Research Draft (Small Businesses Online: Are you ahead or in the dust?)
Where is your small business? How has the economy effected it? What are you doing to keep up with the changing market? These aged old questions are still especially valuable in the current economic downturn. Markets are constantly changing. There are many new forms of advertising. Arguably for the good or the bad, but advancements must be made in any small business marketing strategy. A necessary addition is the world wide web. Every small business must incorporate a web based marketing plan to keep ahead or even just afloat.
What might I mean by web based marketing; I mean using resources on the web like company websites, online stores, social networks, website banner advertising, mobile applications, email, search engines, and more. Where are customers going? The answer is the web. When someone needs a restaurant in an unfamiliar city, they go to their nearest web-based search engine. When looking for the best value products, they go to their favorite store’s website. When looking for a hotel, they use travel sites. When searching for one’s favorite music artist, they find them on social networking sites. The new generation of consumers are using technology and the internet more than ever for their daily needs.
Alright, you might be saying “but my business doesn’t fit under those categories; I’m a contractor, I’m a doctor, I’m baker…” These are valid points, but look at it this way, how might you advertise your building contracting business to potential clients? You could at least put your name and ad out with websites that promote local contractors in the area or you could have a company website that showcases your recent building projects. An optometrist might have a website dedicated to informing patients about specific procedures they do, certain contact lens brands offered, or testimonies from returning patients and other doctors. A baker could write up a blog about their bakery’s legacy and share new recipes with dedicated customers. There are an infinity of different ways to promote your small business online that can help it grow in today’s economy.
Advertising has changed through the years and businesses have looked to many sources to put their name into the market. Advertising now-a-days can be anything from word of mouth, to newspaper ads, to radio, to the TV, to the internet. Brad Stone, in Newsweek, states that even less than a decade ago many technical experts would not have banked on the internet as being a big source of consumer sales until “online users” came into the picture. Now it is like a bomb shell of ever increasing revenue (Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”). According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were about $47.5 billion in internet retail sales in the second quarter of 2011 alone, and those figures just keep growing every year. These figures are really only about 4.6% of total retail sales, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but how can that percentage help your business and what does that reflect on where consumers are going to find products and services (“Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 2nd Quarter 2011” 1-3)? Stone also explains many of the benefits of advertising on the internet because of current use of social networks, blogs, lower costs, and many other things (Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”). As a young consumer myself, I look to the web and other technological sources to find the products and services I need. The world is gearing towards computers, easy access, quick information, global markets, and much more. I agree with Stone on the idea that the web offers many advantages to advertising.
Now you might know why web based marketing is important, but how does one go about doing it and what might be the downsides? With good reason, small business owners might be reluctant to advertise their business on the internet. As research and opinions have stated, many people don’t know how to go about developing a website, others might be concerned about the overall cost and time, many might be weary with security, and others just plain want to keep their business local. As everyone knows, there are many disadvantages with the web. It is a place where everyone can voice their opinions about a subject, a person, or even a company. Putting a small business out on the web to the masses creates a challenge of keeping it’s image and reputation untainted. Personal, one-on-one service lacks greatly with clients over the internet. Poorly designed websites can hurt a company more than build it up. And, scariest of all, a small business on the web just doesn’t truly define a good old “brick and mortar/mom and pop” store where they treat you like family. These concerns really can challenging to overcome in your business but it is possible to overcome them. Despite the challenges and the change in the traditional small business model, a small business has an advantage when they put themselves out on the world wide web. Even with the doubts, sources support online marketing.
When a company is going to put themselves out on the web, there are many different approaches. A small business has the option to invest a lot of money in online marketing or spend close to nothing. Full fledged website development, databases creation, cloud storage and managing, internet store creation, and web application integration are all offered by professional companies to really jump start everyone from small businesses to large corporations. These “investments” could be key to success for certain types of businesses while others might opt for a more economical approach. Companies like Facebook, WordPress, Yahoo, Blogger, etc. offer low cost or free solutions to connect directly to customers and potential clients through social networking. Other low cost solutions include Google Ads or banner advertisements. So, the cost and time fears of online marketing can be eradicated after comparing the price of sending out catalogs or advertisements to a thousand mailboxes and sending an email with the same content with links to online company sources to many thousands of people in an instant, and this being only one example of the many time/money saving solutions.
Noor Azuan Hashim looks at many of these aspects of small businesses in Malaysia that have gone online in his research study. He argues that it is assumed that internet marketing is always a good idea for companies but that his research shows that it is not always a valuable option. He tries to understand what managers think about using the internet in their businesses. Managers in his study group want internet presence to promote their company but at the same time there is reluctance to dive fully into the web and it’s resources (Hashim, “E-commerce and SMEs—The Need for Caution”). I understand and sympathize with the opinion that going on the web with a small business may not seem like the best option, but I think that if managers are careful, and can put a little money and time into it, a viable web presence can be very supportive to their business, even if it is just getting their name out to the online public.
An article from the Marketing Management Journal, focuses on how a local store’s image may be effected by their web presence which ties into the results of Noor’s work. The article suggests that there are many factors that tie into a store’s overall image. These include the “brick and mortar” store, previous customer experiences, quality expectations, overall web presence quality, etc. Their research shows that a company that has a good physical image needs a good web image for customers to come back to their website and stop in at the store more often (Moore, Kinard, Moore. “THE CARRY-OVER EFFECTS OF A PHYSICAL STORE’S IMAGE ON ITS ECOMMERCE DISTRIBUTION CHANNEL”).
I absolutely agree that a company that is planning on going on the web must invest in having a good presence or it might backfire and lower the company’s overall image. All small businesses should advertise themselves on the world wide web. Many research studies and opinions support the viability of web integration of small businesses to increase business. A web presence is very important in our developing world but it should be approached in a controlled and smart manner. If a company fails to address web based marketing, they will fall behind in the pack and be left in the dust of a declining economy.
Hashim, Noor Azuan. “E-commerce and SMEs—The Need for Caution.” Prometheus 27.2 (2009): 125-140. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
Moore, Robert S., Brian R. Kinard, and Melissa L. Moore. “THE CARRY-OVER EFFECTS OF A PHYSICAL STORE’S IMAGE ON ITS ECOMMERCE DISTRIBUTION CHANNEL.” Marketing Management Journal 15.1 (2005): 59-68. Business Source Premier. EBSCO. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.
Stone, Brad. “Hi-Tech’s New Day.” Newsweek 145.15 (2005): 60-64. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
United States. Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 2nd Quarter 2011. Washington, DC: , 2011. Web. .