Lots of small businesses don’t have a website. And lots of small towns are the same: website-less, even in this age of online and connected consumers. Sounds like a great big business opportunity, but don’t be too hasty. Let me explain why I think it’s a quagmire instead.
Each time I say small businesses, know that this applies to small towns and tourism sites, as well.
Small businesses without websites either want one or don’t want one. Let’s leave out the ones who don’t want a website, because you don’t want to be in the business of convincing people that they are wrong. That’s a long hard road. Better to focus on the ones who get it, and are ready and able to act. (“Our job is not to configure customers, it is to configure our business to serve customers.” —Liz Struass)
The small businesses who want a website have all levels of motivation. Some are eager, actively seeking and comparing solutions. Most are only somewhat interested: they know they need one, but they are passive. Until they hit something that hurts in their business, they will let it lie.
Small businesses are inundated with different potential website and web presence solutions. Solicitations arrive in the mail and by phone every day to bricks and mortar businesses. Ads on TV promote small business sites by big companies including Intuit and GoDaddy. Dozens, and probably hundreds, of do-it-yourself website solutions are already online.
Well-meaning friends, consultants, and other business owners give all sorts of advice.
“You want WordPress.”
“The kids at the tech center make great sites.”
“Just get a Facebook page.”
“A decent website costs $10,000.”
Small business owners are also overwhelmed with the number of listings and databases they are urged to spend time maintaining. Google Local, Facebook Places, dozens of online yellow pages and directories, emerging location based services like Foursquare, all compete for attention and maintenance. Small town tourism groups face just as many listings and databases to maintain, plus being responsible for keeping business data up to date. This is a hell of a lot of competition for the limited attention small business owners can afford to give their web presence.
And yet every month or every week, I see another business built on the idea of solving the small business website problem. Sometimes it’s a special web design plus hosting package, or a new portal for small towns, or another business listing service.
If you want to wade in to the small business or small town website problem, narrow up your damn niche. “Small businesses” is not a niche. “Small towns” is not a niche. Pick a geographic area. Select an industry or a field of business. Focus on the businesses that you know and can serve best. Actively seek out the people who are eager for a solution. (“The narrower your niche, the wider your opportunity.” –Becky McCray)
Stop dreaming about all the small businesses or small towns out there. Start listening to the limited group of your target market. Once you select a geographic area, an industry or field, and then focus on the ones ready and able to act with a strong sense of need, then you have a strong niche to work on. That way, you can be the right person, at the right place, with the right solution, at the right time. And that is a great place to be.
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Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners says
I love it when you rant :-)
I’m not sure why, but the phrase “websites are like free kittens, not free beer” popped in to mind, paraphrasing our good friend Sheila.
I get a lot of people who think that a website (or a new website), will solve all their problems. But when you ask folks what their website is for, nobody seems to have an answer.
If you’re having trouble getting customers, that’s a problem with YOUR MARKETING, not with a website (or lack thereof).
I also love “Small Business is not a niche.” Bingo. Can someone please tell the tech startup world this?
Becky McCray says
Andy, that may be my next rant: what is your small business website FOR?
Denise O'Berry says
Well said Becky. I’ll add that if you are narrowing a niche, you need to include size. Since the SBA considers businesses with up to 500 employees to be “small” that can include a whole universe of companies, so people should get more specific when defining the niche. And while we’re at it, could we please stop calling them SMBs. I hate that. :)
Becky McCray says
Denise, you’re absolutely right about size. You can define your niche by sales, by employees, or any other measure of size that works for you.
SMBs, and my other favorite is SMEs. Let’s kill that term, too.
Shaleen Shah says
You know what’s sad about small businesses wanting to have a website? They don’t understand that having an online presence is more than just a domain name and a cool-looking site. Then, they will start complaining about how much it really costs to have an online presence that engages their target audience out there. I guess, I’m ranting too.
Becky McCray says
Shaleen, here’s my experience: when you find an appropriately narrow niche, these complaints about price dry up. That’s because you are dealing only with the select few who are highly motivated, eager even, to have exactly what you offer. Until then, continue to narrow down your niche. It may help to read some examples from the photography business about selecting a niche. Check the comments, too, for the underwater wedding photography example.
Lance Cummins says
Thank you for your work at helping small businesses and towns connect with technology in a useful way. I have just recently moved to the South Shore of Boston, in Rockland, Massachusetts, and I have been thinking some of these same thoughts about this area.
So, when I started my business, NearlyFreeLance.com, I decided to just focus on helping those small businesses in the small towns across the South Shore by basically becoming a partner with them in marketing themselves in all outlets. I have really been pleasantly surprised with the response so far.
Keep up the great blogging!
Becky McCray says
Lance, glad to hear you’ve selected a narrow niche and that it is working for you.