As well as predicting the extraordinary growth of the internet economy by 2016, a report released by business strategy consultancy The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) identified five ways for SMEs to leverage value from the online world. What are these opportunities and how can you make the most of them in your business?
1. Geographic expansion
As many soloists already know the internet has broken down many geographical barriers of doing business. You don’t need to be located in the same city, or even the same country, as your clients. You can both access and service an expanded customer base through email, Skype and a whole host of other virtual services. Use this advantage to think creatively about your accessible market.
2. Enhanced marketing
The beauty of online marketing is it allows for that holy grail of marketing practices – measurability. Whether you’re marketing online through SEM (Search Engine Marketing) or display ads such as banners, you can keep track of exactly how many users interact with your ad. Even the controversial area of group buying, if managed well, can bring fantastic exposure to a group of customers you wouldn’t usually be able to access.
3. Improved customer interactions
The growth of independent user reviews allows your customers to let you know what they think of your business (good and bad!) with an immediacy and a reach that goes far beyond what was previously possible. Managing your online reputation is important, as is dealing with disgruntled customers who now have a far bigger audience than just you. But the upside is that great reviews are gold.
Increasingly, potential customers use social media to seek out recommendations from their friends or professional network and those recommendations hold significant weight in a purchasing decision.
This increased interaction also can even allow to you refine and improve your service or product. Some of the biggest companies in the world release beta versions of their product and then refine, refine, refine. Do this and you’ll be quick to get to market. You’ll also be able to learn from and adapt your product through real customer experience and feedback.
4. Leveraging the cloud
There is a whole raft of functionality now with cloud computing, which used to be beyond the reach of small businesses. From file storage and sharing to customer relationship management, ecommerce and online payment gateways – you don’t need to be one of the big players to have access to the tools and infrastructure that lets you be more effective.
5. Easier and quick staff recruitment
You don’t have to be an employer to take advantage of this lever. It’s now easier to recruit suppliers and outsource business functions by tapping into a global market. You can source, set up and manage virtual teams anywhere in the world through specialist freelancing websites as well as sourcing recommendations and advice through professional networks such as LinkedIn and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
What can you start doing today to unlock the value of the internet economy?
“ The beauty of online marketing is it allows for that holy grail of marketing practices – measurability. ”