What You Should Know About the Internet

Are you a small business owner? Have you ever thought something like this?

 – I do not need a website because people do not look for what I do online.

 – I do not sell products online, so I don’t need a website.

 – Only teenagers use the Internet, and they are not my customers, so I do not need a website.

 – My neighborhood is not savvy with technology. No one uses computers around here.

 – We do not do any Internet business, so a website would be useless to us.

 – I’m older and not into computers, so a website would be a waste of money.

These are actual quotes from what business owners have told me when we discussed their need to develop a web presence. If you have said or thought something similar about your business, then I have some important information to share with you. Consider the following:

By The Numbers – the percentage of adults who use the Internet

76% of men     and      74% of women

92% of people ages 18 – 29
85% of people ages 30-49
72% of people ages 50-64
37% of people ages 65 plus

Source: Pew Internet American Life project http://www.pewinternet.org/

This information shows the massive segment of the population that are Internet users across the wide cross-section of age groups. And with such access to immediate information as is available at our fingertips online, do you believe it likely that these individuals will look for products and services in the yellow pages or on the Internet? Be it someone to cut their grass, do their taxes, fill their cavities, or provide legal advice, the reality is the Internet is where people go for everything.

It is truly irrelevant whether or not YOU use a computer…your CUSTOMERS do. It is irrelevant whether or not you choose to “conduct business online…” your business still needs to have a presence there! Your competition is there, and so are your customers. And, as I have often said, if you are not selling where your customers are buying, then they are buying from someone else.

So, let’s stop being afraid of the Internet and embrace it as the amazing tool that it is. The Internet is here to stay, so you better use it to stay in business before your choice to not be there puts you out of business.

Why historical success says NOTHING about your need for a Website

If you are a small business owner, how many times have you said or thought this: “I have been successful for years without a website. I don’t need one.” As a website developer, I hear it several times every single day.

USA Today’s “Ask An Expert” Steve Strauss http://www.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/columnist/strauss/index.htm received this inquiry from a reader. “…I just don’t see the need for a [web]site. My business has been around forever, and we have done just fine without one. Am I wrong?”

You are not alone. But, if you think this way about your business, then I want to speak to you directly and bluntly. You can’t live in the past! It doesn’t work in any other area of life, why would it work in business? Do you still dial 555-1212 to reach directory assistance? How about area codes…remember when we only needed to dial those to call people really far away? Do you drive the same car you drove in 1970? Still watch the same no-remote tune-with-a-dial 12” black and white model TV with only 3 channels? Or pay the same amount for gas that you did five years ago? As times change, so do the things we buy, the way we buy them, and the way business owners must conduct and market our businesses to get our attention or even stay in the game.

And as the old saying goes, you are either moving forward or falling behind.

Are you still skeptical? Want some proof? Ask the next 25 people you talk to (friends, family, customers, or employees) if they bought anything online 15 years ago. Then ask the same people if they bought anything online in the last year. If you do not believe you need a website before this experiment, the results of your survey are going to shock you.

If you are still a “doubting Thomas,” take it one step further. Ask these survey participants about buying a car, planning vacations, finding a new doctor, shopping for homes…the subject matter isn’t nearly as relevant as the fact that people shop online, and they do research BEFORE they shop, and before they make just about any purchase.

Visit Steve Strauss’ exchange with Phil in its entirety. http://www.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/columnist/strauss/2008-02-11-getting-a-website_N.htm. It tells a story that I would do injustice to try and reiterate, but the message is clear. Marketing strategies are not the same as they used to be. Not having a website puts you at a significant disadvantage because times have changed. Everyday, more and more of your competition develops a website so, eventually, it will be the businesses without a website that are out of business.

The strategies that made you successful yesterday are not what will keep you successful tomorrow.

Reading the Signs of a Changing Economy

After writing my last post, I realized that there is a wealth of information that I can examine and share by looking at my experiences with small business owners. This post is the second, in a series of a yet undetermined number to come, regarding small business owners and the Internet. I call the series “Small Business Owner Web Phobia: Do you have it and can you get over it?”

