Ask an Expert
Small Business & the Net: Where's the Value
Expert: Julie King
What use is the internet in practical terms to small businesses? Is it really useful or is it all hype?
Julie King answered:
There is no way to answer such a sweeping question. The simple answer is this: what small businesses get out of the Internet will depend on how they approach it and what they invest into their online ventures.
As with the mining world, there are many prospects, but only a handful turn into highly profitable ventures. The same applies to the way that small businesses approach an Internet project. Among many possibilities that Internet offers small businesses the opportunity to:
- market their business, products and services
- establish credibility
- target niche communities
- sell goods and services
- streamline communications
- offer online customer service and technical support
- enter new marketplaces, export services, expand reach of the company
- develop new business models
To successfully accomplish these results, however, the business owner needs to execute their Internet project successfully. That means that they need to start with sound ideas/strategies and then implement the ideas effectively.
For example, if a web developer is hired to implement a website, but is unable to develop an effective site or professional look for their small business client, no matter how good the idea was the chances of success for the entrepreneur is restricted by the problems with implementation. For this reason, I always recommend that business owners do an in-depth investigation of potential suppliers before selecting their final vendors.
When considering a web developer, make sure that the portfolio you're viewing has actually been developed by the individuals that will work on your project. I recently saw an example where an organization selected a web developer on the basis of their wonderful portfolio; as it turned out, they were franchisees of the company that had developed the portfolio and the individual franchisee did not have the ability to develop an effective website.
Another problem some small businesses run into is that they invest in the development of a website, but then don't take the steps needed to promote their site. Marketing a website does not have to be expensive or difficult, but it must be addressed.
Maintaining a return on investment (ROI) perspective throughout is critical; it's my opinion that a good idea or Internet venture should aim to be profitable for the company.
So, there are definitely small businesses that are realizing great success from their online ventures. However, what the Internet means to an individual company will depend on the value of their original idea, their overall attention to the bottom line and the manner in which their project is executed.
I hope that answers your question.
-- Julie King
About the author
Julie King is the co-founder and managing editor of CanadaOne, Canada's first small business portal.