The Internet offers a multitude of business opportunities for contractors in the plumbing industry. We'll tell you how to get your company on the World Wide Web in an effective and efficient way
About seven years ago, you bought a cell phone to simplify work between job sites. The time that was freed up hunting for a landline and playing phone tag with manufacturers and distributors created increased efficiency, and soon you credited an increase in your business to a wireless device that you could clip onto your belt.
Then, the company who supplied the quality tools and equipment you always purchased from added some punctuation and three little letters to its company name: .c-o-m. This allowed you to buy your hardware and supplies online when you needed them - not just when the store was open. In turn, you had more time to focus on visiting your customers to make them happier, bringing you more business, new projects and a larger range of customers to work with.
Since the Net worked so well for your suppliers, why not give it a try yourself?
You've seen how the reach of the Internet is exploding - it can offer new business connections, ease the supply chain frustrations, link transactions and form new communities and networks among plumbing and engineering professionals. With all of this in mind, you and your business, big or small, have decided to join the world on the Internet. You have registered your domain name and have your Web page designed. Now, you are at the point where traditional businesses would be sitting behind the counter with the "open for business" sign swinging in the window. However, when the customers start passing your Web "storefront window," what is going to drive them inside?
High VisibilityOur first article translated the e-jargon of e-business. But, knowing the Internet and its terminology isn't enough to make you visible on the Web, which raises new questions: What function should my Web page serve? How do I know if my Web page is getting traffic? How do I get my Web site on the Web?
First, you probably realize that just having a Web page designed isn't enough. You will need some way to get your Web site onto the Internet. It is similar to installing a phone system in your office - you may have phones for every desk with call waiting, two lines and voicemail, but unless you have a phone company to provide you with service, you will not hear a dial tone when you pick up the receiver. Similarly, in order to get your site on the Web, you must have an Internet connection.
There are two ways to secure Internet access:
An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, posts your Web page and domain name on the Internet for a reasonable fee. Earthlink, for example, is an ISP that will provide you with an Internet connection and act as a server to launch and host your Web site for a flat monthly rate.
But how do you choose an ISP? You can search for an Internet service provider by city, price or connection speed. There are thousands of ISPs to choose from, from Airtight Internet Services to Zaimnet, and it's just a matter of deciding which one is right for you and your company. Most ISPs, usually offer "starter packages" for Web hosting, often with reduced monthly rates, 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week network support service, generous space for your Web site to function and even traffic space.
All ISP's offer some amount of space for your Web page, which is an important feature to consider. The amount of space your site will need depends on how you want your Web page to serve your business, which we will discuss in greater detail later in the article. While a majority of start-up packages offered by ISPs provide enough memory and space for immediate Web hosting needs, your needs may be beyond what some ISPs can offer. If you find yourself in this position, then the second Internet-access alternative may be more suitable.
DIYBy hosting your own company's Web site on the Internet, you act as your own server. While your company will still need an Internet connection from an access provider, the actual Web hosting and network support will be done internally. Your company then acts as your own Web hosting service running the connection through your software server (Linux, Unix, etc). You may also need to purchase Web hosting/Web server software and specialty hardware.
An advantage of hosting your own Web site is that it will allow your site to grow and adapt as your company grows on the Web. By managing your own server, you can add new capabilities to your site when necessary. With the right experience and knowledge of Internet technology, hosting your own Web site gives you the control to constantly update the services your company offers online. However, you and your company also take on the responsibility of solving server problems and network connections. To help out, ISPs offer hotlines and free Internet maintenance with monthly rates. My advice is that if you are just starting out, the myriad of ISPs available are probably more than adequate to meet your company's needs.
Now that you are on the Web, you realize so is everyone else. From esubcontractor.com to contractor.com, the Internet has become an ocean of online services and communities, marketplaces and chat rooms, all with unlimited access and unlimited availability. And, like in any ocean, if you aren't careful, you can disappear. Here are some tips that will help you survive in the vast world of the Internet and get visitors to your site:
First, you need to identify the function of your Web site and why you want visitors to come to it. Do you want potential customers simply to see the site and learn about your business - or do you want them to buy products or apply for your services? There are several possible objectives for your Web site, but remember to have realistic expectations of what your Web site can do. For example, if you decide you want customers to be able to procure products on your Web site, you must have several things in place, including a secure Internet connection for processing credit card transactions.
The Web is becoming an exciting new tool for the plumbing industry - but it is only a tool. Without solid marketing objectives combined with a knowledge of the plumbing industry, a Web site can be as stagnant as a cell phone that is never turned on.
Armed with an understanding of why people will be coming to your site, it is now time to get a Web address so potential customers can instantly connect with your company. Your domain name (i.e. www.companyname.com) may be posted on other Web pages, giving potential customers who are browsing other pages the opportunity to instantly go to your Web site. This is called a link. There are several key places on the Internet to post your link:
- Search Engines - (www.yahoo.com, www.alta-vista.com, www.lycos.com) Search engines are designed specifically to generate a large index of results when someone enters a search query. By registering your company with a search engine, Web surfers can find you with key search terms. (These key search terms are called metatags.) When registering with a search engine, you should submit 40-60 key words, (metatags), for your site. For example, you might submit "plumbing," "piping" and "contractor." If a Web surfer types in one of these three words on the search engine, your company's name and Web address will appear in the search results, and the searcher can click on the link to your site.
Association Web pages -(www.phcc.com, www.ari.org, www.awwa.org) Many plumbing and contractor associations now have Web pages. If you are currently a member, they frequently offer links to their members' Web pages. This tactic will drive very specific visitors to your site.
Construction Networks -(www.constructionweblinks.com, www.constructnet.com) Similar to association Web pages, construction networks provide connections to companies and organizations in the construction industry and its vertical trades. Construction networks usually work best for smaller companies who are building a Web presence, and these networks usually charge nominal fees to register links.
Measuring Hits: How do you know if your Web page is a success? Of course there are tangible results like an increase in business or press coverage of your site. While both of these indicate success, all positive results might not be as visible. Let's talk about other ways to measure the success of your Web site.
Traffic itself, is measured in several ways.
When registering with search engines, they will measure the amount of traffic generated through your Web site. By measuring the popularity of your Web site, a search engine will rank your site based on its content and metatags every two to six weeks. Search engines can also track where your traffic is coming from before visiting your site.
Your company can also purchase off-the-shelf software to track and measure your Web site's successes and results. These software packages can range anywhere from $600-$2,000 and can supply demographic information on who is visiting your site and how "sticky" your site is, meaning how often the same visitors frequent your site.
The Internet is everywhere, and it is changing the way every facet of every industry conducts business. By 2005, $6 trillion in business-to-business transactions will be conducted on the Web. It is clear that the once paper-laden tasks that took hours to do are now being done online in a matter of seconds. Your Web site can bring you new customers, provide new ways to conduct business, and help you and other contractors collaborate on projects more efficiently.
If the Internet is a new tool belt for contractors to strap on, your Web site is one of many tools at your disposal. A contractor's knowledge of the trade will always be his or her best hardware for any job. A contractor's business objectives and goals are still the highest priority when meeting deadlines. But, with e-business trends making their way into the plumbing industry, those that embrace the Internet as a way to strengthen relationships and practices will surely stand the test of time.