Benefits of email and the internet
The internet and email can help businesses to improve communications, access information and cut costs. They can also help you to boost efficiency, find business opportunities and work more closely with customers and suppliers.
However, to make the most of these benefits, you must fully understand the potential for the internet and email to improve the ways in which you do business.
This guide describes the benefits of email and the advantages of using internet for business. It examines the different ways you can promote your business online and use email marketing to engage and convert customers. It also looks at the most common types of e-commerce business models, including business-to-business and business-to-consumer websites.
Using the internet for business
If you plan to use the internet for business purposes, there are some key issues to consider. Your choices will affect how you exploit the opportunities available and how your customers interact with you.
Connecting your business to the internet
Dial-up internet is no longer available from major telecom suppliers. Most businesses nowadays choose a broadband internet connection delivered through their phone line (either standard or superfast fibre) or mobile (available from mobile phone network). See more on choosing a business broadband connection and mobile technology.
Using the internet for business purposes
Businesses generally use the internet for a number of reasons, including to:
- research competitors
- buy or sell products or services
- monitor and measure customer interest
- find new customers
- promote their business online
Most modern-day businesses would struggle to operate, advertise or communicate with their customers without the use of the internet.
Do you need a website for your business?
Many businesses benefit from having at least a basic website that offers contact details, location, products and services, prices or rates, etc. However, not all businesses necessarily need a website. Think carefully about your objectives. Typical reasons to have a website include:
- building brand awareness
- reducing costs
- selling your products and services
- improving customer support
- showcasing work
Consider what customers will want from your site, how you can attract them and encourage them to return. Think about how you can use your website to create an online community around your product or service. Find out how to set up a small business website.
If you decide to have a website, you should choose your web hosting solution carefully. Most businesses use an internet service provider (ISP) or a third-party host. See how to choose an ISP for your business or read about other website hosting options.
Disadvantages of using the internet for business
Although there are many advantages of using internet in business, there are some potential pitfalls to keep in mind. For example:
- consumers may be wary of buying products or services online
- communication between you and your customer may feel impersonal
- competition may copy your ideas or online success
- conducting business on the internet is subject to several laws
Advantages of using internet in business
There are many advantages to using the internet in business. By exploiting the technology, you can work more effectively and productively, and grow your business more quickly.
Key benefits of using the internet in business
Your business can use the internet to increase:
- customer base
- customer support options
- opening hours (since the internet is 'on' 24 hours a day)
- cost savings
- networking opportunities
- research capabilities
- marketing options, including digital communications and automation
- workplace and business efficiency
- operational flexibility and productivity, eg remote working or outsourcing
- data storage and management capabilities, eg through the cloud
- access to a diverse range of business tools and applications
See more on using the internet for business.
Using the internet to manage corporate networks
Use of the internet is essential if you want to build secure corporate networks, such as:
- Extranets - where your customers or suppliers can access information like stock levels, delivery times or progress reports. See more on the benefits of intranets and extranets.
- Virtual private networks or VPNs - where you can safely share resources and confidential information between staff (eg salespeople and homeworkers) or with selected outsiders (eg customers and suppliers). See more on advanced computer networks: intranets, extranets and VPNs.
Using the internet to outsource your IT
Some businesses make use of the internet to outsource different jobs or tasks. Rather than doing things in-house, you can use the labour, expertise and technology of other businesses. For example, you may outsource your:
- data storage
- e-commerce functionality
- website maintenance
- IT support
- accountancy or payroll processing
By outsourcing your IT, you can reduce capital expenditure on IT hardware, software and training, reduce maintenance costs and easily scale services as and when you need them. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing.
Types of e-commerce business models
The internet can open up new e-commerce opportunities for your business to buy, sell or exchange goods or services online. It is important to understand the different types of e-commerce models that exist, and find the one that best suits your business.
Seven types of e-business retail structures
The primary e-commerce models broadly cover two main categories:
- business to consumer (B2C) - selling products/services directly to consumers
- business to business (B2B) - selling goods/services to other businesses
Other models cover different types of business relationships, including:
- consumer to consumer (C2C) - where consumers pay commission to buy and sell items
- consumer to business (C2B) - where a sole proprietor may be serving a larger business
- business to government (B2G) - for businesses whose sole clients are government
- government to business (G2B) - for government sales to private businesses
- government to citizen (G2C) - for government sales to the general public
A B2C model focuses on selling goods and products directly to individual customers. It typically requires one of two things:
- a website with an online shop front
- using an online marketplace
Consumers can browse your products online, decide to make a purchase and proceed to an electronic checkout where some form of payment processing will take place. This will typically be via a merchant account set up through an acquiring bank, which is capable of processing credit and debit cards, or a payment processing provider.
See more on accepting online payments.
A B2B model operates by providing products from one business to another, through either online auctions or e-marketplaces.
