There's no escaping the internet these days, but aside from the personal aspects, is it of any use to the licensed trade? We examine the three business-related reasons why you should take a closer look at the internet.
There seems to be no escaping the internet these days. Newspaper and magazine adverts carry website addresses, they come up on our TV screens and even in conversations over the bar.
Then there's email, still the most popular use of the internet, and in many businesses now a replacement for most normal mail and memos.
Is any of this of use to the licensed trade? Why should publicans be making the effort to be avid internet users? Leaving aside the personal aspects - a wealth of information about hobbies, holidays, personal finance and such - there are three business-related reasons why you should at least take a look at the internet:
- information on business websites
- emailing your business contacts
- your own website.
Before you can explore these opportunities you need to get connected to the internet. The internet itself is a world wide network of computers holding www (world wide web) websites - electronic pages of information put there by companies, government offices and individuals. Email uses this network, too, although in this case messages travel along routes established by an internet service provider (ISP), rather than through websites.
The ISPs are your link to all this. The ISP sends you a disk of software for your own computer, which uses it to telephone an ISP computer connected to the internet. The ISPs act as sorting offices - you key in the www address you want to look at and they find it for you and put it on your screen. If you are sending an email you type it on your PC, add the person's email address and press "Send" to whiz it off to them, whether they use the same ISP as you or not.
Because you will rely on them so heavily, choose your ISP with care. There are dozens of well-known free services - you pay only the cost of a local phone call - like Freeserve, LineOne, Freenetname, Bun, Supanet, MSN and many more. Others have an apparent charge but may work out cheaper. AOL, for example, charges a small fixed monthly fee but the calls are free.
Try out several, because some are irritatingly slow, and some have easier-to-use screen layouts than others. Some even seem better able to find certain types of website, although in theory that should not be the case.
You will also need to choose yourself an email address. Your first choice - eg, oldcrownpub - may already be in use by someone else on some ISPs, so the ISP that allows you to use the best email address could be a factor in your selection.
Hardware is an issue, too. There are ways of getting onto the internet using mobile phones, digital TV sets and internet-only access devices, but for serious use you need a PC. Between £500 and £1,000 will buy a good set-up. Look for at least 128MB size RAM (memory), 8MB graphics, 20GB hard drive, 800MHz processor speed and a CD-ROM. These are minimum requirements - go for the best performance above this you can afford. Make sure, too, you get a built-in (or add-on) 56K modem for phoning the ISP.
Most suppliers to your business now have websites. You can find drinks, food, and the household items needed to run a pub, and get detailed information without any sales pressure.
If you don't know the name of a particular company, or want to compare prices, type in the name of a search engine, such as Yahoo. A search for "furniture" will find over 6,000 web sites, but you can then narrow down your search by selecting antiques, business furniture, etc.
Brewers have websites, too, of course, and they usually contain career opportunities as well as product information. For example, people looking for tenanted pubs or applying for jobs as managers currently form the largest single category of visitors to the Greene King website.
Your most helpful use of email will probably be in ordering supplies. You may find you can place an order while you are looking at a supplier's website. All the big supermarkets offer this now, as do catering suppliers like Brake Brothers.
You will find that, whether they have a website or not, your present suppliers will all have email addresses. You can send them an email at a time of day to suit you, not necessarily during office hours. You should check the content of the email carefully before you send it.
Ever thought of emailing your customers? Some bars now encourage regulars to leave their business cards - perhaps in a raffle box for a weekly prize - so they can email them with special offers or menus.
Your own website
You can include graphics, photography, and even video clips in an email, but your recipients may groan when they realise how long it will take to download such a large file and simply delete it without looking at it. Emails should be brief and to the point. But your own website is another matter.
You can make a much better impression here but should still avoid the temptation to go overboard with photography, because of that download time problem. Provided you include a professional-standard exterior and/or interior shot plus perhaps a photograph of some special feature, that should be enough.
Use an easy-to-read text style to describe the facilities on offer, special ales, menu items, the week's promotional offers and so on. That means keeping it up-to-date. Make changes at least every week so that people who do know about you will find something new on the site to persuade them to call in again.
Content is one thing - getting your website seen by people who do not yet know of your pub is another. Search engines are the most usual way people find out about new subject matter. Try it yourself to get some content ideas - go to a search engine site and type in "English Pubs".
You'll see entries from individual pubs, pub chains and breweries. You'll also see that some entries are from sources such as tourism sites. Try to get your site registered with a search engine - there are sites to help you do this, such as www.webpositiongold.com.
Just as important is to make sure your site is included in any relevant tourist guide sites, called "portals" because people can reach your site by going through them.
Contact your local authority for details of tourist sites they operate, as well as any commercial ones they know about.
There may be a charge, so get figures about the number of people they have attracted to assess the site's worth. Take the number of visits, not hits - hits are the number of things people click onto once they are looking at the site and is misleadingly optimistic.