Category Archives: Online Content

Mobile computing will dominate your future — are you ready for it?

Remember all the years I’ve said every small business MUST have a website? It’s still true, except now that’s not enough. Today you also have to be ready for the mobile customer.

Once only wizards and fairies had magic wands. But in The Age of the Customer, hundreds of millions of Earthlings now have one in the palm of their hands. Here are the U.S. numbers:

According to Statista, this year over 180 million Americans will own a smartphone, and that number will grow by 10% to almost 200 million in 2016. That’s just about every American between the ages of 16 and 80. Here’s another way to say that: Essentially all of your prospects and customers.

In a recent online poll we took of our audience, slightly more than half either had a mobile site or were acquiring one. Good for them. But that means almost half didn’t and had no plans.

technology-512210_1280Tough love alert: If your business isn’t ready for mobile primetime, it’s a dinosaur waiting to become extinct. Any questions? But there’s good news: You can avoid death-by-mobile in less than a month. Stay with me.

Where we once converted our analog lives to the online digital world with a personal computer, the shift is now to the small screen of the smartphone. And we’re integrating these new light sabers into our lives and businesses even more than the PC including, but by all means not limited to:

  • Download and use productive and fun apps
  • Read newspapers – even books
  • Navigate on foot and wheels
  • Record and share our lives with photos and video
  • Connect to others on social media
  • Shop for, buy and pay for stuff

You can get ready for mobile customers with these two steps:

1.  Hire someone to help you get your online information optimized for local search. This is important for a comprehensive online strategy, but mandatory for mobile primetime. Mobile users are often literally trying to find your business.

2.  Hire someone to build a mobile site (might not be the same person as #1). When your URL is requested from a smartphone, the mobile site presents automatically with your regular website offerings netted out and with fewer graphics for the smaller screen – form follows function. Mobile sites cost less than mobile apps to create, update and maintain, and a mobile site icon looks just like a mobile app. Most small businesses don’t need a mobile app.

Here’s that good news I promised: You can complete these two tasks in a month. How much will it cost? Not as much as you think, but that’s not the question. How much will it cost if you don’t get ready for mobile primetime?

Write this on a rock … Mobile computing wasn’t any part of your past, but it will dominate your future.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

Leave the Age of the Seller behind for the Age of the Customer.

Your customers kn

The best social media practices for the Age of the Customer

BLASINGAME'S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR-2

Should the Internet become a utility?

As you may remember, I’ve been reporting on the Net Neutrality issue for over a decade, including all the significant players in the debate.

email-584705_1280Most reasonable people agree that one of the reasons the Internet has been such a phenomenal success is because it has been so lightly regulated. However, as I reported recently, President Obama has taken executive steps to make the Internet a public utility, subject to all sorts of government oversight.

When we asked our small business audience what they thought about this plan, almost three-fourths reject the president’s idea, with only 2% who think his plan is good.

One reason for this overwhelming response against the president is because small business owners have benefited on many levels, directly and indirectly, from an unencumbered Internet. And since over half of the U.S. economy is produced by small businesses, the president should pay attention to what this sector thinks.

In case you missed them, here are links to three articles I’ve written about the president’s  behavior regarding the Internet.

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

If you like your Internet, you may not be able to keep it

Obama’s Internet words don’t match his actions

 

Ready, set, GO!

In the Age of the Customer, you don't-3

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

As policy battle lines are being drawn in Washington, there’s one important issue being debated that might not stay on your radar like Obamacare and immigration.

It’s called “net neutrality,” and I’m concerned it might not get the attention it deserves, even though it could have significant long-term implications. My goal here is to simplify net neutrality so you understand how it can impact your business and how to join the debate.

The term is pretty intuitive. Net neutrality means all Internet traffic gets treated the same, which is what we’ve had for over 20 years; there’s essentially no government regulation of the Internet and no Internet taxes. Also, there’s no preference for, or discrimination against any sender or receiver of email, web pages, music or movies, regardless of bandwidth used via fixed or mobile networks.

Photo credit to SavetheInternet.com

Photo credit to SavetheInternet.com

Three groups have a stake in net neutrality: carriers, content producers and a regulator.

Carriers fill two roles: 1) Local Internet service providers (ISP) connect you to the Internet; 2) national networks, like AT&T and Sprint, own the “backbone,” the physical infrastructure – fiber – that hauls digital traffic between ISPs. Carriers want to charge different rates based on content quantity and speed, which is contrary to net neutrality. Without targeted revenue for their finite bandwidth inventory, they argue, innovation and investment will stall.

Content producers include Google, NetFlix, Facebook and virtually every small business. If you have a website, sell a product online, conduct email marketing or have an instructional video on YouTube, you’re a content producer. Content producers love net neutrality because turning the Internet into a toll road increases business costs and could make small businesses less competitive.

The regulator is the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), led by Chairman Tom Wheeler. Some content producers have asked the FCC to defend net neutrality. But here’s what that request looks like to a politician: President Obama wants the FCC to reclassify and regulate broadband Internet connection as a utility, which is not the definition of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is complicated because it’s easy to appreciate both business arguments. Plus, some even have a stake in both sides of the issue, like a cable company that owns TV stations and movie studios. But inviting the government to referee this marketplace debate is a Faustian bargain because what government regulates it also taxes, and once started, won’t stop.

Write this on a rock … A regulated and taxed Internet is not net neutrality.

Crowd funding is not new, but crowdfunding is

Crowd funding is not new, but crowdfunding is. Completely intuitive, both terms mean funds conveyed by a crowd to a solicitor.