Online auctions are computerised versions of traditional auctions where buyers set the prices and bid against each other. For example, an online auction might specialise in services for buyers and sellers of chemical feedstocks, chemicals, plastics, and related products. There are two main types of online auctions:
- forward auctions - lots are sold to the highest bidder
- reverse auctions - suppliers compete on price and the lowest bid wins the business
E-marketplaces specifically for B2B usually offer discounts for large quantities of goods. These are websites where buyers and sellers trade goods and services online. Online marketplaces vary according to the size and number of companies using them and the type of commodity traded. For more information, see e-marketplaces, online auctions and exchanges.
Types of e-commerce business models
There are many ways you can run an e-commerce business. Some are easier to set up than others. They generally fall under five categories:
- dropshipping - where you sell items on your website that someone else manufactures and ships to your customer
- wholesaling and warehousing - where you buy products in bulk and store them in a warehouse (usually for B2B market)
- white-labelling - where you have a contract that allows you to put your brand on the product as if you are the manufacturer
- manufacturing - where you're paying to have the products created for you and you fulfil the order yourself
- subscription-based - where you rely on a subscription model that delivers your products to customers at regular, scheduled intervals
Read more about planning for e-commerce.
Promoting your business online
Online promotion is important for almost any modern-day business, and especially so for start-up businesses, those launching new products or services, or businesses with a limited marketing budget.
How can you promote your business on the internet?
There are countless methods of promoting your business online. Many are free or low-cost, while some may require varying amounts of finance. Here are some of the most common ways of marketing your business on the internet:
1. Create a website - a website will allow your customers to find information on your business or buy your products and services 24/7. Setting up a website doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Many web service providers offer free, albeit limited solutions, or simple, guided steps to help you create your site. See how to set up a small business website.
2. Create quality content - content is arguably the most important thing on your website. Good content can convert your site's visitors into customers, boost your image, increase your visibility through search engines and enhance your relationship with customers, suppliers and the public. Follow best practices for content marketing.
3. Optimise for search - visibility in search results is key to your online success. Search engine optimisation (SEO) can help you improve ranking for your website for keywords relevant to your business, products or services, making your offering easier to find. SEO techniques are varied, but the main ones tend to focus on website design and structure, keyword selection, quality content and links.
4. Use social media - social media networks can help you syndicate, distribute and promote content to generate traffic to your website or boost interest in your business. They can help you create a community around your brand, extend your business reach and engage with your potential customers with relative ease and little cost. Read about social media best practice for business.
5. Use email marketing - reach out to your customers by creating and sending them regular content (eg newsletters, offers, updates, etc) to help drive traffic to your website and increase customer engagement. Email marketing can be a quick and cost-effective way of promoting your website and business online.
6. Use paid advertising - pay-per-click and paid search advertising can help you promote your business, products or services by placing ads on search engines, other websites or social media networks. Options include display advertising, social media advertising, affiliate marketing, paid search and others.
You can use other digital channels such as online PR, viral and mobile marketing as part of the marketing mix to help drive traffic to your website.
Benefits of having a digital marketing plan
A planned, targeted digital marketing campaign can reach customers at a much lower cost than traditional marketing methods. Digital marketing also provides you with trackable, measurable results, so that you can see how effective your campaign has been and how customers respond to different campaigns. See how to develop a digital marketing plan.
Using email for business communication and marketing
Email is a powerful, low-cost communication tool that businesses are using to promote their goods and services, provide better customer experience and work more efficiently.
Why are emails important in business?
Email is a highly effective form of business communication. Four primary uses of email in business include:
- internal company communication
- external communication, eg with business partners, suppliers, stakeholders, etc
- customer support
- marketing to customers
Importance of emails in customer service
Email can greatly improve customer service. Encouraging customers to contact you by email can benefit both parties - they do not have to wait on the phone or call during working hours, and you do not have to respond immediately, which can free up staff from answering the phone.
It's important, however, to follow the right etiquette when providing customer service over the email. Keep communications prompt, professional and helpful. If applicable, consider using features such as auto-replies, receipt confirmations, support ticketing and tracking systems, to help you manage your customer service.
In business, the benefits of emails are undeniable. Email is quick and easy, low cost and easily documented means of communication. See other advantages and disadvantages of using email for business
How to use emails in marketing?
Email marketing allows you to send quick, cost-effective targeted messages to your customers by enabling you to segment your marketing list and tailor your email messages based on customer preferences.
Unlike other forms of marketing, the recipients can forward emails easily and quickly to their colleagues or friends. Encouraging them to do so is known as viral marketing.
Email marketing is effective because it is a personal, time-sensitive interaction. When creating your email campaigns, you should:
- use customer segmentation to target your campaigns
- make the 'call to action' clear and place it 'above the fold' in the email
- create both HTML and text versions to ensure cross-platform compatibility
- avoid using spam to increase deliverability
- avoid over-using, as it is likely to get deleted as irrelevant or unwanted
- evaluate your campaign's success
Find out more about email marketing.
You must only send emails to those people who have agreed to be contacted, ie have opted-in to receive your marketing messages. See email marketing and privacy law.
Advantages and disadvantages of using email for business
Email is an important method of business communication that is fast, cheap, accessible and easily replicated. Using email can greatly benefit businesses as it provides efficient and effective ways to transmit all kinds of electronic data.
