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BusinessWeek logoI have to admit at the outset that I have always loved BusinessWeek Magazine. It’s not as thick as it used to be, but I consistently find it full of good writing and insightful opinions. I’d be proud to write for them myself. But a Twitter from Jennifer Laycock alerted me to an article posted this week that is just so far off the mark that it’s hard to know even where to start.

The article, “Tech Solutions Your Small Biz Can’t Use” by Gene Marks, seems like one of those link-baiting contrarian pieces that wants to pooh-pooh the conventional wisdom. Go ahead and read it for yourself. I’ll wait right here.
Gene Marks might be a very smart guy, but it’s hard for me to agree with much of what he writes here. In fact, it’s easy to summarize what I agree with: Don’t believe all the hype—just because something works for one business doesn’t mean it will work for yours. I also agree that I’ve seen few businesses so far for whom mobile applications are working in the U.S. (but if you’re in Japan, there are many successes). And CRM software might be overkill for many small businesses when simple contact management would suffice.
But that’s it. The rest of the article is a real disservice to small business owners. Let’s take them one by one.
RSS Feeds. Maybe RSS Feeds aren’t for everyone, but I find it much easier to scan through a list of headlines than to have to connect to a dozen different Web sites each day to see if anything is new. Sure you can waste your time poring over RSS Feeds just as you can waste your time doing anything, but I’ve never heard anyone say that it takes longer to get information with RSS. Gene’s assertion that abandoning RSS somehow puts you back in control of getting information is at odds with my experience and that of everyone I know.
Spam Filters. Maybe Gene is using the wrong spam filters, but I can’t live without my SpamFighter. It was a breeze to install and I’ve never had a minute’s trouble with it. I don’t understand how anyone can advise people to manually handle their spam.
Antivirus Software. OK, if you advise people not to use antivirus software, you are just a nut. Now, I am not here to tell you that it is easy or it is always pleasant, but as someone whose computer has contracted dozens of viruses over the years that have been detected by the software, and one that was not not that cost me a week’s worth of time to correct, I put up with the problems. This was the most egregious thing Gene had to say. Please keep using your antivirus software, folks.
Blogs. Blogs are not for everyone, of course. But small businesses can use them every bit as effectively as large ones. Gene’s right that you need to have something to say, and it does take time, but most one-person consulting shops I know have a blog. It certainly doesn’t make sense for every business, but there’s no reason to discriminate based on size—any business with information to share can use a blog effectively, big or small.
Search Engine Optimization. Gene is totally wrong here. In fact, as I wrote the other day, small businesses have an edge in search marketing over big ones. I can’t tell you the number of times I have walked into a major corporation that is being outranked by its dealers and affiliates for its own brand name product searches. Small businesses that work to get links will do well in SEO for far less money than any other marketing tactic.
AdWords. Paid search isn’t right for everyone, but Gene’s belief that it’s mass marketing suitable for Coke or Pepsi is ludicrous. All search marketing is the exact opposite of mass marketing and it’s exactly wrong for low-priced offline mass market sales like soda pop. Studies show that paid search yields more leads per dollar than direct mail and lots of other tactics, so why small businesses wouldn’t at least try it is beyond me.
Online Video. Here again, I don’t know what planet Gene is on. Blendtec and many other businesses have shown how video can get you a lot more bang for your buck than traditional tactics.
Web 2.0. I guess Gene doesn’t realize that several of the things he trashed earlier are part of Web 2.0, so it’s probably not even worth dismantling this argument.
I think Gene has a huge blind spot here. He expects each of these things to be easy, to work with no effort, and to require no learning. If he tries it and it doesn’t work the first time, then he gives up. That doesn’t sound like a successful small business owner to me. They are the hardest working people I know. What they need to do is to learn a bit about the opportunities and then decide which one to try, along with knowing how to measure whether it is working.
If Gene doesn’t have the computer skills to pull this off, then these tactics probably aren’t for him. But for him to think that no small business owner should try them just because he has no clue is crazy. Perhaps he should talk to a different group of small business owners that make the Web work for them every day. I’d be happy to introduce him if he is interested.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, a leading social consultancy. Mike is the author of two books on digital marketing, an instructor at several leading universities, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research.

