Running a small business has never been easy. If it’s not ensuring that your core product and service is good enough to withstand the barrage of competitors, it’s knowing enough about the various disciplines of business to ensure that it remains competitive and ultimately profitable.
It’s definitely no place for the faint of heart.
But come the turn of the millennium, it suddenly got a whole lot harder. Because no matter how good you were at running your business, the rapid evolution of the world wide web took even the most seasoned business operator by complete surprise.
In less than a decade, the web had evolved from a plaything of techie types and academics, to a fundamental and critical marketing tool for businesses everywhere.
One minute you are employing a raft of tried but true traditional marketing techniques like Yellow Pages, radio and direct mail, and the next pretty much everything is done via a Google search, your website or most likely, both.
While to those well versed in technology, that development opened up a whole range of exciting opportunities, for the vast majority it meant coming to terms with taking their computer use to a whole new level, and equally coming to terms with a completely new way of doing business.
No wonder it took so long for smaller businesses to take the plunge into their first websites. Even as recent as five years ago some reports suggested that up to 40% of Australian small businesses still didn’t have a basic website.
A steep learning curve
For most it was a matter of understanding what it was exactly you were spending your money on as you were plunged into a world of terms and people you had never come across before.
The other problem was, once you had your hard-earned website, you then had to work out what on earth you were going put on there on a regular basis.
And there was the second almighty rub.
The second barrier to online success
Because while your website might well look good, read well and be prominent on Google et al, if you didn’t keep feeding it with fresh content, it soon became stale to both visitors and search engines, providing a double whammy of negative impact.
What’s more, fresh content was your way of keeping in front of your customers initially via email and later social media in a way that was extraordinarily cost effective.
For every piece of great product or service information, you had a means of informing your clients for no distribution cost whatsoever whilst using the same content to promote invaluable ‘viral’ effects and providing more reasons for Google to crawl the new content and give you a boost in prominence.
Content still king
Despite all the hype given to the technology, content soon proved to be king once again.
If the learning curve associated with getting your first website together wasn’t painful enough, now you had to learn to do what the big guys did with teams of professionals and deep pockets: create an ongoing stream of promotional content that would act as a valuable customer magnet.
And amongst all this you still had to run your business.
It’s this second phase that few smaller businesses get right. To be able to come up with a program of great content, offers and the like, and to execute it well was something only bigger businesses had the resources to do in the past, typically via expensive advertising and PR agencies.
A rock star audience
For those that can do it, the rewards are plentiful. Once you have your content, you can soon distribute to what can amount to hundreds of thousands of prospects via a combination of your website, email and most importantly social media.
And for the first time, this audience is freely available to you to distribute your content to whenever you need. And now for a little more, social networks can get it out to a whole new audience of qualified prospects.
It’s a wonderful and effective opportunity for smaller business. The problem is, resourcing it well enough to cut through an increasingly selective audience.
If you have managed to get onto the regular content bandwagon, you are likely to be enjoying a steady stream of very qualified leads for not a huge outlay.
If not, it might well be something to start considering to ensure you are getting the best bang for your promotional buck.
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.