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START: MARK EVANS

Still have no website? Get one, now Add to ...

In the digital world in which we live, can you imagine doing business without a website?

It might be difficult to believe but fewer than half - one million out of 2.2 million - small businesses in Canada have a website, according to Chris O'Neill, country director for Google Canada.

He mentioned the statistic in a recent presentation during which Google offered to give away thousands of free websites to Canadian small businesses to help them establish an online presence.

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It is an astounding reality given that a website is a key way that small businesses can put themselves on a level playing field with larger companies.

No matter what your company's size, a website that clearly articulates what you do and why consumers should care is an essential marketing and sales tool.

Not having a site these days is a crucial mistake. It means not having a must-have foundation for an online presence, which is essential given how much research consumers are doing online via search engines and social media.

By not giving consumers a place on the Web to find information about you, you could be giving an edge to competitors that do have a website.

Lacking a website can no longer be blamed on not having enough money, resources or time to build one. These days, a basic site can be fairly inexpensive to create, either by hiring someone or by using a service that features easy-to-use templates.

A do-it-yourself site can, for example, be built using a small business service from Yellow Pages. Google recently unveiled its new service that lets small businesses create a free Web site while WordPress and Blogger can be used to provide a quick Web presence, even though they are best suited for blogs.

A good example of a company that has made the small but significant leap onto the Web is McNeil Home Appliance, a small appliance-repair business in Toronto owned and operated by Eugene McNeil.

I originally heard about him through a friend. After he did a great job fixing a washing machine, I wanted to promote his service on Twitter and Facebook. The only problem was he didn't have a website, so the only thing I could do was list him on GigPark a service to recommend companies that offer products and services.

Last week, I needed another appliance repaired so I did a Google search to find Mr. NcNeil's telephone number. To my surprise, I discovered he now has a site - a single page provided by Yellow Pages.

It is far from perfect but, at least it provides him with a much-needed Web presence. Having a foothold might give him the confidence to build his own site and work on boosting his Google ranking.

To all the small business owners who still don't have a website, my advice is to get one soon. It does not have to be anything elaborate, extensive or expensive. The most important thing is just to establish an online presence so consumers have a chance to find you when they use the Web.

While word-of-mouth, direct mail and the Yellow Pages are still important, not having a website is like deciding not to put a sign outside your store to let people know what you sell and the hours you are open for business.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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