Web Sites and Feeling Stupid

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The pie chart in the 2004 Wolters Kluwer annual report should not surprise anybody. The company says 52 percent of its products are still print-based. Nor should we be surprised that many of the tax and accounting professionals who still buy print also don't have their own Web sites. And that includes a surprising number of the readers of this magazine and its sister publications, Accounting Today and Practical Accountant. For example, only 52 percent of the readers of this publication have Web sites-our readers are largely the owners of the businesses, not the staff people.

I can understand the reluctance to put together a Web site or spend the money to run one. I've been trying to create a site for one of my hobbies and, as with a lot of technology, it's easy to end up feeling stupid very quickly and spend a lot of time doing so and I've been covering technology for 21 years and consider myself a decent learner. Most of us don't want to feel stupid, and that's why many avoid technology, which is the subject for a whole other column.

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But the money and effort, even the feeling stupid, are worth it, for even the smallest businesses. I know that my first line of research when I investigate buying a product or choosing a professional service is the Web. I don't buy that much from the Web, but it is a starting point. I use the Web to find telephone numbers, calling directory assistance only if I don't have Internet access, and to find physical locations of businesses. Increasingly, this is how business is conducted, through Web-assisted buying. The Web still isn't the greatest buying tool around, but it is a fabulous research and fact-checking tool.

Besides simply having a Web site, there are sites that are better to serve a firm's business objectives than others. The generic-looking lists that describe the firm's services with the same look and words used by other firms should be avoided. Most prospects won't stumble across all the sites that were stamped out with the same cookie cutter. But get some words that are more descriptive about your firm, don't just fill in the blanks.

Small businesses are always pressed for time, but many are even more pressed for new prospects. It's worth the effort to put up that Web site and troll for them.

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