The Perils of Keeping your Small Business Offline

Yesterday I tweeted this question:

So, is it?

I was actually trying to find a caterer for an event I am planning, preferably one closer to the event, and it has been an ordeal. Clearly a lot of small businesses are not online and this is worrying. I had to eventually resort to emailing friends for recommendations or suggestions and ended up calling a few of the options. Quite frankly, I find this tedious. I am online most of the time, so it is easier, not to mention more convenient to do a quick Google search, locate a website and then email the person. Or at least the website would have enough preliminary information that when and if I do call, I am not in a state of utter ignorance and I am a bit more informed and persuaded to make a positive consumer decision.
There are a lot of small businesses out there and I applaud this. I think it is great when people follow their passions and make their dreams of having their own business a reality. But really...gone are the days when you printed flyers on coloured paper and left them on office coffee tables and on lightposts. Why don't you have an email address for your business? This is not at all a winning move!
When I called the caterer that sounded the most promising, she asked me for my email "number"...wow. Then when I finally got the email, it was from her friend's email address because she did not have an email address, and the friend's address was sketchy at best (something along the lines of sweetreds@domain.com). A total fail.

Funding agencies for entrepreneurs should be equipped to assist small business owners with the information on these basics and why they are so important. While a start-up may not be able to afford a snazzy website off the bat, Facebook Pages have now made it easier to get yourself an online presence. Too easy. Way too easy. So, why aren't you online, and why should you be?

The internet is like the Yellow Pages - I only use the physical yellow pages when I am on the road and cannot get through to the operator. For everything else, I turn to Google. Millions of people feel the same way, so if you're not online, you're almost non-existent.
Visibility, credibility and promotion - It's all well and good to have people know you via a friend, but you can really establish your new brand with an online presence, which can take you from the lightpost to the masses with a couple easy steps and great content. For my caterer friend, if your menus are online, I don't have to wait for your friend to email them to me, or worse...fax them and hope it's a good copy.

Online orders/online business - There are those who have not seen a physical cash register in years because they live by online shopping/ordering. Don't limit yourself and lose the opportunity to bring in some extra business.

Analytics/Feedback/customer suggestions - How many people are visiting your site? Who are they? Where are they? This kind of information can help you market your business and develop new ideas to meet the needs of the people who have shown an interest in what you're selling. Additionally, you can get a lot of great feedback from customers which can assist you in fine tuning your products/services.
Not because you're operating out of your kitchen, should it mean that your marketing efforts should fall by the wayside. It's more important in the start up phase to establish yourself and get your business name, your services, your contact info etc out there to prospective customers. Your online presence is part of your calling card - it gives you greater legitimacy and greater visibility. And please...

  • Have an email address that identifies your company - sweetreds@domain.com is not it. Use your company name to identify yourself electronically.
  • Ensure your site, your Page and your website, are professional and cover the areas that a prospective customer may be interested in.
I am left holding a copy of a menu that leaves me a bit cold, and will have to now call her back and make suggestions. That is, if she answers the phone, because on my first attempt she had forgotten her phone at her aunt's house and the aunt had to take a message and have her call me back a couple hours later. If there was an option, where the business was already online, with a more convenient communication channel, then she would surely miss out on my event and my business. Don't make the same mistake.

Photo credit: www.freewebsitetemplates.com

2 comments:

kramtt said...

Great post as usual.

I think we are on the verge of something happening here in Trinidad. Many people still do not appreciate the commercial potential of the internet. Having said that I can appreciate why many one-man shops find it difficult to maintain an online presence, as they may not have the time or the ability to maintain a proper page, wherever it may be, nor be able to afford to pay someone to do it.

Facebook pages are useful for businesses, but now that I am on the almost anti-facebook, I hesitate to recommend it.

A friend of mine is opening a consultancy on his own, and asked me for some general advice. We were speaking about e-mail, and he said that he was going with his webmail account. I told him that it is extremely affordable (and it is) to by a domain and get some one to host a mail server (something like 50-100 per month I think, because mail@mybusinessname.com, or orders@mybusinessname.com is far more professional looking than mybusinessname@webmailservice.com. I say this becuase nothing irks me more than seeing correspondence from colleagues with their myname@webmailservice.com as their email address... I mean, really, you couldn't even try to look professional?

I think the revolution is coming however, but I do think that we need services that encourage small businesses to maintain an online presence, and let them know that the option is there for them.

trinidarlin said...

I typed a comment and lost it, but in essence I was saying I agree with you completely with the domain name issue. In terms of personnel to manage online presence, it has to be part of your strategic plan or you are starting off to fail. Make it part of your budget from the get-go. Capitalise on marketing interns/UWI students looking for job experience. It does not have to be an insurmountable mountain!

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