The Internet and Your Service Business
The Internet has become a very useful and positive tool for many in the service industry. But at first glance, many still ask, "What does the Internet have to do with my carpet cleaning or restoration business?"
On closer examination it becomes clear that the Internet can and should be a tool that affects nearly every part of your business plan.
Information and networking is one of the more developed ways for you to use the Internet in your business. Industry bulletin boards, chat rooms and list serves can be excellent sources of industry-related information such as association news, calendars of events, help with difficult situations, and locating sources for hard-to-find items. One word of caution in using these boards as a resource is to make sure you know something about the person offering the "advice" or, in some cases even worse, the "solution." I've seen a lot of incorrect information offered up on industry bulletin boards by people who think they know about something and are dangerously misinformed.
Direct e-mail communication is another quick and efficient means of gathering information that you need. Take the time to develop an e-mail contact list of suppliers, industry specialists and experts on various aspects of your business.
World Wide Web searches are another way to use the Internet to gain valuable information. There is a Web site (or two or three) out there on almost any subject you can think of from advertising to waste disposal. Remember that most Web sites are there to try to sell something, so use proper discretion when reviewing the materials.
Along this same line, equipment and supply needs can be researched and in many cases even ordered off the Internet. The Internet never closes, so it can be used any time of the day to compare products or order needed equipment.
Many association dues and certification fees can or will soon be payable online using debit or credit cards. This again saves time and offers the convenience of 24-hour availability.
Technical training, especially basic skills and continuing education, is becoming available through the Internet more than ever before. The IICRC is currently looking into ways that someday even some types of certification training can be done online.
Financial transactions are now available online through many banks. You can shift money from various accounts, issue direct deposit payroll checks, load and monitor special pre-paid debit cards, pay many of your bills, and even file your tax return through the Internet.
Of course, one of the primary ways you can use this amazing tool is to gain new business. Marketing and sales through the Internet is getting increasingly popular all the time. It is absolutely critical that every service business has a web site that at the minimum describes their company's services and qualifications. When there is a direct link to your own site where details about what makes your company special can be found, referrals through the Internet from industry and personal contacts become much more effective. For example, IICRC Certified Firms are listed on the IICRC Web site for consumers to use in locating qualified cleaners in their area. When the consumer enters their location and names a particular service, the search displays Certified Firms within that service area for the consumer to select from. Those Certified Firms that have their own Web site are allowed to have a direct link displayed along with the basic contact information that comes up from a consumer search. If the consumer clicks on this link, they are taken directly to that company's Web site where hopefully all their questions can be answered and in some cases services requested right off the Internet.
Client contact and follow up through e-mail is another way to use the Internet to grow your business. ‘Thank you' notes, newsletters, and reminder notes are types of client contact that can be done quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively using e-mail. Make sure you follow correct opt-in/opt-out procedures to avoid being in violation of spam regulations.
These are just a few of the many ways you can use the Internet in your service company. If you are not taking advantage of this incredible tool, you are leaving money on the table. If computers and things that go with them frighten you, take an introductory class at a local community college or night school program. Hire or contract with a local Internet savvy company or individual to help you get started. The Internet can be helpful, useful, profitable, and fun. You can't afford to ignore it and be left behind.