I recently met with an owner of a rather large garage door company. During the entire conversation, he kept referring to the large amount of money he was spending on traditional advertising, yet he was not getting results. Frustrated, he listened as I explained how the economy is changing and people are moving more and more to the Internet to find the things they want and to research companies they might do business with. At the end of the meeting, he said he would consider my proposal and get back to me. Now, two months later, he has contacted me twice to tell me how busy he is and how he can not move forward yet, because he is spending so much money on traditional advertising and none of it is working.

As a website developer and Internet marketing consultant, one potential answer seems very obvious: develop a strong online presence. Yet, the business owner seems to almost miss this point entirely. He continues dumping money into traditional advertising with admitted poor results, yet hesitates to begin developing his online marketing effort, even after our initial meeting which seemed to impress him. There is something about the way this owner has conducted his business in the past that is getting in the way of him seeing a solution to his problems.

Traditional advertising, for a very long time, was the only game in town. Ten years ago the only options this owner had to promote his business were phonebooks, newspaper ads, and flyers. Yet, as we see paper directories fast becoming almost extinct as more and more consumers look to the Internet and “Google” everything, a change in the business owner’s way of thinking needs to happen.

Are you doing the same disservice to your business, perhaps without realizing it? Here’s a way to find out.

Take a good and long hard look at your business. Where are you spending money to grow or market your business that is not paying off? Do you even know for sure what DOES deliver a return on your investment? If you don’t know, why continue to invest in a mystery? It’s likely that you could invest 50% of your budget online and be sure of the results. Then you could use the remaining 50% in traditional advertising to support your online presence. Online is where searchers are looking; so isn’t it wise to be there?

The reality is that we are in an Internet economy. Everyday, more and more consumers look for products and services online. Many want to gather as much information as possible, even before they are willing to call or walk into a business. If you are not there when they go to the Internet, someone else is answering their questions and fulfilling their needs.

The bottom line: if you are not selling where your customers are buying, they are buying from someone else.

Why working ON your business yields more results than working IN it.

I started discussions with an owner of a window installation company, just before Thanksgiving. His company is a two-man shop, and he is very hands-on, as many small business owners are. This particular business owner claims to see the value of a website and the need to conduct business online. However, shortly after reviewing the proposal, he claimed that he was entirely too busy to undertake the project of developing his Internet presence and online marketing strategy. He had no time to meet with me for a follow-up appointment, because he was too busy working IN his business, and “could not” find the time to work ON his business.

Of course, working IN your business is important, isn’t it? After all, we can confidently say that it is what you must do to make money, right? But is it actually costing you money in the long run?

I run into this everyday. The Heating contractor, who cancels several appointments to fix thermostats. The restaurant owner who just can’t make the time. There are countless examples of small business owners who seem to miss the bigger picture. Or perhaps they see it but don’t think there is anything they can do about it. These business owners place so much value on the short-term that they fail to see the importance of developing long-term strategies to keep their business strong and stable.

I wonder: how could a small business owner, who needs to work IN his business for short-term financial gains, still give enough attention to working ON his business to help it prosper long-term?

This relates directly to the third habit of Stephen Covey’s (http://www.stephencovey.com/) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea Covey embraces is that putting first things first is, above all, the key to prioritizing work. As Covey explains, some things are very important but, because they aren’t urgent; they get ignored. The window company owner knows his website is important, but because he’s so overwhelmed with day to day work, the website never makes it to the top of his list.

Interestingly, now in March, the window installation company has almost no work. And the owner, who still claims to see the value in a website, is afraid to spend any money. His online presence, although key to his success, remains one of those things he hopes he will get to one day.

If you know and understand that you need to be working ON your business now, here are three suggestions that may work well.

  • Make a commitment to look at the big picture and see where you would like your business to be 2-3 years down the road. Make business decisions based on that long-term vision.
  • Schedule just two hours (at the same day and time) each week to examine where your business is and where you would like it to be. Make this time sacred, without exception, to make important decisions about your business.
  • Look back over the last 12 months and the hours you spent “installing windows” when you could have been developing an online presence to bring in dozens of high-income projects. Ask yourself…. do I wish I had installed a strong online presence instead?

If you do, it’s not too late to make an important decision today. Get help and get moving! The Internet is not going away!

To the business owner who doesn’t understand that he needs to work ON his business, I hope you are still in business 5 years from now when 95% of your competition has an online presence and you are wondering why your phone is not ringing.