Article by Sharon Fling
When I first started developing websites, it was for a corporate INTRANET — a built-in audience waited with baited breath, hungry for the information.
However, when I started freelancing for small business, everything changed.
A small local business does NOT have a built in audience. Most live in the cold cruel world of a billion websites, with no earthly way to rise above the clutter.
My clients knew squat about marketing and promotion. So eventually, like a bad penny, a website might come back to haunt me. Some customers would call to complain that their sites weren’t “working”.
“In what way?” I’d wanted to know.
“Well, nobody’s buying anything?” or “I’m not getting any traffic.”
I’d recite the standard webmaster chapter and verse — the site was optimized, submitted to search engines, blah, blah. I told them that having a website is the equivalent of having a phone number. That a website is only 10%, the other 90% is marketing.
But nobody had ever told them that, so they didn’t have a clue. They thought when they got the website, they’d be set. Just sit back and wait for the customers to arrive…and wait…and wait…
Even though they got exactly what they asked for, I felt bad. I didn’t want to have unhappy customers telling all their friends the Internet “doesn’t work”, Since all my customers were local, I started looking for resources specific to local online promotion.
Well, the pickings were slim. Very little had been written on the subject. So…through a lot of trial and error I figured it out myself. Then I wrote the book and the rest is, as they say, history.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that things have changed a lot in the past couple years. Internet pros are becoming more attuned to the fact that people live in the real “dirt” world, and have started to cater to local businesses and their needs. If they haven’t they should. Here are a few reasons why:
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
Many online marketers and webmasters try to market to the world, when some of their best customers could be right down the street. Why be a little fish in the big crowded Internet OCEAN? In a local setting, someone with the right expertise and attitude can position themselves as the expert.
Truth is, most local business owners aren’t likely to hire someone they don’t know and probably won’t meet. They want to see who they’re doing business with, establish personal relationships, learn to trust. The key words are “trust” and “relationships”. It doesn’t happen overnight, but once you have it, they’re likely to be customers for life.
CONCERN FOR COMMUNITY
Someone wrote me recently, telling me all the reasons why online marketers don’t want to be bothered with local business. It’s a tough nut to crack, so why bother? Go after the low-hanging fruit. He talked about it being a numbers game — the bigger the pool of would-be-buyers, the greater the likelihood of making a sale. It’s easier to sell to active seekers. We’re cheap, lazy, impatient, and besides, who wants to spend time trying to convince computer-phobes what they’re missing? It’s their loss, right? Small towns are small potatoes.
So everyone has jumped on the global bandwagon, leaving local business to either get with the program or get lost. And money that could be funneled back into the community is being sucked into the web, feeding the international economy instead of the local economy. Then, he said, “as prices continue to rise in the cities, businesses will be forced to go global in some way, since the local economy will no longer be able to completely support it.”
Bingo! My point exactly.
Look, small local business cannot ignore the Internet forever, not if they want to stay in business. For individuals with patience and concern for their local community, local business can be a viable target market for their services — website design/hosting /SEO/link building, email marketing, local portals, etc. It’s not a get-rich- quick opportunity…but how many people are really getting rich quick online anyway?
MAKE MORE MONEY
Concern for community is great but at the end of the day, we need to make money to stay in business. And there’s lots of money to be made in the local business space. Geocommerce — local online advertising — is predicted to be a $50 BILLION market by 2006.
Local business needs the same marketing toolset that online business needs, but with a narrower focus. Since so few people are paying any attention to the local market, it’s wide open for a variety of value added services. Here’s a niche just waiting to be filled, no matter where you live. Specializing is the key, and what better market to focus on than one that’s growing daily AND can help better your local community’s economy?
No, it’s not get rich quick. No, you can’t hide behind your monitor and remain anonymous. Yes, you risk rejection. But it can be financially rewarding as well as emotionally satisfying to help the businesses in your local community to succeed… online and off.
Sharon Fling is the author of “How To Promote Your Local Business On the Internet”, and creator of the web’s largest resource for promoting small local business online. Visit http://www.geolocal.com and subscribe to GeoLocal’s free Tip of the Week.