Christmas break: A great opportunity for a virtual reality check

Use the quiet time to assess what how well the web stacks up for your business. CRAIG REARDON

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that I’m really not that much of a techie. I’m really more into the business aspects like conversions and customer service than codecs and calculus.

So when evaluating the worth of a new technology or development, I tend not to jump on the blog bandwagon like many of my more technically minded counterparts, and instead opt for the barbecue test.

Yes, it’s as low tech as it sounds.

The barbecue test is simply tuning in to conversations over summer barbecues to get an idea of which trend, fashion or development is interesting enough for ordinary people to chew the fat over.

No, not the one that the gadget geek in the group decides to prattle on about, in so doing trying to impress anyone patient enough to listen, with his grasp of the technology world.

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are techies. But they’re not really a good indicator of what the general populace is up to.

No, the trick is to hear what ordinary people are discussing.

I’ve been practicing this for the last few years – if not at barbecues then at parties or restaurants – anywhere there is a group of ordinary people.

And it’s amazing what you pick up.

For example, you’ll find that “the web”, Google and/or email is mentioned in pretty much every conversation. It’s now got to the point where it’s surprising if they are not mentioned in conversation.

Not far behind those conversation hogs are more specialised offerings like eBay, YouTube and MySpace. And just a little behind them, blogs and podcasts.

So what’s the point of so much eavesdropping?

Essentially it’s basic market research. By listening closely to how people are changing the way they communicate and are informed and entertained, you can get a sense of your own business’s standing in the online world.

For example, if people are regularly picking up bargains on eBay, perhaps you should bundle some of your unsold inventory and put it there too. Or if people are Google-searching for a supplier, it shows how important it is for your business to be easily found on that and other search engines.

If someone heard about a great product or service after a friend emailed them, perhaps that’s a cue to look at how you can create similar “viral” with your email marketing. Or if they’re regularly tending their MySpace or Facebook patch, then maybe you need to join these communities to get the word out about your business.

The great news about all of this is that it’s now far more affordable than it was only a few years ago to be able to tap into some of these exciting capabilities.

Back then, a website system with all the bells and whistles needed you to manage your own content, conduct professional email marketing campaigns, sell securely online and invite customer reviews, which would have cost well into five figures and even six figures.

Today you can get all this technology at a surprisingly professional level for only three figures. Amazing but true – though most need some professional help to set it all up, get your design, content and search optimisation right and support you adequately.

While conducting this research, it’s worth keeping a wishlist of the things you would like your business to do online. Then when you return to work, brief a good web services firm on what you’ve got in mind and get a price on its implementation. Given the aforesaid crash in technology prices, you might be pleasantly surprised at what can be achieved on a relatively slender budget.

Don’t hold back on this wishlist. Pre-built or off-the-shelf technologies are emerging by the month, so what was once out of the question may now be affordable.

First thing in the new year is also a great time to commence your e-business project as providers are relatively quiet and can give your job top priority.

So over your break, keep a pen and paper or electronic device handy to note down those ideas – ready for action upon your return.

In closing I have to acknowledge everyone who has read this blog during this, its first year – particularly if you’ve shared a comment or idea.

In the meantime, I hope that like me you’ll be trying to get away from your computer and give body and mind a well earned break.

Happy holidays!


Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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