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Lessons from the bleeding edge Featured

9:41am EDT July 22, 2002
You run a healthy business with a consistent track record, but you still aren’t enjoying the benefits of being online.

As a small business owner managing three online efforts and acting as a consultant to six clients with eight Web strategies, I can safely say it’s not from a lack of trying.

Over the past two years — with some misgivings — many business owners have set up Web sites on promises of greater sales, more leads and reduced promotional costs. They were warned that the world would leave them behind if they didn’t invest now. But neither the promises nor the fears have come true. So what went wrong?

The mistakes fall into six categories:

I can be Just like Mike. Don’t assume your smaller, local/regional business can build even a proportional level of Internet awareness, transaction or credibility of that of larger firms.

If I spend money, I’ll make money. Don’t be convinced that spending large sums building and promoting your Web site will work.

Business on the Internet is different. If your business is not successful offline, it probably won’t succeed online.

My Web page is my online strategy. A Web site is not an online business.

Everyone likes visiting my Web site. Look at all the free information I give away. Just providing valuable information doesn’t ensure return visits.

Of course I have a Web strategy. Look at all I have invested in graphics and technology. A clear business plan is necessary. It has nothing to do with graphics or technology.

One common thread emerges — we must reconcile what we’ve learned on the Internet with our years of common business sense. What is right for your business? Should you cut your losses and decide the Internet isn’t the answer? Or should you learn from the mistakes?

Here is a simple thought to guide your renewed efforts: “With a plan, the Internet can help me to better reach, sell and help all those who are or should be connected to my business.”

It’s a simple mantra, but it can help you focus on how to make the Internet work for you. Try this six-step process to reinforce that message:

Identify your business constituents. Make a list of all the suppliers, employees, prospects, customers and partners in your business world.

Determine the information each constituent needs. Understand the valuable, recurring information they must get from you and what you must give them.

Identify where they get the information now. List where and from whom they obtain this knowledge today.

Determine how good their current information is. Assess and ask them whether it meets their needs.

Decide how the Internet will improve and expand this information, making it and your site “sticky.” Learn which competitors have successful online businesses and how they continuously provide and deliver this information to their constituents.

Create an e-business strategy based on exchanging information of value with your constituents. Decide which of your business objectives can be met online and how you will achieve these.

As easy as it is to be distracted by the technology and the graphics of the Internet, the basics of effectively communicating with your constituents hold as true online as they do offline. The Internet is far more than a brochure or a billboard for your business. But it is also far less than a new solution to offline problems.

Start your e-strategy today by understanding what you need to say and who needs to hear it, then determine your return on investment in doing this. Once you have this down in writing, hiring Internet technologists and designers can make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is hiring them before you know. Just as you wouldn’t delegate responsibility to outsiders for signing your checks, don’t leave strategic decisions to others. After all, this is both good traditional and Internet business sense.

Andy Birol (abirol@pacerassociates.com) is president of PACER Associates Inc., a Solon-based consulting firm working with companies to focus on the best ways to find, keep and grow customers. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or www.pacerassociates.com.