facets of your business plan, to help your business prosper.
As much as I'd like to talk about the kinds of potential a business can access with a great website working for it, I realize that we don't have the means to explore those depths in one article, so I'll stick to the question of why a good website is a necessity for any business. Here are 3 reasons that I find really compelling.
1. A good website legitimizes your business.
The reality is, whether you like it or not, the internet is part of our everyday lives. As a result, anyone who wants to fully participate in today's society needs to be doing so, in part, online. This isn't just in terms of personal use, but also for your business as well. Online search engines have become the primary means for looking up a business and gaining whatever information can be gleaned from its online presence. If someone looks for you online and doesn't find you there, that says a lot about your business's relevance and appreciation for today's world. It either shows that you're defiant of a standard approach to sharing and communicating information or that you're just completely out of touch with that reality. Either of those conclusions reflects poorly on your business.
2. A good website establishes your business and your brand in ways that weren't available 20 years ago.
The internet is still relatively young in the scope of the history of commerce, so in many ways, it's still a kind of wild west where anything goes and few of us understand how to use it to its full potential. This means that businesses are set at a level playing field in ways that are truly unprecedented. Your business can appear to be just as legitimate and capable as companies with a much stronger hold of the market. When I first started my home based web design business, I launched a website that got a lot of attention. So much so, that a major movie studio sent me an RFP within weeks of its launch. They were under the impression that I was running a world class agency because my website made me look so established. In the old world of business, no marketing budget could have done for me what my simple website did to propel my new business into the marketplace.
3. People will judge you by the impression they get from your website.
We're not just talking about potential clients here either. We're talking about existing clients, creditors, vendors, potential partners, investors, and so-on. My dad recently retired from a major bank in which he was the head of commercial credit for his region. The first thing he would do when a business came to him looking for a loan was go to their website. It says a lot about your business and its potential for success, and by extension its future capacity for paying back its credit. If you have an amateurish looking site, that's the only impression that stakeholders will gather from it. I like to use the analogy of clothing. For example, if someone goes to a job interview dressed in the reserves they would normally save for laundry day; it doesn't matter how qualified or amazing a candidate they are, they won't be getting the job. Your website provides the same kind of first impression. If it's poorly built or designed, you can count on lost opportunities. Worse than that, if it doesn't even exist, if we're still drawing from that analogy; I guess this is like going to the interview naked. Good luck with that.
So please, don't be stubborn on this question. It's only hurting your own interests and letting your most despised competitors reap your harvest. The cost is really negligible compared to the returns most good websites provide, so don't be afraid. Call up a quality web design firm and put away those tech prejudices that have no place in the successful running of your business.