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Why do I need a website?

I've heard many small-business owners say they think they "should" get a Web site. They're not quite sure what they will do with it, but they've been told they should have one.

In most cases, they're right. A Web site can be an important marketing tool for almost every small business, but there are a few exceptions.

There's no question that a Web site is more mission-critical for some businesses than others. Companies trying to reach customers in different locations (think hotels or tourist attractions) or who have products that can be shipped to customers far away (think flowers, handmade dolls, telephones, etc.) obviously need to have an online presence.

But local businesses (dry cleaners or shoe repair shops, for example) also can benefit from a Web site that shows their location, lists their services or offers special promotions.

And woe to those who think they don't need a compelling Web site because they serve other businesses rather than retail consumers. Many businesses search for new suppliers online, then order from them that way, too.

In short, if you want more customers, you should be online, regardless of your industry.

A simple site helps customers find you

The simplest possible Web presence is a one-page site that tells people how to find your business in the "real" world. It should include:

This simple Web presence is most appropriate for businesses that serve local customers (a dry cleaner, doctor's office or plumber, for example) and that aren't actively looking to expand their customer base (as with a fully booked dental practice).