The Internet opens six opportunities for your business:
Newbies see the Internet as advertising. But a business website is better understood as a branch office, a place of doing business. It's like opening a second office where you can entertain customers, except this office has the lights on and coffee ready 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
People can stop in at their convenience any time they want and browse through your offerings. They'll
· Read the brochures in the rack by the door,
· Pick up a copy of your "Common Questions People Ask About our Business,"
· Solve their own problems with your detailed Troubleshooting Guide,
· Scribble messages on the pad of question forms you've provided,
· Look at detailed information and specs about each product you offer, and, if you have a vending machine in your lobby,
· Make purchases day or night.
What's the monthly rent? Somewhere between $20 to $100 per month for smaller businesses. And the initial build-out of your branch office costs only a few thousand dollars. Sure, you'll need to remodel every year or two to keep it up-to-date. But that's a small price to pay for the new customers your branch office will bring.
Remember, don't think "advertising," think "branch office," and you'll begin to grasp the Internet opportunity.
I'm amazed how many people are blind to the second business opportunity the Internet offers -- a world market. Not too long ago a medium-size mail order executive told me, "The boss insists that we need to prevent people from other countries from ordering on our new site. We just don't do much international business, and it's a pain to ship outside the country." Well this needs to be re-considered when you go online.
A rapidly increasing number of people around the world use the Internet to purchase items they can't find locally. In early 1999, for example, 1.5 million Chinese now are connected to the Internet, along with half a million from
Think about it. The Internet provides a small business in
On the Internet, geography has ceased to be a barrier. A small business market used to be limited to a one hour drive from its store or office. No more. People now shop a global directory on the Web and let the best site win.
Of course, some products don't lend themselves to a global market. Take pizza, for example. Can you imagine delivery of a flat box containing two-day-old pepperoni with anchovies? Gross! Well, as of today this is feasible too!
A global opportunity awaits you.
A third opportunity is direct sales, jumping the existing distribution chain that ratchets up prices to the end user.
Many online-only businesses are essentially order-taking front offices. Product fulfilment is through manufacturers and distributors who agree to drop-ship directly to the customer. This way the Web retailer doesn't incur expenses for inventory and warehousing. (Nor does he have the ability for superior customer service, but that's another story.)
A really scary development to many manufacturers is the growing temptation to sell directly on the Web and by-pass the complex distribution chain they have built over many years. The manufacturer doesn't want to anger distributors and dealers. But increasingly, competing manufacturers sell direct from the factory and undercut the price to the end user. For many manufacturers, it's a decision to either sell directly or lose marketshare. Agony! What do you do when the Dell Computer equivalent in your industry sells directly over the Web, pulls in $14 million per day in revenue, and grows faster than any other competitor?
Direct retail sales via the Internet is growing exponentially. This is a great opportunity for your business!
Why does a company network its desktop computers? To increase communication, collaboration, and productivity. The Internet networks half the computers in the world!
Think of the possibilities. Now
But this network aids commerce in other ways, too. You can hyperlink shoppers to products at Amazon.com and earn a referral fee. For a fraction of the cost of other advertising, your online store can acquire new customers by means of an affiliate network. New opportunities abound.
Better yet, this vast network automatically segments the market into demographic units.
Want to market only to those searching for your particular product or service? Purchase a banner ad that pops up only when someone searches on "life insurance" and you've suddenly begun to strike gold. It's even less expensive to position one of your webpages to come up #3 on an Excite search for the phrase "body surfing" or "sand candles."
If you search Deja News (http://www.dejanews.com) for an industry keyword, you'll find e-mail discussion lists and newsgroups populated by just the people you want to reach. Now, be careful to observe established Netiquette, or you'll blow your company's chances for good. But there are your prospects, chatting happily away, a neatly segmented market. Join in the discussion as a fellow learner rather than a salesman, and you'll begin to attract new business. What an opportunity!
One of my friends tells of a call from a Japanese businessman a couple of years ago. "Several of us will visit
After my friend had replied, as graciously as he could, that
His wife's face showed panic. "Are they coming here?" she gasped.
No, they didn't come, but ever after this couple shows off to their friends the room they jokingly call "our company's world headquarters."
What I'm describing is the ability of an Internet-savvy businessperson to be every bit as competitive on the Web as a 20- or 200- or 2,000-employee business. It's harder than it used to be. Large companies now budget tens of millions of dollars for their websites. That's hard to match with a $2,000 to $20,000 small business website. But it's not impossible to do a very credible job, nevertheless. The market is so huge that even a small slice can generate a quite substantial income for a small business. Opportunities are boundless.
But we are years beyond the day when you could slap up a website and expect the world to beat a path to your door. The opportunity is surely here, but it's not a freebie.
Sweat is the next ingredient. I get dozens of calls from people who assume that making money on the Internet is easy. Wrong again! Developing a successful business on the Web is just as hard as building a small business in the local strip mall. Oh, the financial investment is much less. But it requires as much work or more. They say that only 20% of new small businesses will celebrate their fifth anniversary. I'm sure this holds true for the Net, as well. The attrition rate is high partly because people aren't willing to work hard enough to succeed.
Swiftness is the final ingredient. And here is where smaller businesses hold a big advantage. Changing from a strategy that isn't working can take a big company months if not years. It's like turning an ocean liner. But small businesses, like speed boats, can turn quickly and zoom off in a new and promising direction. The environment and business climate on the Web are changing so rapidly that you must be swift footed to stay in business, and be ready to grasp the opportunities as they come. No points are awarded for being late.
The opportunities the Internet opens to your business are huge.
All the best!