Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Small business owners are all over the map.

My internet marketing business has me meeting with small business owners almost everyday. It always amazes me what a tremendous variety of entrepreneurs are out there. From absolute titans of focus and motivation to little lost sheep, you never know what to expect when you arrange a consultation. I quickly learned that even the most well designed internet marketing strategy will only succeed if the business owner is both equipped and committed to maximizing their new opportunity. For the most part, the small business owners have a pretty good handle on things and are just looking for a way to build their business. Then there are the others.

Probably the most common miscalculation is the trades person who has been doing something their whole life and has decided that it was time for them to go into the business for themselves. In this group you have the carpenter, auto mechanic and the computer repair technician. The usual scenario here goes like something like they quite their job, bought some business cards and "put the word out". They probably have a couple clients lined up and they figure once the word gets out, the clientele will come. After several months of paying their mortgage out of their savings, they realize they are going to have to get a marketing plan.

Another common mistake is the retail entrepreneur who bets their whole investment on location. This is the specialty retailer, insurance broker and the local attorney. They subscribe to the "build it where people can see it and they will come" theory. Usually by the time I have met these people, they have built it and not enough people came. These retail locations can be quite expensive start ups. The clock is ticking on these folks the minute they hang up the "open for business" sign. With the tremendous overhead involved, it is crucial for these people to realize their need for a marketing plan early in the game before they are too far in debt.

The last common scenario I see is the seasoned professional who has planned very well but their marketing strategy is falling short. While these professionals can be anyone, it often seems to be baby boomers. While some people of the greatest generation have embraced technology, some still think of it as gadgetry and something for young people. My challenge is usually to get them to just accept the facts. Their competitors are getting business that they are not getting because their competitors have kept up with the times. This usually means a strong internet marketing strategy. Mostly, these old school entrepreneurs are skeptical. It is usually because they don't use the internet themselves. However, after I show them that these competitors that are whooping their butt all have a strong web presence, the smart ones come around.

Whatever the scenario, the successful small business owners are the ones with a sound marketing plan and are fast on their feet. Too many times I am invited to a local business that is already knee deep in debt and do not have the funds to launch an effective marketing strategy. They just kept hoping things will get busy. Unfortunately for them, the next deal they make will likely be with the auctioneer.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Microsoft pursuing Yahoo in fear of Google?

Microsoft doesn't just want Yahoo, they want them really, really bad. The reason why may not be so obvious. You can accept Microsoft's explanation, you can speculate that it is just a stock strategy to make executives rich or you can join the legions of paranoid geeks who think Microsoft is trying to take over the world. I offer you that it may be all about fear of Google.

Why would Microsoft fear Google? After all, Microsoft makes it's money from software and Google doesn't have any business interests in that market sector at all. It may seem that way, but Google has the potential to really take a bite out of the software giant's customer base. How they could do it comes in the form of something you may already be familiar with; the concept of Web TV.

Web TV and web only computers use the model that your computer is just a portal to the web. The advantage of this is that your computer could be extremely inexpensive. Imagine a computer that costs $50 to $100 total. No software to buy, no complex and expensive operating systems to update and maintain. Just in case you missed it, that means no Microsoft Windows. And, with a few key software acquisitions by Google, it could easily mean no Microsoft Office either.

Those of you familiar with the "web only" computer introduction, know that it never managed the momentum needed to threaten Microsoft's profits. However, what happens if Google developes and promotes cheap hastle free computing?

Google's absolutely dominant share of Internet users provides them with the world's largest captive market. They can reach unprecedented amounts of potential computer buyers with lowest cost of anyone in the world. Combine that with Google's cavernous deep pockets and you have a company that can make the web only computer initiative a huge success.

The sales pitch will be appealing to a large majority of PC users. A cheap, small and convenient computer with a simple operating system that never crashes, never gets viruses, never loses your files, does not need expensive operating system upgrades or software. Just a small monthly membership fee and your google homepage will be filled with all of the applications and features that you used to find on your desktop. And the sales pitch will be everywhere you look on the web. Google's web dominance would allow them to create the biggest tech buzz in history without anyone else's help.

It doesn't take a wall street analyst to predict the effect that would have on Microsoft's sales. You better believe Microsoft is more aware of that threat than anyone. In fact, it is probably the only legitimate threat to the software giants virtual monopoly. The best defense they have is to buy that threats principal competitor.

Microsoft's strategy may be just that. Buying Yahoo in itself won't hurt Google much. But, if Microsoft can successfully integrate and market Yahoo, Live and MSN into a single strong competitor, Google will be forced to stay focused on maintaining their market share and will have far less resources to attack Microsoft's customer base. If this is Microsoft's motive, this preemptive strike may actually be based on good intelligence.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A new marketing reality

Marketing for small business is a unique and challenging thing. Small businesses all have one thing in common. They have a limited budget. While this is true of all businesses to some degree, for small business owners, it is attached to very real short term consequences. If a corporation has a marketing strategy flop, there will be some explaining to do. If a small business owner makes a poor marketing decision, it could very well bring the auctioneer to the door.

So with that in mind, we know that a small business owner will not be saturating the marketplace with billboards and primetime TV ads. Small business owners need marketing strategies that pay them back with new customers. Once they accept that, it is all about return on investment.

Consider the options: Print ads like newspaper, magazines and flyers; Direct Marketing like mailers, door hangers and cold calls; Or, internet marketing like Websites, Paid ads and the notorious spam mailings.

I have had experience with most of these as a paying customer. I can tell you from experience that each one performs completely differently depending on what it is you are trying to market. If I was a local Pizza joint, I would place my bet on door hangers or even direct mail. If I were a big box retailer advertising a sale, I would put an ad in Sunday's paper. However, if I were a small business providing any type of local service or specialty merchandising, I highly recommend a strongly optimized website.

Websites and small business are like peanutbutter and jelly. And, this is for good reason. Consider some typical small businesses like these: Realtors, Attorneys, Insurance Agents, Construction Contractors, Auto Repair and specialty shops like pool supply stores. The reason these businesses are perfect for internet marketing is because these are the kind of businesses people go looking for when they are in need. And, these business owners know that the best possible consumer to reach is someone who is actively looking for your services.

Once upon a time when people needed something locally, they looked it up in the phone book. These days, people go online. Why? The reason is simple really. Consumers are more educated than ever and they want more information to make their decisions. The internet offers endless sources of potential suppliers, other people's product experiences and opinions and tons of in-depth information on product options, history and pricing.

Unlike paid advertisements, a well optimized website also builds in value over time. If you buy an ad in the paper or send out a mailer, when the ad is gone, it is over and you have to buy another ad if you want people to see your business. Conversely, if you have a well optimized business website, it is always there. And, if it is managed properly, it will continue to create more and more exposure for your business as it gets older and more established.

I am amazed at how powerful it can be for local businesses. I have watched a well optimized website completely turn around a struggling local business. You will never see a happier business owner and it is the true reason that I do Internet Marketing and Website Optimization.