Happy customers with tablet and free wifi

Advantages of Free WiFi Access

As a business owner, you are always looking for ways to encourage organic growth, maximize customer satisfaction, and increase sales while keeping an eye on your bottom line. Offering free WiFi access to customers at your place of business can help you achieve those goals. And generally it can be done for a reasonable price by a reputable contractor.

A great way to encourage organic growth is to make it easy for your existing customers to advertise for you. With the explosive growth of social media over the last decade, customers are doing just that. Many customers will Tweet, update their Facebook status, check in on Foursquare, or use any number of other social media websites to tell their friends where they are and what they’re doing. If you give them a free WiFi connection, your customers won’t have to think twice about using up their expensive cell phone data plans. And with WiFi you are offering a reliable internet connection regardless of the customer’s cell service reception in your building.

For most businesses, the longer a customer stays at the establishment, the more money they will spend. If you own a restaurant or cafe, offering your customers free WiFi boosts their ability to get work done or spend time browsing the web and updating their social media while they wait for their order. If your nearby competitors offer free WiFi and you don’t, you are potentially missing out on customers that like the convenience of free WiFi. Offering free WiFi will keep your customers coming back regularly. According to the Harvard Business School, increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent. (see http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/1590.html)

If you own a retail store, offering free WiFi will allow your customers to do research before they buy something without leaving your store. If a customer leaves your store without buying the product they had in mind you’ve most likely lost that sale. And if you generally have the best price in the area for the products you carry, your customers can verify that without leaving the store. However, if you mostly cater to price conscious shoppers who will find your products considerably cheaper elsewhere, this can be a drawback.

As always, there is a price associated with offering something new to your customers. Depending on the size of your establishment, the hardware and installation costs can range from minimal to moderate. Spaces under 1500 square feet can almost always be covered by a single WiFi access point. Usually the hardware costs for a single hardware access point are under $500. If your space is bigger than 2000 square feet, or has more than one level, assume one access point per 1000 square feet and/or one access point per level.

The labor price is highly dependent on the quality of the contractor you use. Rates can range on the very low end from $50 per hour to the high end of $150 per hour. A single access point installation may only take an hour or two if your setup is simple and you already have a hardwired internet port located centrally in your business. If you need wires run through ceilings or walls, expect to pay another $200 to $400 per network cable run depending on the contractor and the complexity of the cable run. It’s always best to get quotes from multiple reputable contractors before making a decision though. A reputable contractor will likely charge less than $1,000 including parts and labor for a simple one access point installation.

There are many things to keep in mind when choosing a contractor. Does this contractor have references from other satisfied customers in the area? Are they familiar with the equipment that they plan on installing? Are they capable of securing your network so that your business network traffic is kept separate from the customer internet traffic? Will they be employing access point isolation to eliminate the possibility of one customer snooping on another customer’s data traffic? What kind of warranty do they provide after installation?

Once you have found the right contractor and the installation is completed, the final step is to tell your customers about it. Some businesses require a purchase from the customer before handing out the WiFi password. This may work in a restaurant or cafe, but I would advise against this in most other situations. If you make it too hard on a customer to connect to your WiFi, they won’t use it and you won’t reap the benefits discussed in this article. The easiest way to get people to use your WiFi connection including in restaurants or cafes is to not require a password at all. And with proper configuration of the network equipment, this won’t be a problem for the sensitive data you store on your business network. Your door or windows are a good place for signage advertising your free WiFi. The more passersby you can convert to customers, the more profitable you’ll be.

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