Last week at HostingCon Europe, Robert Hoffmann, CEO of 1&1 Internet, gave an interesting keynote covering the basic expectations of small business owners as they build out their online presence. The theme of the keynote was essentially that it is up to hosting providers to go that extra distance to empower the less tech-savvy business owners to be successful as they venture online.
As Hoffmann put it, "As an industry, we must show the value of being online."
According to Hoffmann, the best way for hosting providers to show that value is to focus on the four core needs of small business owners who are trying to build an online presence: Be present, Get found, Interact, and Transact.
Because it was well-received and extremely practical presentation, I wanted to re-iterate a few of the main points that Hoffmann covered, while taking a slightly different look at a few of the suggestions for our own readers. Here are a handful of ways that Web hosting providers can use their domain expertise to improve the lives of their most valued customers: small business owners.
Help them get found
Just having any kind of online presence is still a big step for small businesses. According to Hoffmann, a staggering 52% of small businesses still do not have a website or any other type of Web presence.
Assuming that is correct, a small business owner is going to already be well ahead of the curve by the time they get to your doorstep. Still, you shouldn't let them fall into the false mentality that simply having a website is going to be enough to make an impact on their bottom line. They've also got to be easily found by their potential end-clients. That's where hosting providers can give them a boost.
Encourage your customers to do a little of their own research into SEO. Provide them with tools or plug-ins that will make it a little less scary for them. If you're really looking to help, reach out and offer to give them hands-on help with some of the more technical SEO tactics when they need it.
It's your job to show them that there is immediate value in hosting their website on your servers, and that you are willing to make it as easy as possible for them to get up and going with their website. Give them tips for basic website building and SEO best practices and enable them to track their visits with traffic analytics. Being able to prove that they're seeing even small amounts of traffic to their site will be a huge step in convincing small business owners that their investment is going to be worth while.
Allow them to be present and presentable
Okay, so now your customer, the small business owner, is happy that he's getting found by new customers. That's a good start. But what is happening with those visitors when they get to the site? Is their experience slow and clunky? If their visitors are using a mobile device, what kind of experience are they having with the site?
The experience that visitors have on your customers' sites is as much up to you as it is to the business owner. Do you have redundancy built into your system to ensure them that their site will always be up and running? Are you making it easy for them to be mobile optimized? Are you providing them with the advice and tools they need to easily create a modern, responsive design for their website?
If the end-user is unhappy with their experience, the small business owner is going to be equally as upset. A great way to keep your customers happy is to make them look good in front of their own customers.
Explain the value of interacting
While this may seem like it goes beyond the reach of a hosting providers expertise, any help you can provide small business owners in the realm of online marketing is going to go a long ways. It's important that you recommend that they reach out beyond their own little domain to expand their audience and maximize the value of their Web presence.
Find ways to help those small business owners interact with the rest of the online world. Explain the value of dedicated online marketing, and encourage them to experiment by integrating third-party marketing vendors into your control panel. Make it simple for them to connect their Facebook or Twitter accounts to their domain. Give them a few technical pointers for setting up and integrating a Google Adwords account with their site. Hosting providers are much more in touch than small businesses owners with all of the trends across the Web - that includes online marketing trends.
Take some time to help them understand the value of online interaction, and do what you can from the backend to make it easy for them to connect with their customers outside the walls of their website.
You can also lead by example with your own social media and marketing efforts, and encourage your customers to follow suit.
Make transactions reliable and painless
This goes hand-in-hand with explaining the value of interacting. If those small business owners are making the effort and spending the resources on online marketing, they're going to want to see a solid return on their investment.
Provide them with the tools they need to close business on their website. Even if you don't provide an integration with any eCommerce apps, you can still recommend a system that you've used on your own site and help them get set up with it. Helping them set up a reliable revenue stream on their website is probably the best way to maintain a satisfied customer base.
Give them a safety net
Small business owners are going to be blown away by any hosting provider that is able to provide all of the benefits above. On the other hand, they are likely to be equally upset when a major issue occurs - such as a server going down or a major data loss.
Ease your customers' concerns up front by explicitely informing them about any backup services you provide up front. Whether you're selling it as an added feature or including it in your original rate, small business owners will be eternally grateful for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their data is backed up and safe. Don't wait for them to ask about backups, and don't just assume that they have their own backup solution. That's just going to end up causing headaches down the road. Tell them about their options early, and continue to remind them about their safety net over time. That way they can stay calm and focus on those other core needs, even when the occassional "uh oh" does occur.
Do you have another small business "Need" that hosting providers should be focusing on? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below!
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