The late, great Cory Rudl once said:
"...the biggest change I see heading our way is a shift from the global market to the local market....the Internet is going local! Here is the secret: If you realize this and the power it will have on society... can you find a way to capitalize on this? If you have ideas and position yourself now, you will be an incredibly wealthy person!" (excerpt from The Internet Global).
Cory's prediction has come true -- the Internet IS going local. The question is, when will small business owners realize it?
According to The Kelsey Group, "70% of U.S. households now use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services... Findings also suggest the Internet is poised to surpass newspapers as a local shopping information resource."
The search engines have laid the groundwork and put some incredible tools in place. Google Local Business Center lets business owners add or edit their company information to Google Local. MSN & Yahoo have their own Local Search offerings. Most of them are free (for now), just there for the taking.
Tell that to small business owners. Try talking to them about local online advertising and this is what you might get:
- "Oh yeah, the Internet. That's for selling stuff to the world, but all of my customers live here."
- "I tried the Internet, it didn't work for my business."
- "I have a website but it gets no traffic - what a waste of money!"
- "The Internet is for products - I have a service business."
...and so on. It may be hard to believe, but many of them have no clue how much the Internet could help their business.
Yet they will pay exorbitant prices to advertise in those heavy 20 pound behemoths known as the Yellow Pages.
If you think about it, Yellow Pages are ridiculous: a teeny tiny rectangle's worth of information that you can't change for a year, on the SAME page as your competitors' ads. And for that they charge you hundreds or even thousands of rands a year.
But the Yellow Pages are familiar, so small business owners stick to it. And since most of the Yellow Pages are online now, many will get basic online listings by default.
Still, it's a shame that so many small business owners have such misconceptions about the Internet. A lot of that is a due to all the hype and craziness of the early Internet days, when they got sucked into paying huge sums of money for worthless websites that they thought would magically bring customers through their doors. Those experiences left a bitter taste in many a business owner's mouth, which still lingers today.
Okay, well that was then. It's time to turn the page and move forward. How can we help small business owners wake up and smell the coffee?
A little bit at a time.
Help your neighborhood businesses get the message. Even if their eyes glaze over when you mention it, tell small business owners some of the ways you use the Internet in your life. If you have family or friends who own businesses, make sure they get their business online.
Encourage every business owner you meet to get an Internet presence -- not a glorified brochure, but something that helps them to connect and build relationships with visitors and customers.
Don't try to convince them, just inform them in a friendly, non-threatening way. Forget the hard sell, especially if you're in the web design business.
Tell them that if they're NOT using the Internet to attract and communicate with local consumers, they're losing money.
Then put your money where your mouth is and patronize local businesses that DO get it. Eventually the others will get with the program ... or they'll go out of business.