Why Even The Most Unlikely Small Enterprises Can Prosper Online
Jim Green is the author of the bestselling Starting Your Own Business also published by How To Books, and has started and successfully run more than one small business. He is based in Glasgow.
When your business is rapidly turning into a lemon as is the case with the unfortunate Oswaldtwistle storekeeper we met in the previous chapter, you are left with only one option; make lemonade.
On the face of it, this business would appear to be doomed; only a matter of time before the shutters are pulled down permanently and the enterprise consigned to the scrap heap. We see it all the time; small businesses going to the wall all around us. And yet, incredibly, for every small enterprise that closes down another one pops up in its place; the embryonic start-up syndrome in action. This must tell us something. It must indicate that regardless of adverse trading conditions in any given field, the entrepreneurial spirit of the small operator is far from snuffed out; it is alive and kicking as is evidenced by the encouragement provided to mini start-ups by central and local government alike; grants, low-cost loans, training, etc.
But there is another form of help readily available to struggling small enterprises: self help; and it is to self help that the Oswaldtwistle storekeeper should be looking, not just to survive but to prosper.
USING SELF-HELP TO ALLEVIATE DIRE CIRCUMSTANCES
Our hypothetical, under-pressure storekeeper (let’s call him Ossie) must base his ‘lemonade-making’ strategy exclusively around the creation of incremental income from the surest source of revenue he will ever have: the existing customer base. Whatever is done by way of resuscitating this ailing business will have no impact whatsoever on the surrounding multiples although it could conceivably attract some additional custom from nearby competitive independents.
That, however, is not the purpose of the proposed online marketing exercise; the focus is on engendering loyalty and persuading existing customers to open their purses wider and spend more with their friendly grocer cum newsagent cum whatever else.
GETTING RID OF THE NEGATIVES BEFORE TACKLING THE POSITIVES
- “I don’t have a computer and there is no cash available to invest in one.”
Visit any computer superstore and acquire a brand new internet-connected machine at no deposit and with up to 12 months before a penny is paid out. Even then, if there is still no cash available, ownership can be obtained on deferred payment terms and the cost offset against operational expenses.
- “I can’t afford the time or money to learn how to use a computer.”
Nowadays that is not a genuine reason for failing to get up to speed on information technology; visit the nearest local small business initiative, community centre or public library and sign up for free evening classes on mastering computer basics. Children can do it, and so too can any business owner.
- “I don’t see how a computer can help me increase my turnover.”
Read on and find out how ...
GOING ONLINE: FIRST TO SURVIVE, THEN TO GROW
So what now for our theoretical storekeeper? Ossie has lots to do, but has made a good start already. He shopped around judiciously and settled on a package deal; the computer of his choice together with combined printer/scanner/copier and digital camera as free add-ons. He has also attended some evening classes and is getting to grips with information technology and how to handle the equipment.
Much of what lies ahead of Ossie initially is offline activity which is right and proper because his objective is an increase on instore sales as opposed to virtual transactions. These may come later, if at all.
OSSIE’S INTERNET CHALLENGE
- Ossie is about to use the world’s most sophisticated and powerful marketing device to promote a corner shop but that’s okay;
- His little mini-site will be in competition for the attention of internet users in tandem with billions of other web pages and that’s still okay;
- Ossie has no digital products available for download, so even if he attracts a handful of visitors from outside his catchment area, he has nothing to sell them – and even that’s okay.
OSSIE’S ONLINE ACTIVITY
- 1.He signs up with thirdsphere.com for online hosting and the service automatically generates his domain name (http://ossies-stores.com) and provides him with a web-based email facility.
- 2.He uses the system’s point-and-click tools to build his small business mini-website.
- 3.The idiot-proof software makes it simple for him to create the page formatting described in Chapter 1: mission statement and complementary graphics on the home page (he uses the digital camera to produce a product-pack image, scans and resizes it to fit); appropriate content for a supplementary page devoted to produce, sales and service; a third page inviting visitors to provide their email address and subscribe to his forthcoming newsletter. He also adds a link to this invitation to the first two pages.
- 4.Ossie defers inclusion of a ‘Useful Tips’ section until a later date but does include a digital discount voucher on his home page.
- 5.He has managed to accomplish all of this much more quickly than he had imagined thanks to the assistance he received from the system’s ‘Help’ sector.
OSSIE’S CORE OBJECTIVE
The sole objective of http://ossies-stores.com to drive internet users from around the immediate neighbourhood to his virtual shrine and hence to his store – the only way he will drum up sufficient interest is to promote his new venture offline and locally.
WHAT OSSIE DOES OFFLINE TO PROMOTE HIS ONLINE MARKETING
Ossie will now use his newly acquired printer/scanner/copier to create the fodder for his offline onslaught.
- 1.He designs and prints out a window banner, section by section, which simply reads, “www.ossies-stores.com”.
- 2.He prints out a quantity of pocket-size cards bearing the same message accompanied by appropriate sales copy; he hands a card to every customer who enters the store or he packs it in with the purchase.
- 3.He scans, copies and prints out a blow-up of the discount voucher featured on his website; it offers a 50 per cent discount on the advertised price of a merchandise line he picked up for peanuts at a surplus stocks auction.
- 4.He sets up a mini-stall in a prominent position in his little shop. It consists of a table with an open ledger and pen, a barrel full of apples, and a card which reads,
- 5.He produces 1,000 copies of a 2-colour flyer promoting his website and hand delivers these with the help of his family around the houses surrounding the shop.
- 6.He writes some basic text and produces a dozen or so mini-posters which he pins up with permission at the local lending library, post office, community hall, church entrance, etc.
- 7.He even talks a screen-printer friend into producing two transfers for his URL which he affixes on either side of the rickety old van he uses for visiting the local cash-and-carry.
He sets up a mini-stall in a prominent position in his little shop. It consists of a table with an open ledger and pen, a barrel full of apples, and a card which reads,
Ossie will do more in time to promote his new venture both offline and online but this will be enough to get him started on internet marketing for his small business. He can never compete with the supermarkets and Oswaldtwistle Mills will forever be a thorn in his flesh, but what he can do is hang on to what he has, foster loyalty among his customers, and entice them to spend a little more on every visit. Goodwill engendered in this way has an age-old habit of generating referrals over time in the shape of new customers.
REAL LIFE CASE STUDY
- Do you think all of this is a fanciful notion?
- Do you doubt it would work out in real life?
You should talk to my local corner shop owner. What you have just read is the strategy he employed at my suggestion to pick up a struggling store by the bootstraps and convert it into a thriving small business. Using the gift in the barrel ruse he picks up email addresses by the bucket load producing for him prospects that represent hard cash. My corner shop friend always uses apples for his gift, but it could equally be oranges or sweets.
- 1.His ruse works because he is giving something away for nothing and in return collects tangible assets for a pittance;
- 2.His list of subscribers is currently in excess of 1,000 and he emails them every week with news of special offers and discounted lines;
- 3.His website now provides visitors with an online ordering service for non-comestibles;
- 4.His store footfall has increased appreciably since he went online;
- 5.His average transactions have increased in value;
- 6.His fascia has been completely refurbished to incorporate a gleaming URL thanks to sponsorship from the local newspaper;
- 7.His small business now has a resale value substantially higher than it was before he discovered the dynamic of online marketing.
Internet marketing provides him with an interactive online presence which works for any type of small enterprise; even the most unlikely of propositions. And you don’t even need commercial premises to make it work. You can use the dynamic anywhere, as I do; from the workstation in my living room overlooking the village green on frequent occasions ...