When Bangalore-based Monika Manchanda first decided to profit from her passion by starting a baking business, she thought word-of-mouth publicity would be enough to bring in customers. It was not. She then turned to the Internet, creating a website for it using Google's "India Get Your Business Online" platform. Her business increased manifold.
Though it has become fairly easy, the thought of running a website still spooks many entrepreneurs. Many are put off by the high prices - around Rs 4 lakh - quoted by website creators to set up and maintain a website. And neither are they technologically savvy enough to do without the professional creators. Only half a million of over 40 million small businesses in India have an online presence.
In fact, building a basic business website is not costly or skill intensive
any more. Google sets up such sites - no doubt far less sophisticated or customised than the kind the professionals provide - for free. Web hosting company GoDaddy does the same for Rs 580 a year. Both claim they will have your site up and running in less than 30 minutes.
Do all businesses need a website? Yes, if they want to be more visible. Take Jyotin Shah, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur who stocks accessories for gadgets from all over the world. Shah's brick-and-mortar store was not very successful, but as soon as he launched a simple, unadorned website and regularly sent mailers to his clients, he got a steady flow of orders.
Isn't social media presence good enough? It is always better to have both. Praveen Bhadada of Zinnov Management Consulting says a lot of innovation is happening at the "crossroads of social, website and emails". This is where new-age solutions offered by companies like NowFloats come in. This Hyderabad-based firm is just four SMSes away. Send it four SMSs giving the company details, and at the end of the process, it will have your website ready with the web address: "XXX (yourcompanyname).nowfloats.com".
What do basic website creators provide? Four things, says GoDaddy India Vice-President and Managing Director Rajiv Sodhi. "You get a website, a domain name, an email linked to your website and access to Google AdWords." GoDaddy has a strong customer support centre as well, plus a battery of partners who handhold the new business's online activities.
So too Google's "India Get Your Business Online" programme gives you a domain name and hosts a simple template-based five-page website for you, free for the first year. The package includes a free email id and indexing on Google Search. An unlimited package costs Rs 600 per year. In the two years since Google started the programme, it has got 200,000 businesses online in 8,000 Indian locations. Google India spokesperson Gaurav Bhaskar says there is a lot more acceptance of the need for a website now.
The biggest barrier in India remains the customer. For years, many traditional companies saw no point in an online presence, because they gained nothing from it. That is changing with the increasing relevance of local search powered by mobile phones. If you have a website, at least your name will show up when someone is searching for your kind of business in your locality.
One sector which has realised the power of the web is the local restaurant business. Small dhabas to hole-in-the-wall chaatshops now enlist on JustDial and hope for a Zomato review soon as they set up shop. Others can take a lesson from them.