It’s largely due to those two words, innumerable and anonymous, that crowdfunding has caught on to the point where several online platforms now aggregate funds seekers with funding crowds. Now with crowdfunding, the Internet simultaneously facilitates and disrupts our experiences with what I call the Four Cs of Modern Society: Connect, Communicate, Communities and Commerce.

So far, crowdfunding fits primarily into two categories:

crowdfunding-photoContributions/Fundraising

This is where an emotional connection motivates members of a crowd to give to a cause, project, idea, ideal, etc.  Besides the emotional motivation, merchandise like a T-shirt or first album, for example, are likely to be involved as a token of thanks. This crowdfunding form is nothing more than donations.

Business funding

This money goes to a commercial venture, often a startup, with the expectation of receiving a first-of-its-kind product or future discount. The crowd knows the funds partially pay for the merchandise and partly capitalize the venture to which this crowd also has an emotional connection. This is business funding in the form of a commercial transaction, not investment.

Recently, crowdfunding has nudged closer to debt and equity capitalization. Peer-to-peer lending is an emerging form of crowdfunding, while the investment model still has legal and practical hurdles.

It’s clear that the future of small business capitalization will look a lot different than it does today. But for most small businesses the jury is still out on how the crowdfunding options will be part of their capitalization future.

In my next column I’ll use a practical approach and some tough love to reveal the challenges facing both the debt and equity sides of crowdfunding.  Ironically, those two advantages of crowdfunding mentioned earlier, innumerable and anonymous, will manifest as potential barriers as we discuss the more sophisticated forms of crowdfunding.

Write this on a rock…

Crowdfunding is just new tools to accomplish traditional fundraising and capitalization.

Connecting with global prospects and getting paid

This is the second of two articles on small businesses going global.

ENTREPRENEURIn the first article, I allowed that it can be exciting for business leaders to imagine a global prospect base of more than seven billion people. But for a small business to imagine an export strategy, it’s at once exciting and intimidating because of the three elemental global business questions, the first of which we focused on last time: Who are my global prospects? Now let’s focuses on the other two: How to connect with them and how to get paid.

The good news is that there are two government agencies standing by to answer both of these questions. Each one provides digital information, human assistance and global networks designed to help a small business maximize its opportunity to create and execute a successful export strategy.

The, “How do I connect with global prospect?” question can be answered by the U.S. Commercial Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This should be your first stop for education on finding and converting global prospects into customers.

When you consider all of their resources, the U.S. Commercial Service is a virtual one-stop shop for developing and executing a small business export strategy: a great website (Export.gov); a toll-free number (800-872-872) answered by a real person; over 100 offices around the U.S., plus dozens more around the globe you can walk right into and ask for help; and their book, “A Basic Guide to Exporting,” includes an excellent tutorial and several case studies.

All of that help is free, with the exception of the book and any direct expenses incurred on your behalf.

Export-Import Bank of the United States (ExIm.gov) can answer the “how do I get paid” question on many levels.

Part of the U.S. government, Ex-Im Bank will assist with the financial elements of your export sale. They will working with the banks on both sides of the transaction to coordinate funds transfers, provide loan guarantees, and even pre-delivery working capital for you and post-delivery financing for your customer.

For generations, big firms have owned the franchise on global business. But shifts in technology and demographics are making the global marketplace more compelling and feasible for small businesses.

Contact these two organizations and let them help you develop a global business strategy.

Write this on a rock…The global marketplace – and 7 billion prospects – are waiting for you.

VIDEO: Allow customers to see your business’s authentic side

Age of the Customer author and Small Business Advocate Jim Blasingame discusses the importance of introducing your customers to your business or company’s authentic side and offers three suggestions to help you convey your vision and values to your customers. Content is King — and we’re consumers of many different types of online content — but most content lacks the necessary engagement customers are craving. Give them authentic words.

Click the image to start the video.

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Serving customers online is not an option, it’s imperative

In this new Age of the Customer, accessibility to a business through online content is nonnegotiable.

Four years ago, we asked this question about e-commerce: How much of your small business’ annual revenue comes from online sales?

Online Shopping·  Five percent said all revenue came from e-commerce.

·  Fourteen percent said more than half of their sales came from the Internet.

·  A little more than fifty percent said e-commerce represented less than 50% of total sales.

·  Twenty-five percent said they had no online sales at all.

E-commerce has been around for a big chunk of the commercial Internet age, which began in 1995 when unencumbered access to the Internet was fully allowed. In terms of historical marketplace practices, e-commerce is just a baby.  So I’m actually quite pleased with the mix of responses we received as it indicates 75% of small businesses are generating some e-commerce revenue.

But over the next five years, there will be significant increased pressure to generate online sales.

According to the research firm Forrester, online sales will reach $248.7 billion in the next five years, accounting for 8 percent of total U.S. retail sales by 2014. But the next statistic may be more important (read: ominous) for small businesses.

Forrester also predicts that by 2014, over half of all retail sales will be influenced by online product and company research before customers make a purchase.  The reason this stat is so significant is because of another piece of research that produced this astonishing number: Half of small businesses DO NOT have a website.

Regardless of size or industry, no business can expect to be successful in the future without a web presence. Even if you don’t sell online, you MUST be available online so prospects can find you the way people are looking today. Here are two words that make having a website even more of an imperative: local search.

Local search is increasingly replacing the phone book or dialing 411. Even when customers don’t expect a business to have e-commerce capability, like a restaurant or dry cleaners, they do expect to be able to find you online, with product offerings, directions and a clickable phone number.

If you don’t have a website, get one; today you can actually get a simple one for free. And unless you sell nuclear products or Stinger missiles, please, find a way to offer e-commerce to your customers; It’s not free, but it’s no longer cost-prohibitive.

Serving customers online is not an option, it’s an imperative.