If youre still waiting to see how the Internet will truly affect your industry before buying into the promised e-revolution, there is a good chance youre quickly falling behind the pack.
Even as you read these words, there are companies trying to figure out how to do what you do, only better, and plan to use the rapidly evolving connected economy to chip away at your customer base.
That should be a chilling prospect for business owners still holding onto a wait-and-see attitude toward the Internet. Neil Goldman, a Senior Manager of High Growth Consulting for Ernst & Young, spends much of his time convincing business owners, especially old-line manufacturers, that the Internet isnt just for multimillion dot-coms anymore.
In fact, striking early could be the engine that drives even the most traditional companies to new levels of growth.
Unless youre gearing up to conduct at least some of your business this way, youre going to be left in the dust, says Goldman, who promises that the true business Internet revolution has yet to hit its stride. When it happens, youre not going to have the luxury of six months to a year to figure it out.
Reluctance to embrace the Net is likely fueled by the fact that doing so means going much deeper than simply placing a product catalog on the Web. The bottom line is that the Internet can revolutionize every aspect of your business, from supply chain management to customer service. That can be an intimidating, if not frightening, prospect for the uninitiated.
So many people I talk to are overwhelmed by the clutter, Goldman says. They get hit by so many assertions and so many frameworks from so many directions. Its difficult to continue to run a business, run it profitably and also get your arms around whats really going on here.
It is that mindset that makes people reluctant to integrate the Web into their everyday business process, but as Goldman says, this is no time to flinch. For wary business owners still hashing out what role their companies will play in the inevitable digital future, Goldman offers a few pieces of advice.
Realize that the rules have changed
The question is no longer whether the Internet will change business. Its already happened. Once you embrace that fact, it becomes a little easier to think about how you can start using the Net to improve your business.
Executives must adopt the paradigm that the Internet economy has changed, not is changing or will change, but has already changed, the operating rules, says Goldman.
Reshape your business model
Merging the Internet with your business doesnt mean simply dumping money into technology upgrades. It means looking at how the connectivity can improve existing relationships with your customers, suppliers and employees.
Any time you undertake a transformation like this for a business, its not just about what the MIS department does, says Goldman. It impacts how top management communicates their vision and sets direction and negotiates their needs with customers and suppliers.
The key is to make sure that your business strategy and your Internet strategy are wound tightly around each other. That may mean restructuring your business model to some degree.
You need to make sure that your e-strategy is part and parcel of your overall business strategy and vice versa, and that you are proactively building the capabilities both technically as well as operationally, explains Goldman. You need to connect up in a way that is much less a way to create a competitive advantage than it is simple survival.
Map your competitors, your trading partners and yourself
While youre busy adapting your business to this new economy, dont forget that your competitors and suppliers are doing the same. Before investing lots of time or money in your companys Internet strategy, look to see where other players in your industry, especially the people you deal with on a regular basis, are placing their bets.
Map yourself, your competitors and your trading partners, says Goldman. When I say trading partners, I mean both historical and new threats. Map them across how they are approaching new marketplaces, connecting with their customers, rebuilding their supply chain into a Web and supporting their employees.
Decide what role your business will play
Even after spending a great deal of time drafting an Internet strategy, Goldman says many business owners still suffer from analysis paralysis. All the research in the world isnt going to do you much good if you fail to act.
Think waiting another six months would be a better plan? Goldman advises starting now and modifying your Internet initiatives as you go.
If you wait six months to make your first decision in this space, you wont be as smart as if you had made several decisions over the same six months, made some mistakes, but made some right moves as well, he says.
Goldman suggests investing in several Internet initiatives and moving forward with them after securing the help of some sort of business adviser.
Part of your strategy need to be developing a small portfolio of initiatives, he says. No different than (the fact that) anyone whos investing in dot-coms is not going to buy just one they think is going to be a high flyer, theyre going to buy several.
Some of their stock prices may go down, but there are going to be one or two that do really well, and youre going to succeed.
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, www.ey.com
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor at SBN.
It's always a tough decision. Do you try to spear that cherry tomato on your salad plate and risk shooting it across the table?
If there's a business deal at stake, you're probably better off leaving it alone or learning how to safely corral the little red menace.
It sounds trivial, but the fact of the matter is etiquette faux pas can ruin weeks of negotiations. Your dining etiquette is a direct reflection of you and your organization.
"Etiquette is extremely important, especially if it's with international clients," says Sue Fox, president of Etiquette Survival Inc. and author of "Etiquette for Dummies." "There is tons of business being done over meals. It is a product of our overworked society. What you need to do if the meeting is important is to follow the Boy Scout motto and be prepared."
* Find out if your clients or customers have any special food needs. Are they vegetarian? Find out where they are staying and choose a restaurant near their hotel.
* Try to frequent a restaurant where you are known so you'll get better service.
* Call ahead and make arrangements for a quiet table. If you are the host, give the manager your credit card number in advance, and, if possible, sign for the meal. This makes the whole event run smoother and eliminates any possible bickering over the bill.
* Don't talk business until after you are done eating the main entree. The only exception is if your guest brings it up first.
* Don't order food that is difficult to eat, such as spaghetti.
* Be prepared with small talk about current events or other topics.
* Turn off your technology, including cell phones and beepers.
* Don't put anything on the table, including sunglasses and keys. The only thing that should be on the table are the plates and the meal. Once the business discussion starts, it's acceptable to bring out papers and other related materials.
* Learn more about proper etiquette. Sticking a napkin in your shirt and talking with your mouth full might be accepted at your mother-in-law's, but it's not going to help you win any business deals.
* Greet your guess at the door, which means arriving early. Walk in ahead of them, lead them to the table and indicate where everyone should sit. You may want certain people in specific spots, but always give the best seat to the most important client.
And here are Fox's five worst mistakes that can be committed during a business meal:
1. Drinking too much alcohol.
2. Having a long cell phone conversation at the table.
3. Showing up late.
4. Spilling something on your client.
5. Dominating the conversation. How to reach: Sue Fox, www.etiquettesurvival.com. Fox's etiquette advice columns are also available at www.officeclick.com.
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN's special reports editor.