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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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.