Because much of my work involves educating smaller business about the online world, I’m usually delivering education on online strategy rather than receiving it.
But last week our local council put on a workshop on building an online strategy so I thought I’d wander along and sit on the other side of the podium for a change.
And of course it never hurts to check that what you are delivering is still on the money!
The first thing that struck me was the numbers attending. Of more than 16,000 registered businesses in this city, only 12 showed up.
That meant that the remaining 15,988 weren’t available on this weeknight, had mastered their online presence, or simply didn’t think it relevant to their business. Or potentially didn’t know about it.
At $30, it certainly wasn’t the admission price.
Golden opportunities to learn
But affordable, accessible workshops like these are an invaluable source of information and education to the smaller business operator.
Because in the absence of some understanding of online strategy, much of your investment in your online presence will be at best piecemeal, at worst a complete waste of your ‘hard earned’.
To understand this better, it’s worth looking to the main reason for your online presence in the first place – marketing.
All professional marketers know that essentially there are four planning steps to marketing success:
1. Business planning
2. Marketing planning
3. Marketing strategy
4. Planning, preparation and execution of marketing tactics
Plan your way to success
Your business plan will provide a blueprint for all aspects of your business, from your expertise to your positioning in the marketplace to operational requirements.
Whilst your business plan will discuss marketing at a ‘high level’, it’s your ensuing marketing plan that will tackle all aspects of your business marketing – the four Ps of product, price, promotion and place and all of their related activities.
A core component of your marketing plan will be your marketing strategy for the given timeframe. Are you out to become a market leader in your given territory or are you planning to dominate a given niche? And once this is determined, how are you going to go about it?
These decisions in turn drive your choice of marketing tactics. For example, what is your price point? And how and where will you promote the business?
Given that online or digital is now a core component of any marketing strategy, it should provide clear cues as to the types of online activities you will need to implement for the given period.
At least in a perfect world.
Unfortunately the reality for most smaller businesses is nothing of the sort, instead opting for more of a knee-jerk reaction to a competitor’s lead.
More often that not, it takes the horrendous realisation that a competitor is trouncing their business in Google’s search results – coupled with the equally shocking realisation that most people use the search engine to find a supplier, that jolts them into belated action.
An expensive knee-jerk
Unfortunately in most cases it takes considerable time and money to play catch up football with a competitor who has learned a few online tricks on the way to pinching your new business leads.
The normal reaction is that the business needs a new website and/or some Google AdWords to try to claw back some search engine prominence.
The problem with this reactive approach is that it focuses on tactics and not strategy, leading to a series of often expensive trial and error online activities that rarely deliver the results the business needs.
A good strategy, for example, may uncover that AdWords is far too competitive to get good return on investment for your line of business, so investing in that tactic will only make a bad situation worse.
There is also the opportunity cost of your customers going elsewhere while you experiment with these online tactics.
Finding time to learn
While it’s difficult for many smaller operators to find time and resource to develop their online strategy, such an investment may be far more preferable to throwing good money after bad on a tactic that may never work for your business anyway.
It’s all part of the smaller business operators ongoing challenge of finding time and resource to properly plan prior to investing in a particular business activity, asset or tactic.
But also a challenge well worth confronting and mastering.
Not to forget taking advantage of affordable education when it comes your way.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.