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The above statement is bold, you may think. Are you thinking that it doesn’t apply
to your business? You may think you’re doing okay. Yet my statement
applies to everyone – from a one-man shop to a shop with 100 employees
or more – because if you don’t do it, your competitor will!

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The most recent Machine Shop Profile Survey, Part II, published in the July 2009 issue of Engine Builder
asked, “How old is your business?” The highest percentage, 18.3 percent
falls in the 26-30 years category. The industry average is 27.9 years
with more than half, 52.8 percent, in business some 26 years. These
numbers are very positive and have been trending upward for several
years.

The 31 years and older point is where we start to get in trouble and
hit single digits. For instance, 31-35 years drops to 9.1 percent,
36-40 years drops to 6.6 percent, and 41-45 years drops to 5.1 percent
until we again see a slight upward tick. Years 46-50 jumps up to 6.1
percent, while 51 years plus comes in at 7.6 percent.

Just as you need to regularly update your shop machinery and
equipment, you need to update your marketing efforts. On average, our
industry is a little bit behind other industries in our adoption of new
technology. It wasn’t that long ago that one of our surveys revealed
that less than 20 percent of Engine Builder readers had a computer at the shop. Fortunately, that has changed in the past eight years.

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More than 70 percent now have computers with Internet access in the
shop and at home. What’s more, 82 percent have broadband access, while
just under 15 percent struggle with a dial-up connection. These are
great numbers and show that many shops are embracing the Internet and
new technology.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)… Let me share a
few other numbers that have left me scratching my head. Of those shops
that have Internet access, 85 percent use it to locate parts and
equipment, 66 percent use it to research parts suppliers and
manufacturers, 65 percent research tools and equipment, and 62 percent
actually make purchases online for the shop.

Sounds like most of you are pretty comfortable with the Internet; in fact a recent survey on the Engine Builder
Web site asked, “How do you view the Internet in your shop?” Some 90
percent answered that it was a great method to gain information and an
invaluable tool to help their business function more efficiently. By
the way, about 11 percent of you thought it was nothing more than “A
fun way to waste a lot of time.”

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So I ask; since most of you seem to see the value in utilizing the
Internet, why then do less than 50 percent of you have a business Web
site? If nearly 90 percent of you use it to locate and research parts,
tools, and equipment, don’t you think that maybe your potential
customers are doing the same thing? You betcha!

An online presence will also be the lowest cost advertising you will
ever do. You can have a decent Web site for less than $300 a year. Of
course, you can also spend thousands, but your best bet to get started
would be someone like Go Daddy, Intuit, Yahoo or Network Solutions. If
you are a member of AERA, the association also has a program to get you
on the Internet. Each of these companies has what is called a
template-based system. They are very easy to use, but are somewhat
limited in the amount of customization that you can do.

I am not here to give you any step-by-step instruction, but I do
want to give you a place to start. If you want a custom site, you will
need to contact a design company. More than likely you can find a local
company; just be sure to do your homework. One good way to find a
designer would be to find Web sites that you like on the Internet and
find out who designed the site. Many times the designer has a link at
the bottom of a Web site that he designed.

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One thing to remember, though, is that when your domain name is
registered, make sure you are listed as the owner and have access to
it. Just in case you have problems with your designer, you will want to
be able to access your domain name.

You don’t need to have a fancy, flashy Web site, but you do need to
have a site that is easy to navigate, so that visitors can find the
information they want fast. If they can’t find it in three or four
clicks, the odds are that they will go to another site. So, do yourself
a favor and make sure you have the information they are looking for 
and that it is easy to find.

A Web site needs to be a big part of your marketing efforts and if you
don’t already have one, you are already falling behind. Very few people
use the Yellow Pages anymore to find a business. When they are looking
for something, the first place they go is the Internet. I know I do – I
probably haven’t opened a phone book more than six times in the past
three years.

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Babcox Research recently conducted a survey among Engine Builder
readership with a goal of “providing you with ideas to create a
content-rich, effective, user friendly Web site. Jeff Stankard, Group
Publisher of Babcox Tech Group Publications came up with a list of ten
“Must Have” features of a shop Web site.

According to Jeff, the following tips came out of that survey:

1. Service Specialties. Use the Web as a billboard to
advertise the repairs offered by your shop, highlighting those services
in which you specialize.

2. Ability to make appointments. Customers with busy
schedules can log onto your Web site after hours to quickly, easily and
conveniently schedule a repair.

3. Photos of shop/staff. A picture is worth a thousand
words, and, in this case, they can be the determinant of whether a
prospective customer will give your shop a chance. If they like what
they see, you may attract a new customer in an instant.

4. Professionalism. Announce your employees’
qualifications. Promote their ASE certifications. Identify special
tools and equipment that allow your staff to build quality engines and
do the job right the first time.

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5. Hours/days of operation, directions. Make it easy
for your customers to know the details about your business and how to
get there.

6. Coupons/specials. Your Web site can be the perfect
platform to advertise seasonal specials, run coupons and get the word
out that you are working hard to earn your customers’ repeat business.

7. Community involvement. Detail the ways you’ve
reached out to others and are “giving back” to the community in which
your shop operates. Our business is a “people” business in more ways
than one – and consumers tend to do business with people they know and
trust.

8. Seasonal maintenance tips. Comple-ment
shop-specific information that will help educate customers and position
your shop as an “expert” place to do business.

9. Customer appreciation letters. If you collect
comments from satisfied customers, use these word-of-mouth referrals as
another way to extend your message.

10. Question and answer feature. Your Web site can
host a forum where you can provide answers to customers’ questions for
the benefit of all visitors to your website. This section of your Web
site can also feature a shop owner blog/opinion section.

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In the next Fastlane, I am going to talk about the latest trend for
marketing your business: “Social Media.” This is something you may
already be doing; if not, you can bet your kids are. I am talking about
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. I attended a seminar on the
subject recently – you will be fascinated by what it can do for you. I
was!

Jim Walbolt, a professional writer and photographer covering motorsports activities, is from Custar, OH. You may reach Jim at [email protected].Grooms Engines in Nashville (www.groomsengines.com) has a clean, customer-friendly Web site that offers a wealth of information.

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