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Some really good points! I have summarised a few of the common points and added a few of my thoughts.

Don’t need to be online, my referrals and offline marketing are working fine

– There were some comments about the validity of the stats. These stats are from the latest MYOB business monitor and as we know these types of stats are never perfect. Even with a number much lower than 47% I think it represents some useful information.

– I interact with many businesses that do not want to grow. Some are solo outfits and don’t want the hassle of employing people and others are happy with the living they are making and don’t feel the need expand in order to make more money. This is perfectly OK. I have many friends in exactly this scenario. Many people still associate being online with getting more customers. It is true that this is high on the agenda for many small operators. What we sometimes forget is that having your business online can also be a great way to retain customers by enhancing their experience with your business. We also tend to forget that you can automate parts of your business as a result of being online in order to reduce your operational expenditure and or time. If you are a business that does not believe you need new customers then make sure you consider business automation and customer retention online goals before making the decision to stay offline. I was chatting to a hairdresser the other day. He has about 8 staff and on average they do 50 haircuts a day. He estimates that they spend about 2 hours per day making bookings but the more time consuming part is confirming the bookings. Let’s say the going rate for a hairdresser is $25/hour. Thats $50/day he spends on appointments. An online booking system for his situation would cost $50 – $100 a month. Not a bad ROI. The ball is then in his court how he realises the savings. Either he offers less hours to one of his casual staff members or he benefits from the extra time available to perform other tasks.

Too Time Consuming

– Oh so true! Unfortunately, time is required to be successful online. No magic pills here. The online aspect of this thread does not change this fact. Online or not, you have to make time to work ON your business not just IN your business. If you’re ever led to believe that you can be successful online but don’t need to spend time then walk away. Yes, you can outsource some things but then you have to be prepared to pay for this. My last job saw me leading a department of 100+ digital professionals working on all parts of the digital eco-system for their websites. So I know getting others to work on just one part of your online world does in fact work but for most small business this is cost prohibitive.

– My advice is to carve out a set amount of time per week to work ON your business, including online. If you have the right people guiding you your time can be targeted at the right things at the right time. Focus on the items that require your unique experience and expertise and if you can get others to work on the less valuable stuff. A very common example here is content. A business leader is an expert at something and generating content surrounding that expertise can really only come from that leader. Content is loved by search engines and more importantly loved by customers. If you focus a large portion of your time on generating content you are making a positive step toward being successful online. Of course, there are many other aspects to consider but content will always be better from the business leader rather than an online professional. Having said that, the good online professionals can help you understand the best way to present the content and how best to distribute it.

Negative Perception

– There have been some great comments on the perception of the industry thus far. I really like the the comments about the infancy of the industry and the analogies with other professions that require certifications and in some cases are bound by certain laws, rules and regulations. There also seems to be a general feeling that businesses are flying blind and can’t see an obvious ROI and therefore reluctant to spend their hard earned capital.

– Other than the age of the industry I think (my opinion) there are a couple of reasons some people have had a bad experience resulting in the negative perception. The industry seems to have grown into a number of specialist areas offering expertise in one part of the digital eco-system. We have developers, SEO, SEM, social marketing, conversion specialists, graphic designers, User Experience, hosting companies, analytics specialists etc. Each of these areas are experts at what they do. If a small business had the money and the digital prowess to navigate through all this then I reckon they would be successful. This is how large business does it. But of course, not many small businesses have the money or the digital prowess. In many cases a business wants a positive return. A developer sells websites and an ROI can’t be achieved from a website alone. A marketer is generally selling you customer leads. Leads on their own do not provide an ROI. A graphic designer sells graphics and again, this on its lonesome won’t provide an ROI. When you buy a car are you buying the artefact called a car or are you buying an outcome, in this case a way to get from A to B. When you buy a bed are you buying the artefact called a bed or are you buying something that will give you a comfortable nights sleep? So when I buy a website from a developer I don’t really want the website, I want a customer to buy something from me. When I buy customer leads from a marketer I don’t really care about the leads, the outcome I am after is still for customers to buy something from me. So, a small business owner is forced to pay upfront for a number of items from different parts of the digital eco-system in order to hopefully realise what they actually want and that is a return on their investment.

– A few have already mentioned it but like any business relationship make sure you are comfortable with the professional you are progressing with. Whether you are dealing with a company or a freelancer understand their skills and expertise. You need to be comfortable. You need to piece together quite a bit from most aspects of the digital eco-system but yet each piece on its own does not realise your ultimate goal. So start small! I have been following Lean concepts and Kaizen (continuous improvement in small chunks) for years now and both apply to small business. Start small then improve in small increments continuously. Most small businesses do not require a website with all the bells and whistles to start out. Get a basic (and therefore cheaper one) then continuously measure. Your measurements will tell you what small improvements you need to make or what activity you need to perform. Make these improvements and keep on measuring. Over time you will end up with the right online presence. This might mean that you end up with quite a fancy site, a functional social media presence and even some fancy graphics. The difference is each of your smaller investments were made based on something that had been measured so you have more confidence in the outcome that particular investment will achieve. You would have also spread your costs out over time and probably learnt a about the online world as well along the way. Of course you could have done all of this upfront but for most small business thats a hard pill to swallow.