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Do small businesses “get” the Internet?

For several years now, I have been talking to anyone and everyone about how the Internet is the great equalizer for small and medium businesses. It can help the little guy play with the big boys. It can help create a David vs. Goliath scenario where the SMB can take the industry giant out with skill and precision. There are so many things that any SMB can do with regard to the Internet that it is mind boggling.

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Today? Not so much. Sure., there are some great examples of small businesses that have done exactly as I described. They’ve put together a plan, stopped wasting money on marketing that doesn’t work (like the Yellow Pages, in most cases), and they’ve breathed new life into their business by being where people are asking how their problem can be solved at the time that they need it the most. The vast majority of SMB’s, however, have missed the boat and I’m not convinced that they will ever get on board any ship like the USS Internet.
Why? How can this be? Aren’t the SMBs of America the backbone of the country? Don’t 95% (or some ridiculously high percentage) of the jobs in the US come from the SMB space? Isn’t it the entrepreneurial spirit of the SMB that drives the economic engines? If that’s true, then the same group of courageous entrepreneurs that breathe life into the economy are now working just as hard to bleed it dry.
Why do I say this? Here are just a few reasons:

  • 40% of small businesses still don’t even have a Web site. That should be enough to win this argument right out of the gate.
  • SMB’s entrepreneurial spirit actually hinders growth, especially when it comes to moving marketing to the Internet. That “gotta do it myself!” spirit is a killer when they think they can figure out how to do Internet marketing by themselves, real cheap, or even for free. Most fail miserably in this area.
  • SMB’s are not risk takers, contrary to popular urban legend and lore. They do safe things and are often left in old practices that limit growth while watching the rest of the business world blow by them. Hey, don’t worry though, because most of their business comes from referrals. (Oh brother, if I only had a dime for every time I have heard this wallet-closing mantra.)
  • SMB’s are not terribly positive for the most part. For every bubbly real estate agent that is working a “mind over matter” deal on themselves, there are a hundred hardened SMB owners who have struggled to stay afloat and meet payroll each month. They are worn out and have seen enough. Oh and as the government keeps working against them, this is not going to get better.

So what to do? I have made a decision for myself. Engage only with those folks who do get it. It is a much smaller subset. These are the folks that will come out of this on the other side whole. No more free seminars for the free “lunch and learn” crowd. Serious inquiries only. I have a business to run, too, you know.

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