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October 9 th, 2014

My business is too small to be on the 'net... Right ?

The Internet has changed communication just as the printing press did in the 1400sI will start off by saying that no one is forced to have their business on the Internet - We are a free country, after all and freedom of choice is paramount.

With that being said, however, there is one, undeniable fact: The Internet is ubiquitous: That is to say: It is everywhere; It is a part of nearly everyones' everyday life and is becoming more so as time passes.

Just like the printing press with moveable type in the 1400s changed the spread of information in the world, so has the Internet in todays' society.

I have heard, many a time, people say "My business is too small for the Internet. I serve a small, local market, therefore there is no need for an Internet presence." While lack of an Internet presence certainly does not mean a business will fail, it definitely limits the growth of a business - at the very least, it slows it down. At worst is the lack of Internet presence puts said business at a very distinct competitive disadvantage when a local competitor moves in who DOES have an Internet offering.

Even a small, local grocery store can benefit from an Internet presenceThe recent example that prompted this article was someone who said (I am paraphrasing): "I am a small grocery store - I'll use the 'net for the cash machine (Interac/credit card processing), but I see no need for it, otherwise".

So we shall take the example of a small, local grocery store, serving a community within walking distance, say, a ten block radius of the business:

How would such a business reasonably use the Internet to benefit itself without going to unreasonable expense ?

  1. The simplest reason is simply to be found: With the diminishing use of print telephone directories, most citizens have moved to using search engines and online directories to find stores near them. With location-enabled devices, many of these searches are comprised simply of "where is the closest grocery store to me ?" - A search engine will present a business with a web site much, much higher in the results than it will a business with solely a telephone directory entry. You still want to be in the print directories, as they are definitely still used - but not being on the 'net means, for a large percentage of consumers, that you do not exist.
  2. Awareness of products: While one could make the claim that "a grocery store is a grocery store", that would be akin to saying "an airplane is an airplane" - It is probably safe to say there are at least minor differences between the Concorde and a Cessna, just as there is a difference between a Super Center Grocery Store and your local fresh food mart.
    Your website with your inventory list online is, in and of itself, search engine bait: This means that if you happen to carry, say, Crystal Light, a sugar-free drink mix that is popular for both dieters and diabetics, having that listed on your site can mean the difference between a new customer choosing to come to your store instead of driving across town to the large super center that also carries it. Listing your entire product line on your website often gives the questing consumer the reason to visit your small business, over going to the mega businesses like Walmart or Costco.
  3. Awareness of sales and promotions: A very large portion of consumers are price-aware and choose to shop at retailers where there are sales, promotions and discounts over those who have none. The Internet is the most efficient, fastest, least expensive method to reach a larger audience over, say, plastering posters or flyers around your neighbourhood every time you out milk on sale for a dollar off. Notifying customers, both existing and new, of sales promotions often means people coming in to your store where and when they otherwise would not have.
  4. The Internet is as ubiquitous as the telephone - and you wouldn't do business without a phoneBeing a part of the local community: Community involvement is often an important part of public relations for business both small and large. An Internet presence keeps a continuing record of things like your businesses' donations to the local food bank, sponsoring of the local hockey and soccer teams, discounts for senior citizens and support of charitable causes. Public relations efforts like these add up over time, often nudging customers to choose your business over your competitor when they are reminded that you are also part of the community in which you live - to their benefit and greater good - over the competitor that is solely there to make money.

There are a great many other uses for the 'net for businesses, some simple, some complex and expensive, but these four can be done with a simple, well designed website that is maintained with basic HTML and a text editor. (Naturally, a decent aesthetic look helps) - At the end of the day, the Internet is as much a part of our days as the telephone is - And there are not too many businesses who claim they can succeed without a telephone.

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