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An off-line website implies you’re closed for business

People may assume if your website is down then you’re closed for business

It’s remarkable that in this day and age of the internet, where information about virtually anything anywhere in the world is available online, that some businesses in the travel and tourism industry regard a reliable web presence as something of little importance.  This is particularly relevant to those businesses whose operations pre-date the internet – some simply don’t appreciate how many travellers nowadays expect to instantly find information on the internet, at any time of the day or night.

Consider this example we experienced with a tourism business in Victoria.

A river cruising company (which we won’t name specifically), has operated on one of Victoria’s great scenic rivers for many decades.  Up until 2009, they had a simple website detailing their cruise schedule, what you’ll see along the way and a photo gallery. They let their web hosting expire (cost cutting in the height of the global financial crisis perhaps?), and since then they have had no dedicated web presence.

Many travel websites gave free exposure to this cruising company, (including us here at Travel Victoria), inviting people to click on the link to their website for further details about their cruises, their timetables and contact details. However, because the cruise company abandoned their web presence in 2009, these links went nowhere, and many people were simply left with the impression that the company was no longer operating. And if people think a business is not operating, they will just try elsewhere for what they need.

We cannot emphasise this enough – if your website goes off-line for an extended period of time, people will simply assume you’re no longer in business.

And if people think you may still be in business, you really cannot expect them to take on the role of a web detective, trying to piece together bits of information from various sources, in order to find out what should have been on your website.

As an experiment, using ONLY the internet, we attempted to find out the cruise timetable of this Victorian cruise company which took their website off-line in 2009.  Many websites where this company was mentioned simply provided a link to the off-line website for further information, so that was useless to us.  Others detailed prices and timetables that were dated from many years ago, as they obviously couldn’t get up to date information from the web.  This raised questions as to how accurate the information was, given it was years old.  We even tried the website of the local visitor information centre where the cruise company is based, but alas, they had few details other than a link to the off-line cruise company’s website. So we ended up emailing the visitor information centre asking for details about the cruises. We got a reply back two days later as they probably had to try to contact the cruise company to get the latest information, although to be fair, we did email the visitor information centre on a weekend. But still, one may ask if someone planning their trip is willing to wait two days for information that they could have in seconds if the cruise company continued their web presence? Many people would have probably tried another business in the area or maybe somewhere else in Victoria. That’s tourist dollars lost to that business and also to the town.

We then decided to email the cruise company directly and advise them that their website was off-line to see their response. To begin with, this became another intensive web detective crusade as we tried to find out their email address and we had no idea if the email address they published 3 years ago was still the one they used.  As it turns out, they did get our email, and said they said they are working on a new website. We can only assume they’ve been working on it on for the last 3 years!

Of course, one has to wonder why they didn’t just let their old website continue to run beyond 2009, update only the most critical information as needed, and then replace it once they’d finalised their new site?

With web hosting by reputable Australian companies at very affordable prices, many offering plans of less than $90 per year, there is simply no way to justify a cost-cutting exercise of having your website off-line for 3 years when you’re in the very competitive tourism industry and one in which people expect instant access to information when planning their travels.

Business Payment

Spend more time growing your business than debt collecting

Getting paid without having to take on the role of a debt collector

It’s the bane of any business’s existence – trying to extract payment from those who owe you money. Ideally, you’d prefer to devote your time to actually running and developing your business, yet nowadays in these economic challenged times, many businesses seem to spend more and more time on the unpleasant task of debt recovery. There has to be a better way.

An important piece of advice is not to alienate your customer. Yes, they haven’t paid their bill, so you could go all out and threaten to bring in a debt collector or pursue legal action as a matter of principle. However, this approach may not only destroy the business relationship you have with this person, but they may go out of their way to tell everyone about your heavy-handed approach to payments.

Some options to consider for encouraging people to pay their bills are:

  1. Offer a discount for payments made on time. Some organisations have started doing this, including Australia Post and a few electricity retailers. There’s nothing like a bit of financial incentive to pay bills on time and you’d be surprised how many will make the extra effort just to save a couple of dollars. While you may oppose, in principle, to the concept of paying people to actually do the right thing and pay your invoice on time, think of it another way. What appears to the client as a discount for on-time payment could actually be your standard price, and for those who pay late, they are actually getting charged a penalty for not paying on time which they believe is just the standard price.
  2. Suspend services when a bill is overdue. If someone is purchasing an on-going service, then this is a persuasive form of encouragement to get people into action. If someone’s website suddenly goes off-line, you’d be surprised how quickly people will leap into action to rectify this, even if they’ve been repeatedly warned that non-payment will result in loss of services in the past. Some people tend to ignore warnings, but a suspension will usually get them to instantly rectify any outstanding payments.
  3. Request payment up-front. Here at Travel Victoria, we recently implemented a policy that we don’t start work for new clients unless we are paid in advance for our services. We’ve found this very effective as no time or effort is spent trying to recover payment from a client after we’ve finished our work. It also has the added advantage of weeding out those people that are “tyre kickers” and who aren’t fully committed to a business relationship with us. However, one disadvantage is that new clients must trust us to do the work when they pay in advance, which may deter a few people from dealing with us.
  4. Clearly highlight the terms of their contract and their commitments. It’s unfortunate, but an increasing number of people are simply ordering things or purchasing services with their brain turned off, forgetting who they have signed up with, what they are buying or what the payment arrangements are. Make sure you keep proper records so you can show someone what they have ordered, their acceptance of your conditions, and when payment was due . Most people, when confronted with a simple list of their actions and where they have broken the conditions of sale, will rectify the situation as a matter of pride.

Running a business should be all about serving your customers and growing your business, not the delicate, stressful or unpleasant task of debt recovery. So think about some policies you can implement to ensure that you quickly and easily get paid.

Social media

Keeping comments on Twitter informal but professional

One of the things people love most about Twitter is its informality. Post a question to say one of Australia’s most affluent companies that have a presence on Twitter, and the response back may be more akin to that you’d expect when chatting to friends over dinner.

Just say no to twitter personal posts
Just say no to personal postings and rantings from your business Twitter account

Some small businesses may take this a little too far and post strong, personal opinions, which may actually offend the very clients they are trying to attract. This is quite relevant to accommodation providers who are inviting travellers to stay on their property.

One example is the wonderful lady who runs a bed and breakfast which we advertise for her on the Travel Victoria website (we won’t identify her personally!). She’s quite a social media butterfly, however her political preferences are strongly conveyed in comments she makes using her business’s official Twitter account. As it so happens, the political leader she trumpets is currently “on the nose” with voters in recent surveys, so chances are more people will disagree rather than agree with what she’s posting.  And for those people who live and breathe politics, staying at an establishment where the outspoken manager is clearly coming at you from the other side of party lines may actually be off-putting!

The best practice here is to have two Twitter accounts – one for business, and one for you personally. If the Gillard government’s carbon tax is the bane of your existence and you need to get that off your chest, then do so using your personal Twitter account. Use your business’s Twitter account for responding to queries, making announcements and commenting on the weather. That way, you won’t offend anyone or harm your business.

All staff here at Travel Victoria that have access to our business Twitter account are advised that if they wish to indulge in general social commentary or get on their soapbox to the world, then they must do so using their own personal Twitter account. Maybe your organisation should adopt a similar policy.