December 3, 2008
Internet strategy for small business
I have recently written an article for SME WORLD (November 2008 – January 2009) issue of Financial Express. It should be a good read for any small business if they want to put together an Internet strategy for their business.
Internet Strategy for Small Business
Internet is making the world flatter and giving small businesses a level playing field to compete with the big players. Many businesses have changed the rules of the game by using Internet to their advantage.
Do you have a compelling Internet strategy? In simpler words, do you have a clear plan, on how you will use Internet as an enabler to create an edge for your business? If not, put one together now.
Demystifying Internet Strategy?
Every successful business needs a strategy, i.e. meticulous planning and a long term vision across all functional practices like human resource, sales, marketing, supply-chain management, etc.
Internet is a media, a platform and a network. Therefore, it is not a business function. But, it cuts across all business functions and has a profound impact on the way we do things. It has changed the way we do business.
Therefore, it is important to plan to usage of Internet across different business functions in a way that it can make the business more competitive by optimizing it’s top-line and bottom-line growth.
Every organization is unique. The way their business works is different. And therefore, their Internet strategy is bound to be different. However, a generalist approach for small business highlights three core strategic dimensions –
- Acquisition of new business
- Developing a strong online business network
- Improving efficiency in communication, and collaboration
Acquire new business
Internet is a mass media with millions of attentive people logged in. They are trying to solve a problem. And if you can solve that problem, you have a hot business lead!
Do not ignore the fact that this prospect is looking for what you offer. Therefore this is a potential pull-sale prospect. It is more valuable than hundreds of cold calls and thousands of mailers that you might invest in, expecting a single digit conversion rate.
This opportunity has its own challenges:-
- What is your prospect searching for?
- How will your prospect find you?
- What offer should you make?
- How will you convince him?
- Why will he trust you?
The entire cycle is comprised of a) Getting targeted visitors to your website, b) Convert those visitors into clients and c) Analyze results and make changes in your online customer acquisition process! (Note: A targeted visitor is one, who is looking for a product /service you offer.)
You can get the targeted visitor by using techniques like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) backed by high quality content on your website.
SEO is a technique used to rank a website high on search engines on specific keywords. SEM is all about buying clicks on popular search engines. Both techniques have their pros and cons. The selection entirely depends upon the business need and the overall Internet strategy of the company.
Once you have the visitor on your website, you can further test various offers, content snippets and design elements by techniques known as A/B split testing and Multivariate testing to see which combination works best!
This is just the beginning. Some of the many things that you must consider:-
- Which keyword shall I target?
- Is it worth paying $1 per click when I am selling something worth $25 only?
- How to handle a visitor who is not interested in my product today, but might need it tomorrow?
The list can go on and on. As you can see, it is a fairly technical process; it needs expert guidance, external consultancy and implementation help.
Make new connections
Business networking is a marketing method by which business opportunities are created through networks of like-minded business people. People like to work with people within their comfort zone. So before you can talk business, you need to create a trusted relationship.
A good network is like a catalyst, which can multiply the speed of your growth. If you know the right person at the right time for the right job, you will race ahead in the competition.
When this networking is done online, it can connect you with people all over the world in a very efficient way. You can efficiently create private and open networks where you can share opinions, ideas, problems, information, knowledge and most importantly business references! There are several online business networking websites like LinkedIn, Ecademy and Ryze.
It is important that you approach the network in the right spirit, present yourself nicely, increase your connections, work on win-win partnerships, and adhere by the pay-it-forward principle of networking.
I highly recommend that you try to strengthen your network with face-to-face meetings with as many people as possible.
Some questions that you need to answer to do this bit effectively:
- What is your elevator pitch?
- What are your goals of networking? What are you trying to achieve? Most people who are actively networking invest a lot of time, without a clear view of the desired outcome.
- What kind of people you want to connect with? Why will they like to connect with you? What is your win-win proposal for different categories of connections that you will make?
- How can you proactively help? What knowledge can you share? Which are your areas of expertise? Do the areas of expertise help you create influencers in the marketplace?
You need to do the groundwork to get the best results. So do not underestimate this part. You may need someone to help you with this.
Streamline communication and collaboration
In an increasingly dynamic business environment, proper communication and collaboration system is the key to success. Internet is a software platform that enables such system to be deployed across the organization cutting across various roles, designations and departments.
Businesses do not operate within their closed shell anymore. They have major impact from its environment consisting of employees, clients, suppliers, etc.
You need to react to changes as they happen every moment across the organizational eco-system. Therefore, the data required is real time – i.e. updated every moment.
You need to have an intranet (internal collaboration portal) or extranet (external facing collaboration portal) to keep up with the pace.
Think of some of the advantages it can bring to your business:-
- Employees can share ideas, notes and project details.
- Efficient communication with all your employees and clients.
- New employees applying online on your website to reduce time and cost in processing the job applications.
- Real time order status and inventory flow can be seen by respective customers and internal stakeholders.
- Clients have access to their ledgers in real time.
- Clients can communicate with their sales managers, place new orders and file complains / queries instantly.
- Suppliers can see tenders online and submit their quotes. The built in rule engine help you select the winning bid.
- Documents can flow within departments with remarks added on within seconds at relative ease.
Such empowerment will increase the level of productivity and satisfaction at all levels. Innovative ideas will result in paradigm shift in the way a particular work is done.
- E-statements by bank save money, postage and trees.
- You can buy and reserve your air ticket / railway ticket online without standing in the queue.
- Major corporations need you to apply for a job online. Even, Barack Obama, President (elect) of the USA is recruiting his team online!
- Large corporations like BPCL have online system to receive and resolve complains from consumers.
- Online shopping is becoming the order of the day.
The way Internet can be used to increase efficiency is only restricted by your imagination.
It is a good idea to hire a consultant who can think aloud with you to find out ways, in which your business can become more productive, more efficient and stay ahead in the fiercely competitive world.
There is no silver bullet of Internet strategy. However, the following tips will help you define your Internet strategy and put the same into execution.
- You need to put together your organizational goals. Break them down into functional goals and map them with the three dimensions of Internet strategy.
- Rationalize and prioritize various elements of your strategy. Everything may not be feasible or even rational to execute. The cost / return analysis should be done.
- Once you have created the right mix, define your approach for every element in detail. It is a low-effort high-impact world of Internet. If success gets magnified, then so are the mistakes!
- Execute the strategy in a time bound manner. Everything changes fast and if you are caught on the slow trail, you might be doing something which does not hold value anymore.
- There is no absolute truth. Make sure that you have a mechanism for measuring the results.
How Indus Net Technologies can help?
Indus Net Technologies has been rated as #1 IT SME in India – 2008 by Dun & Bradstreet.
We help enterprises all over the world through consulting and implementation of their online strategies. We bring together 11 years of experience and implementation expertise to ensure success in your online initiatives through out its lifecycle.
Our core teams provide creative services, web application development and Internet marketing (SEO, SEM & conversion optimization) solutions. They are guided and supported by our consulting initiative.
You can be in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org