13 replies to this post
  1. I agree with everything you’ve said except for the antivirus comments. I’m with Gene on this one, at least for a lot of folks.
    I’ve not had an AV program in about five years, and I’ve contracted zero viruses (I run an occasional scan with one of the free programs just to make sure). A few easy steps:
    - Stay on top of Windows Updates (as well as updates to any alternative browsers you use).
    - Don’t let Windows “hide extensions for known file types”. This was a huge factor in the Anna Kournikova virus a few years back. The virus was named something like “Anna.jpg.exe”, but most users only saw “Anna.jpg” and figured it was safe (Windows hid the “.exe”).
    - Use scanned, web-based e-mail. Yahoo or Gmail are probably the best bet.
    - Stay behind a firewall.
    - I back things up fairly often, just to be safe (virus, hard drive crash, etc).
    So where is a virus going to get in? Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just “catch” a virus on your PC. It’s not getting in via a browser or e-mail, and passing them around on floppies ended years ago. I just don’t see how anything could get in, and so far I’ve been right.
    That being said, it’s not for everyone. I don’t run AV on mine and I don’t run it on my wifes. On the other hand, I’d never suggest this to my mom or many of my coworkers.

  2. Mickey, it’s certainly possible to avoid using antivirus software and succeed. I mean I know Macintosh users who say they do it without even understanding all the things you’ve listed here. But I think you need to know an awful lot to work this way, a lot more than the average small business owner understands. Gene is not telling small business owners to get smarter about technology, he’s telling them to ignore it. The folks who take his antivirus advice won’t be smart like you are, they’ll do nothing instead. I think someone who knows what they are doing can deal with things just fine, but I think that small business owners should use antivirus software because it is the easiest way for them to stay safe.

  3. I agree that for the most part the article will very uninformed and I can tell you from experience that most if not all of those technologies or services have helped my business grow. The trick is you just have to know how to use the tools.
    Yes, anti-virus and spam filtering is far from perfect. The best anti-virus program is sitting in the chair but sadly that the definition are rarely updated their as well.
    I know many clients who have had their butt saved by having this stuff installed.
    I can also tell you from experience that RSS, Blogging and those things piped through Web 2.0 technologies like social networks have helped bring me business I other wise would not have gotten.

  4. You’re right, Patrick, of course. I posted a comment on Gene’s article at the BusinessWeek site offering to connect him to small business owners that have succeeded using these techniques, so maybe I will connect him with you, too, if he really is curious about learning. If it was just a contrarian rant, then I am sure I’ll never hear from him.

  5. I hate posting a comment as lame as “I agree,” Mike, but in this case, you’ve hit it right on the head.
    I also think you raise an interesting question as to whether this is even intended as legitimate business advice by the editors of BW, or if it’s actually a misguided attempt at linkbait gone horribly wrong.
    It’s one thing to take a contrarian point of view. It’s quite another to give folks seriously bad advice on how to grow their business. Better advice is to explain why it might not work for some businesses and how others in those same types of businesses have bucked the odds and achieved success using those techniques. Of course, that would require research. And caring about your audience. Perhaps that’s too much to expect from BW anymore.

  6. Thanks, Tim. Gene’s advice was so bad that I frankly was puzzled by it, too. I think BW is a good magazine, so maybe this can serve as a wakeup call to them.

  7. Thanks for calling the post to my attention, Renee. I answered her post in a comment on her site, but I’d like to apologize here to anyone who found my post patronizing. (She also called it a “screed” and a “hissy-fit.”) I think most of my readers know that it’s not my intention to provoke for provocation’s sake.
    Even if you don’t want to drink the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid (and I think you should at least take a sip to see what it is), it’s hard to recommend advice to avoid spam filters and virus protection.
    Do read Renee’s post, though. If I ever want to write a screed I think I know who to ask for advice. :-)

  8. Well, even Business Week can be forgiven for the occasionaly brain fart right?
    It’s also possible that the writer is listening to the advertisers a bit more than he should…

  9. Amen, Mike! You elegantly put some really good arguments towards some of these oddball recommendations.
    Regarding the antivirus stuff, up until about 3 years ago, I used to disable my corporate antivirus software package daily on the PC at my company because it was just a bit too intrusive. I figured I was technically adept enough to sense and avoid viruses, spyware and adware. I had an experience similar to yours where my PC got infected, though, and it cost me a day’s work to disentangle it.
    I think the variety of potential exploits and virus strains has outstripped most individual’s ability to manually avoid infection nowadays.
    I’m happy to have the software help me now.

  10. I read Renee’s post. I was looking for the part where she explains what you were wrong about.
    Apparently, the only thing you did wrong was to be a blogger and have the nerve to criticize a professional writer of a respected magazine.
    Oh well. I guess it’s good for folks like us, who will be well ahead of the curve a few years down the road when these guys finally wake up.



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