A study from market researchers Ipsos MediaCT released this week found that fewer than half of Indiana’s small businesses (companies with fewer than 250 employees) have a website. The state’s percentage was 47 percent, surprisingly ahead of the national average of 42 percent.

If that alone doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, consider that coverage of the study also noted that 97 percent of consumers will search for local businesses online.  A business that doesn’t have an online presence essentially doesn’t exist anymore.

Many companies still balk at creating (or updating) websites because they claim that they “don’t do business online.” Their customers have no need to order from them, or they don’t worry about being found by search engines.

But the primary reason companies need websites is to establish and prove their legitimacy. Two decades ago, companies established that they were real and viable through other means. The standard glossy four-color “corporate” brochure was one of those means; having the largest ad in your corner of the Yellow Pages was another. But in an era in which most consumers … and b2b prospects … look online, a company’s website is the key to saying, “yes, we’re real!”

Consider what I do when I’m choosing a restaurant for a nice family dinner. I’ll think of a couple restaurants I haven’t visited, and then I’ll try to take a look at their menus to make sure they’ll have something everyone will like. If a restaurant has a website and a menu, they’re in the running. If they don’t, I quickly lose interest. I would probably never place an order or make a reservation online — I just want more information  before I make a decision. And that’s exactly what people do when they’re considering a purchase.

If your business doesn’t have an online presence, you need to get one. Doesn’t need to be elaborate, doesn’t need to be expensive … but if you’re not online today, you stand a much better chance of being out of business tomorrow.