Just the other day I was speaking to one of my clients, who has run a traditional brick-and-mortar operation for over 15 years. His small business is one that you would not expect to be cashing-in on e-commerce -- although he certainly is -- in that he sells industrial plumbing supplies.
As we got to talking, we chatted about his marketing initiatives -- specifically his Internet strategy -- and I was pleasantly surprised to hear his e-commerce business was steadily becoming more than just "a website presence." In fact, he was acquiring new clients, building new relationships, and selling direct to the point where his e-business was becoming a significant part of his whole business. Who knew selling toilet accessories to contractors online could be so successful?
Actually, I did. You see, at first my client was skeptical of having a Web presence at all -- and thought that e-commerce was a something that would not apply to his operation, especially since there was some investment required to get things rolling. It was only after some convincing that I was able to persuade him that his hard-earned dollars would be well spent on a solid e-commerce and Internet marketing strategy.
Fast-forward one month later -- his 600-plus product e-commerce site was launched and marketing commenced. At the end of the first week, I figured I'd touch-base with the client to see how things were going. "I'm getting several prospect phone calls and e-mails daily -- and I've already received a few online orders he said. My initial feeling was one of relief -- given I had the been the catalyst for having him make the investment -- but when I thought about it for a second, it made perfect sense.
After all, 2005 was a true milestone for e-commerce business. Total Internet spending for the year reached $143.2 billion -- up 22% over the $117.2 billion spent online in 2004, according to comScore Networks. "Cyber Mondays," the Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday, are quickly becoming a part of our American holiday shopping routine -- similar to "Black Friday for traditional retailers.
I suppose it'd be easy for me to simply say, "Your target market IS buying online." But it's even easier to cite the low operational costs, the ability to do business in an automated fashion 24/7, the exposure to a national, even an international, prospect-base and the fact that your competition is probably already doing business (or at least strategizing about it) online.
Both consumers and businesses are embracing the power of the Web, finding what they need through search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and buying through Amazon, e-Bay and Buy.com. If you think that just because these are huge, well-known companies that your business can't capitalize on the same strategies these businesses have, you need to think again.
While no company, in my opinion, has it all figured out in terms of e-commerce (no, not even Google), the same basic principles apply no matter what size the business. However, to quote a particularly good NY Lotto ad slogan from the 80s, first "You gotta be in it to win it. Like anything else, procrastination and fear of the unknown often stops small-business owners from even getting started in uncharted territories like e-commerce and all things tech.
Being February already, it's a little late for New Year's resolutions; however, I can't help but create my short-list of to-dos for any small-business owner thinking of implementing an e-commerce strategy in 2006. Here they are:
- Do your homework (and I mean now) on your three closest competitors, and see what they're doing online.
- Look back on 2005 and think of at least three things that completely bombed including how much time and money spent, and how those resources could have been spent in growing your online business.
- Again, looking back on 2005, think of at least three things that were complete successes (thereby bringing revenue or opportunity back to your organization) and think how sticking to this core-strategy for your online business could have made an even bigger impact.
The Web is here to stay, and it offers your business a very effective way to find and keep customers. So even if you're not sure of the opportunity, you have to take a shot, like my plumbing supplies client did. If you don't, you could be letting future profits go down the drain.