A good business plan has to be flexible, adapting to the times. Smart business owners listen to what consumers, customers and clients expect, want and need, then adapt their business plans to meet those needs and expectations " but have you adapted too much? Are you paying too much attention? Are you spending thousands of dollars to keep up with what you believe is consumer demand, only to fall short on your ROI (return on investment)?

Money Pit

Lets look at the buzz:

Every business needs a website.

You see it on the Internet; you read about it in online business journals, blogs and articles. If you dont have a business website, youre losing potential customers. Although this is partially true, a surprising amount of business owners manage just fine without ever touching the Internet. So where does this piece of wisdom come from? Is it true for you? Are you wasting money on a website?

The fact of the matter is that a large percentage of potential customers and clients do expect to be able to find your business on line. Websites have become the modern-day business card and if you dont have one, you could very well be losing customers. So how do you know if investing in a website is a good idea for you? Here are a few things to take into consideration before putting down the big bucks:

  • Can my business keep up with Internet demand? By expanding to the Internet, you have the potential to increase your business two-fold, if not more. However, if youre the only one creating your product, you may not be able to keep up with demand. If you cant expand and hire employees to help, this could become more of a detriment than a benefit.
  • Will I get clients from having a website? If your business is in a sector that requires meeting individuals face to face, you may not need a website. This is a tricky question, however. For instance, a CPA may not want clients outside of their locality, but potential clients may want to look over services and pricing online before deciding.
  • Can I afford the fees? This should be the ultimate question for business owners, yet many dont understand the costs. There are several cost options for web hosting, designs, content writing and so forth, and it is possible to have a free website, but a free, professional-looking business website is hard to come by. Once you have a website, you still have yearly fees for hosting, as well as website maintenance. Explore your options thoroughly before jumping on the Internet bandwagon.

Now, if you have tons of products that can be shipped anywhere and want more customers " or, if your services are Internet-friendly and you want more clients, then, yes. You need a website.

Every website needs search engine optimization.

If you chose to have an online presence, or if youre considering a website and researching, youve probably come across this piece of buzz several times. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a huge benefit for many a website owner. However, SEO is also a continual process and not something that will ever be finished. This means a monthly payment schedule for optimization services.

Many a business owner believes whole-heartedly that they must have SEO to survive as an online business " and many are right -, but do you? Before investing thousands of dollars into search engine optimization, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my website for? If youre using your website as a business card so potential local customers can see your services or products before contacting you, you probably dont need SEO. However, if your website was created to help bring in customers or clients and youre in a competitive field, then yes, you need SEO.
  • How many other companies offer the same type of products or services and are online? Search for your product description. For instance, if you sell hand-made gloves, search for that term. The results that come up are your direct competitors. If the answer to this question is more than ten, you need SEO.

Overall, if youre expecting to sell your products and/or services online, are looking for a wider customer base outside of your local area and have online competition, you need SEO.

Business owners should expand into eNewsletters.

eNewsletters can be wonderful marketing tools. Theyre a great way to keep your business in the forefront of your readers minds, engage people and develop a good business-to-consumer relationship. In addition, theyve been used to bring in additional income through affiliate marketing and gather interest in a specific event, as well as raising the reputation and reach of many a business.

Are eNewsletters for your business, though? Again, ask the right questions:

  • Have I used direct marketing campaigns before? If you use direct marketing, such as flyers or brochures, switching or supplementing your direct marketing campaigns with eNewsletter campaigns may be the way to go. First, theres no printing cost. Depending on the newsletter service, you can pay monthly, yearly, or a set price per email address.
  • Do I have enough going on for a newsletter? Often, a business owner will jump into email marketing only to rack their brain each month to come up with something to write about. In this case, while you might still use email marketing for specific sales, or to introduce new products/ services, a monthly campaign may not be the best idea. Consider how much information you might be able to share on a regular basis, however often that is, before you start; once you develop a readership, theyll expect your newsletter to show up the same time it did last week, month or quarter.

The quickest way to find out if your customer base would be interested in an eNewsletter is to offer them the option. If you get a flood of activity and requests, your customers have been waiting for you to catch up to demand. If you get a little activity and a few requests, you should consider starting a campaign. If you have hundreds of customers but nobody signs up, youre doing just fine without an email campaign, but check back again every six months. Your customers might change their minds.

Every business should get into social media.

Sworfish Media

Social media is all the rage right now. Who hasnt used Twitter, or Facebook, or any number of social media platforms? Right at this moment, you can find hundreds of articles spouting the glories of what has become the new face of marketing:

Engage your customers!

Manage your online reputation!

Increase customer satisfaction!

However, while social media has been a successful marketing platform for many business owners, just as many are using social media and failing to achieve any of the promised results. Why? Because some business owners dont need it, while others are trying to do too much. There are two main questions to ask yourself before committing a part of your business budget to social media:

  • Do I meet personally with my clients/ customers? If the answer is yes, then you have the perfect opportunity to manage your reputation, engage your clients and make sure theyre satisfied " all without social media.
  • Do I have the time/ money for social media? Social media, like SEO, is a long-term commitment, and it takes time to stay engaged. If you dont have an hour a day (at least) to devote to social media and cant afford $1000 and up to have a company manage your social media campaign, its probably not for you.

Social media started out as nothing more than a way to connect with people. No matter what the marketers say, it was not started as a marketing method. Can it be a helpful addition to your business? Yes " especially if youre an entrepreneur or small business owner who needs the social interaction to draw clients and customers.

If you do what many an owner has done, however, - open up twenty social media accounts and then kill yourself trying to keep up with them - youre not going to get the returns youre hoping for. Unless you have the funds to hire someone to keep up with them, less is more. Pick one or two platforms and stick with them.

Does the Internet fit my business needs?

In reality, most businesses can benefit from any, or all, of the above. The key, however, is not listening to the buzz, but listening to your customer base. Do your customers expect you to have a website? Do your customers know how to find you online? Will your clients appreciate an eNewsletter or being able to connect with you through social media?

If youre trying to decide whether you should play follow the leaders with your business, keep this final thought it mind: Only you know whats best for your company, your business growth and your clients. No matter how much you take your business into the online world, if your particular customer base doesnt meet you there, the Internet is just a money pit.