Advantages of using email
Email can increase efficiency, productivity and your business readiness. Using email in business is:
- cheap - sending an email costs the same regardless of distance and the number of people you send it to
- fast - an email should reach its recipient in minutes, or at the most within a few hours
- convenient - your message will be stored until the recipient is ready to read it, and you can easily send the same message to a large number of people
- permanent - you can keep a record of messages and replies, including details of when a message was received
One of the main advantages of email is that you can quickly and easily send electronic files such as text documents, photos and data sheets to several contacts simultaneously by attaching the file to an email. Check with your internet service provider if there is a limit to the size of email attachment you can send. Some businesses may also limit the type and size of attachments that they are willing to receive.
You can gain further advantages and increase your efficiency by setting up your email software to:
- automatically create entries in your address book for every message you send or receive
- respond to incoming emails automatically, eg to confirm receipt of an order, or to let people know that you are on leave or out of the office
Disadvantages of using email
Despite the host of benefits, there are certain weaknesses of email that you should be aware of, such as:
- Spam - unsolicited email can overwhelm your email system unless you install a firewall and anti-spam software. Other internet and email security issues may arise, especially if you're using the cloud or remote access.
- Viruses - easily spread through email attachments. See how to detect spam, malware and viruses.
- Sending emails by mistake - at a click of a button, an email can go to the wrong person accidentally, potentially leaking confidential data and sensitive business information. You should take care to minimise the likelihood of business data breach and theft.
- Data storage - electronic storing space can become a problem, particularly where emails with large attachments are widely distributed.
Less formal nature of email can lead to careless or even libellous remarks being made which can damage your business. To minimise these risks, you should create and implement an email and internet acceptable use policy for your business.
Internet and email security issues
Although the internet and email bring a range of business benefits, they also pose a number of potential security threats.
Common email vulnerabilities
Some of the most common email security threats are:
- spam and phishing
- social engineering
- malicious unauthorised access
- unintentional acts by authorised users
You should fully consider the possibility of malicious and fraudulent attacks by hackers, as well as the impact that viruses and denial-of-service attacks (ie attempts to disrupt your web or network services) could have on your IT systems.
Email security safeguards
Securing an email system is the responsibility of your business' IT department and/or your email administrator. However, anyone who shares business information via your email network should be aware of the threats and risks involved.
Common safeguards for protecting IT systems include:
- Authentication - techniques to identify and verify anyone seeking to access an e-commerce system.
- Access control - user restrictions to ensure users only access data and services for which they have been authorised.
- Encryption - techniques to scramble data and protect information stored on a computer or transmitted over a network.
- Firewall - hardware or software security devices that filter information passing between internal and external networks. A firewall controls access to the internet by internal users, and prevents outside parties gaining access to systems and information on the internal network.
- Intrusion detection - products that monitor system and network activity in order to spot if someone is trying to gain access.
- Anti-virus software - tools to detect viruses and prevent access to infected files.
- Staff awareness - keeping staff aware of typical scams used to extract personal or sensitive information.
Create a good security policy
An IT security policy should outline how you plan to protect your IT assets. It should emphasise:
- the measures you will take
- their importance to your business
- the responsibilities of your staff
For example, your policy should state that staff should regularly change passwords they use to access your email or IT system, not write them down or share them with anyone else.
Email and internet acceptable use policy
An acceptable use policy is a written document that sets out practices and restrictions regarding the use of company technology. It describes what employees can and can't do when using corporate computers, networks, websites or systems.
Why might you need an acceptable use policy?
Effective use of the internet and email can bring significant benefits to your business. However, unregulated use of technology can cause serious issues, such as employees:
- wasting time surfing the internet
- sending personal emails
- clogging up the system with large attachments
- exposing your IT systems to cyber threats, eg viruses, phishing emails, etc
- sharing sensitive business information externally without authorisation
- breaching data privacy laws and regulations
An acceptable use policy can help you limit exposure to cyber risks and data breaches, ensure compliance and protect your business' reputation.
What is included in an acceptable use policy?
An acceptable use policy should include:
- a general statement regarding the safe and fair use of email and internet
- code of conduct setting out acceptable user behaviour, eg what websites the users may visit, how they should log on to the network, etc
- details of unacceptable uses, eg violating the privacy of others, accessing or downloading offensive or indecent materials, infringing copyright, libelling or defaming other persons using the business' email system, etc
- guidelines around 'netiquette', ie using appropriate language when emailing
- consequences of breaching the policy
Your acceptable use policy should also state under what circumstances - if any - you might monitor staff email and internet use, and how you will carry out such monitoring. Read about monitoring and security of staff.
The policy should be easy to read, concise and say clearly if you allow staff to use the internet and/or email for their own personal purposes.
Sample acceptable use policies
You can write your own acceptable use policies or customise our sample documents for your business:
For an acceptable use policy to be efficient, you should make staff aware of it, implement monitoring systems and set boundaries for site browsing, downloading, installing of software, data leakage, etc. You should update your policies regularly to meet the changing legal requirements, technologies and threats.