Over the past few months, I’ve delivered a number of seminars at Small Business BC about how small businesses can get great websites.  Inevitably, I get asked questions about the level of results or return on investment a new website can expect.  It’s a really tough question to answer because I always get the sense that the people asking this question have very high expectations based on all of the success stories that they’ve heard.  The sensitive response is “it depends”.  It depends on your level of investment.  It depends on your market.  It depends on what your competitors are doing.  And most importantly, it depends on what else you are doing to promote yourself and your business.

Owners and managers of small and medium-sized companies cannot afford to sit with their catchers mitts waiting for their website to hand-deliver leads and sales to them.  In this day and age, with the number of competitors we all have, the ability for your website to get ranked quickly for the really juicy keyword phrases is very difficult.  And even then, as a new business, visitors may not trust the business enough to take action.  As an example, it took Yardstick Services over 6-months of commitment to content and basic search engine optimization to get on the first page for a number of “Joomla” and “Small Business” related keyword phrases…and then, that was only for the Vancouver market.  And then, even after being ranked, we didn’t start to get a lot of “search engine” phone calls until we had a large enough portfolio under our belt.

Yardstick continues to get a large portion of it’s business from referrals and from good ol’ fashioned face-to-face networking.  So, here are the three major tactics that Yardstick has used as a small business itself that may help other small businesses in Vancouver.

Networking

Not Facebook and Twitter (although we do play in those spaces). No, I’m talking about things like the Vancouver Board of Trade, SOHO, Small Business BC, BNI, Segal School of Business Events, seminars, lunch events, trade-shows, conventions and the list goes on.  Personally, I prefer opportunities that are organized and structured specifically for networking. The Vancouver Board of Trade does an excellent job of this by providing Roundtable Events that allow you to speak to a table for 2 minutes about your business and what you are looking for.  VBOT also provides more social atmospheres with their members receptions that allow to chat in a one-on-one fashion with a drink in hand.  Both are good but they attract different crowds.  SOHO is good if your target market is small or home-based businesses.  Their breakfast events provide a chance for you to stand-up in front of the room and pitch your business.

All forms of networking require an outgoing personality and an ability to speak confidently about your product or service.  If you lack these skills, I strongly recommend joining a local Toastmasters Club.  Here, you will get a chance to network with individuals who share your displeasure for public speaking.  And you will also be forced to practice and improve your public speaking skills.  This is invaluable if you want to make your small business a success.

Referrals

Yardstick gets referrals from existing clients each month.  And, because of the aforementioned networking, Yardstick gets additional referrals from extended members of the network who know both Yardstick and one of our satisfied clients.  It’s always exciting to get a referral but it really reinforces the power of networking when 3rd parties start passing our contact information around.  Thus far, we haven’t had to offer incentives for referrals but we have a couple clients who’s referral incentives are working wonders.  Check out Ecowest for a strong but simple referral program.

Google Adwords

I drank this Kool-aid a long time ago.  Having seen first-hand the kinds of results that Yardstick and many of our clients have experienced, I can say that Adwords works.  It’s a very cost effective method of quickly capturing an online segment (or keyword phrase) that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.  Depending on your margins and average value of sale, you can get new visitors to your site for $1.00 – $5.00 per click from an ad placed relatively high on the first page of Google.  The returns can be substantial.  It’s never going to be as good as the organic rankings because studies show (from an MBA class of mine) that the general population clicks on search engine ads less than 20% of the time.  But Adwords can get your small business ranked the minute you enter your credit card info into Google.  In contrast, organic rankings usually take months for the more sought-after keyword phrases…yes, months for the typical small business budget.  And some phrases such as “used car” require a level of investment that small businesses just can’t afford.

Conclusion

Those are the big three for Yardstick.  And I continue to stress that a website is not the be-all and end-all of lead generation. Whatever business you are in, you inevitably face threats from competitors (online and offline).  As such, you cannot rely solely on your website to generate leads for you.  If you do, you’re competitors will simply out-hustle you where it matters most…in the real world.

Feel free to look for me at the next Vancouver networking event.  I’ll lend my ear for practice or otherwise.