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Lost Revenue Found Here: Why Service Businesses Need a Web Site

February 12, 2011

An Interview with Terri Lonier
Small Business Consultant

 Original Post from the

“I’m a service-oriented small business and don’t have any products to sell. Why do I need a Web site?”

That’s a common refrain heard from professional service businesses—from accountants and management consultants to chiropractors and dry cleaners. According to Terri Lonier, a small business consultant and author of Working Solo, “What these businesses fail to see is there’s a big difference between e-business and e-commerce. E-business is so much more than transactions—and in today’s competitive environment, it’s crucial for service businesses to have their own Web sites.”

SCORE recently sat down with Lonier to discuss her thoughts on why service firms should create a strong online presence.

Q: First, what’s the difference between e-business and e-commerce?

A: While e-commerce focuses on building a virtual storefront in which to sell products, e-business focuses on building a compelling online business presence that is individualized for your customers. E-commerce is one part of the complete e-business equation, which also includes communicating with customers, marketing your business, and tracking visitors’ behavior.

Q: How does a service firm benefit from having an e-business Web site?

A: Having an e-business enables firms to make better use of their time. If a business owner chews up billable hours answering the same questions repeatedly, then he or she is losing money. With a Web site, small businesses can provide basic company information—like services offered, business history, location, and more—and head off customer questions. E-business owners can also respond more quickly to customer comments, conduct surveys and ask for feedback to make sure they’re spending their time delivering appropriate services.

Q: What other benefits do you see?

A: A Web site enables a businessperson to do things that he or she can’t do well on the phone, like show a representative client list. Also, the same material presented through your Web site carries a strong sense of authority and credibility. Potential clients want objective information they can evaluate themselves. An independent review of your services, particularly if it includes endorsements from other clients, carries more weight than your own ravings about how great your services are.

Q: What are the costs associated with building a Web site?

A: Many businesses turn to Web development firms, but that can be costly—often tens of thousands of dollars. Increasingly, small companies are turning to integrated services that provide Web site building and hosting tools, targeted marketing, cataloging, as well as reporting and commerce capabilities. These services make it easy for a business owner to build and maintain a professional-looking e-business no matter how small his or her business. Plus, it’s free, and you truly have control over your Web site—you can update and add information whenever you want—making it quicker and less expensive to have a Web site than a printed brochure!

Q: What can a service business do to promote customer loyalty through its Web site?

A: Share your expertise. Provide tips and information about your field that your customers may not have. Point them to all sorts of different resources with links. Publish a simple e-newsletter that you email to subscribers on a periodic basis. Alternatively, offer to answer questions by email.

Few things build credibility and ensure return visits like a Web site that presents tips you can’t get anywhere else. The more you can make your visitors feel that they’re going to find something on your site that they can’t get anywhere else, the more success you’ll have.

Q: You’ve had a Web site for several years now. How useful has it proven to you?

A: Incredibly useful, particularly for marketing and promoting my business and keeping in touch with my constituencies. When I write articles, I post them on my site. If I’m mentioned in a magazine or newspaper article, I link to the site where it appears. I include customer testimonials. I also have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page so potential clients get a sense of the depth of my offerings. In sum, I use my Web site as a sort of clearinghouse of information, which helps position me as an authority in my field.

Q: Your company has gone through a few transformations in the two decades you’ve been in business. Has the Web been helpful during these times?

A: Definitely. Like many small companies, my business has been through many transformations. In the 1980s, it was a consulting practice and then became a hybrid business-offering consulting services as well as products. Then in the 1990s, it shifted to being a product business when I was a publisher. Now it has shifted back to being a consulting business.

I’ve been online since 1986, and our Web site’s been up since 1995, so it’s been interesting to experience the transformation caused by the digital era. The Internet expanded my business in unexpected, beneficial ways, and I know my experience is not unusual.

Q: Any final thoughts to share?

A: Some service businesses will always be service businesses. However, many entrepreneurs decide to morph their business into one that also sells products. With e-business services, you don’t have to re-establish your site just because you’re selling products. Instead, you have the tools at hand to easily make that change. For instance, I know of a caterer who has expanded her business to sell food products online. I also know of a holistic doctor who now offers herbal remedies, books on healing, and other products related to his practice online.

As these examples show, the Web is opening new business opportunities for small service firms. With new e-business services, the barriers of cost and complexity have evaporated. By leveraging the power of a Web site, small business owners can focus on what they love to do: use their talents, skills, and experience to bring value to their customers’ lives.


Terri Lonier is the creator of the Working Solo series of small business resources, and the producer of SOHO Summit, an annual executive conference for companies targeting the small business market. She also serves as Small Business Advocate for Bigstep, a free, all-in-one service that lets small businesses easily build their Internet presence.


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