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How Much is Online Presence Helping Small Business?

Reaching new clients using technologyResearch demonstrates that smaller businesses, by and large, are not maximizing the benefit of their Internet presence.

This may be surprising to hear, and even disappointing to some, but it should be pointed out that those taking advantage of it, are really experiencing significant gains.

So why are so many still missing the boat?

Small businesses can often be charged with the harsh reality of just keeping the lights on. Computer and communications technology is complex and even somewhat obscure to the general public – not everybody wants to spend their weekend figuring out how to optimize a deployment, and others, well, they’re just not necessarily built for it.

But the research, conducted by San Mateo, CA-based Merrill Research, demonstrates that smaller businesses can leverage their position with minimal effort.

A recent study — called Benefits and Barriers of Bringing a Small Business Online: Perspectives from Global Small Businesses — helped to shed some light. The study was conducted earlier this year (late May though early June) and measured the responses of 1,050 businesses with 1 to 49 employees. The demographics were as follows: 150 each from China, France, Germany, India, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. All of the respondents were from the commercial sector (i.e., not educational, governmental, military, or non-profit) and they had to have an online presence of some sort (either a website, social media account, ecommerce site, local review site, or blog).

What was ultimately discovered was of considerable interest. It turned out to be pretty interesting. While most understood the importance of an appealing website, many simply opted for social media instead.

The essential wisdom garnered was that small businesses, most of which don’t have IT people on staff, think that using a social medium to host a Web presence is easier than doing it themselves. Why? Primarily because these sites offer a simple template that simply has to be populated. And, among those who were involved in ecommerce (selling things over the Internet) sites like Amazon.comEtsyShopify, or eBay seemed to most as good a place as any to set up shop online.

Unfortunately, those who choose such direction may be missing out on the true value of having one’s own, well defined space on the web.

The value of a domain for a small business is far more significant than many realize. Not only does it provide the foundation for one’s home page, but it can also be used to point at one’s Facebook or other social media site(s). Or, it may even be used for branded email – a hallmark for “real” businesses.

It turns out that before many respondents created their websites, a slight majority believed their greatest inhibitor would be a lack of technical knowledge; while others perceived potential obstacles to include some or all of the following: cost, support, investment of time, and security. Upon project completion, concerns turned to web maintenance and content sources.

It seems most don’t realize how many affordable and effective solutions exist in today’s market.

Here are a few takeaways:

• A great way to differentiate yourself is to find ways to continue great relationships and support with online customers. Let them know you care and that they are appreciated.

• You are the expert of your product. And even online, special preference will be give to local business. Don’t miss the opportunity to remind how available and customer friendly you really are.

• Make sure your online presence is all that it can be. Again, there are cost effective ways to look like you really know what you are doing. Looking established will set you apart right from the start.

• If you take your online presence seriously, there is no better way to compete with “the bigs.” In fact, it is entirely possible to take a bite out of larger competitors’ volume.

 

2 thoughts on “How Much is Online Presence Helping Small Business?

  1. Having an online presence is as crucial to success as having your name in the phone book was back in the pre-Internet days. People nowadays (when I say “people,” I mean me) will comparison pre-shop before they even get in the car. if I can’t find all of a business’s specifics and whether it has what I’m looking for, I won’t even bother with a visit.

    • Sadly, unless you’re using the Yellow Pages online, the online presence benefits only the major players, not small businesses as a rule. They will almost never be found unless the business has a unique name and the internet user is searching that name exclusively. Searching for a category and small businesses will never be found online as a rule. Sticking to the Yellow Search and you have a chance at your website being found.

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