I've written about this before, but I had a conversation with a friend this past weekend who is starting a new business and thought revisiting the topic has value. That is, the competitive advantage you can gain by using technology to help your small business. Examples and, well, cliche's are abundant when discussing this topic. "Make a $5,000 a month business out of your house appear to be a multi-national conglomerate by utilizing a website, 800 number, and fancy email addresses." It's possible that this is what your business needs. If your selling on-line across the country, looking like a seasoned, well established company has its benefits. If you're a coffee shop, you're probably better off staying as grass roots as possible.
So let's look at our options to use technology and try to gain a better understanding of what each one entails.
Website: Ten years ago, everyone wanted a website. Fancy ones as well. The Website was your portal for the outside world. You could communicate anything you wanted and reach as many people as possible. As long as they visited your site. The reality was, and still is today, that getting visitors is expensive, time consuming, and a full time job if you want to do it right. Websites are relatively cheap, if you're looking to just throw a page or three up there and manage it yourself. To do it right, or at least in line with competitors, you're looking at $3000 minimum. Graphic art work, HTML, Code, URL registrations, hosting, and a plethora of other things all add to this cost.
Email database: To build a database of customers in a relatively small time frame is paramount to getting your kids to eat their peas. It's frustrating, time consuming, and expensive. Unless you know what you're doing. Even then, it becomes at least two of the aforementioned pain points. A local business can use tactics to make this easier, such as asking for an email address at the point of purchase. But you can never really validate if you're getting good info until you send out the first email.
Social networking: In contrast to my statement above regarding websites, today, everyone wants a Facebook page. That statement holds a lot of merit as well. Social networking has gotten so mainstream that even the media uses it to provide coverage. How many people get their news from Facebook? You'd be surprised. I remember taking a nap after the Eagles were down 24-3 at the half versus the Giants. When I woke up at 6pm, I asked someone what the final of the game was. "I don't know but I think they won. GO Eagles and stuff like that is all over Facebook". So the message, or news, was relayed to me via info gotten off of Facebook, not ESPN. Facebook isn't the only form of social networking. Twitter and Foursquare are also valuable tools that allow you to communicate with potential customers as well.
Learning how to use these tools is imperative. Traditional advertising, such as print, TV, and radio have their place in delivering your message, but social networking is proving to be just as potent. If not more. Some take the thought process a little further... Why pay for traditional advertising if I can get the same results via a free social media site? Some just say, why not throw the book at everyone. Utilize every single tactic available to us that fits within our budget.
How I went about this was very simple. How much do I want/ have to spend on marketing? Once I knew that number... what tactics are available... one I had that list... Sort the list out from highest cost to lowest cost. Then another sort of time commitments on each tactic. From there you just keep asking yourself questions to determine what is the best fit.
The reality is, in order to be successful, you have to utilize something. Your competitors are using it. Your potential customers are finding their products and services via these outlets. So how do you go about it? You already own a business, or are in the process of starting one up. To have gotten this far, you already have the skill sets to figure this out. Planning out your strategy isn't going to be easy. You will ask questions. You will research and find answers. You may even seek help from professionals. What is the cost of doing so? And what benefit are you getting by approving those expenditures?
Case studies on this topic are abundant. Look at newer businesses in the area. They utilize Social media before they are even open, and have basically forgone websites, because, well.... Why bother? I'll reach more people via social media in a much shorter time frame than any website would be able to accomplish. So why spend the money. They're not ignoring the need for a website. They're just recognizing that the cost of the website is better put off down the road until they start realizing some revenue.
There are tons of articles on this as well as agencies and firms that can help you figure all of this out. My suggestions are to learn as much as possible before hiring someone to do the work. Educate yourself on what social media can really do. What type of website do you need? How do you go about gathering emails for an email campaign?
Set yourself on a plan of action. Talk to your friends, customers, family. Find out how they use social media. What are there preferences when shopping or looking for products or services. Social Networking sites can be used as almost a website in and of itself with the use of fan pages, etc...
Do the research, write the plan, and follow the plan. You'll find your business doing better for it.