Many small-business owners do things the old-school way when it comes to gaining customers: They rely on word of mouth. It's still the No. 1 marketing source of growth, according to the CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. But a surprising number of entrepreneurs don't back that up by also digitally getting the word out. Almost half (45 percent) say they don't have a business website. And only about one third (36 percent) use a business website to communicate news to customers and potential customers.
"People are just afraid of technology and don't realize how simple or easy it could be," said Antara Dutta, a digital marketing expert who has founded two small businesses — a consulting company that works with banks, including Barclays, and a health-and-wellness center start-up — and also serves as a mentor for the Delaware branch of the nonprofit SCORE program.
She said there are legacy business and generational issues, but you don't need to be an entrepreneur coming out of college today and already working on the seventh iteration of your website to gain value from going digital. Not doing it because of cost concerns or because you can "just continue to call on customers and then finally retire" isn't a smart strategy.
The purchase of a domain name, a site with basic business information, and search engine optimization can now be done for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars, and that expenditure should be part of the start-up costs.
"There are people who don't wake up, and then they lose their business as a result. Having a website is like having a business card," Dutta said.
Having a website and relying on word of mouth are not an either/or proposition. For B2B businesses with a handful of large clients, a website may be less crucial than for a B2C company, but Dutta said, "There is no business that shouldn't have a website."