MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Business often heats up with the summer weather at a Montgomery computer service store, and this year has been no exception.
"We're weather-dependent, believe it or not," said Bob Lloyd, owner of Alabama Computer Associates on Bell Road. "If it's too hot outside or too cold and rainy, that's when people stay inside with their computers."
Most of them also search for area businesses on those computers. According to Google, about 97 percent of all Americans look online for local products and services, but fewer than half of Alabama's small businesses have any online presence.
Lloyd's shop is among the 54 percent of state small businesses that have no website. The shop has been open at its current location for three years, and Lloyd said both a professional company and a relative have spent time working to produce a site during that time.
"It's doubly embarrassing for us because we're a computer company," he said.
A lack of resources often stymies small businesses when they try to establish a foothold online, said Douglas Jones, the executive director of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Resource Center.
"There's an expense in getting an online presence," Jones said. "There's an ongoing expense of maintaining it."
Still, few question its value. A recent study by The Boston Consulting Group showed that small businesses grow more than 40 percent faster after establishing an online presence. And not everything costs money.
"Social networking — Facebook, Twitter and so on — presents so much free advertisement to them, and they can pay into those when they want to send out something special," said Andrea Price of Alabama State University's Small Business Development Center.
Earlier this month, Google held a free workshop in Birmingham to help business owners wade into the online world and show them how to appear in search listings. For the next year businesses can also set up a free Intuit website and get access to all of the training, tools and resources from the workshop at GetAlabamaOnline.com.
Google's Davis White said he got a stark reminder of the event's importance when he returned to his native Birmingham to help with the workshop.
"When I got home, the first thing my mom told me was to get a haircut," White said. So he launched an app to help him locate a local barber online.
Even people who find businesses offline may turn to the Internet for more information about them, Jones said. "It's a marketing tool and it also serves, in a lot of potential clients' minds, to legitimize the business," he said.
Both Jones and Price said, as with any business endeavor, planning is the key.
"There's a whole lot more involved with creating a website or a social media presence than just putting something out there," Jones said. "If you don't do it right, you'll create something that no one ever sees."