Gini Dietrich

Using the Internet for Business Growth

By: Gini Dietrich | May 3, 2010 | 

This was first published in my weekly blog on Crain’s this past Friday.

An interesting survey was released a couple of weeks ago by Citibank that asked 552 small business owners if they use the Internet for business growth.

Some highlights:

· 81 percent of small businesses surveyed are not using social media;
· 37 percent are not using their website to expand their business;
· 84 percent don’t sell their products or services online; and
· 65 percent do not use online advertising.

You might be asking yourself why someone who fashions themselves a champion of growing your business by way of the Internet is showing you these stats. I mean, it’s not like this helps me tell the story, right?

I’ll tell you why. You have HUGE opportunity not only to take the lead among your peers, but to use the Web to work for you while you’re not at your computer.

Let me give you an example.

One of my dearest friends, Erin Brumleve, is an art therapist in Denver. She started her business in January 2009. She had the same year one struggles we all had, but hers were coupled with changing health care AND a recession. But she did something not even I figured out to do until year four of my business; she used the Web to network with potential referral sources, she created monthly workshops (and let people pay for them online), and she used social media to build her brand and connect with her peers across the country (which has led to referrals, a niche practice area, and enhanced credibility).

In January we were skiing in Vail and, as we rode the lift to the top of the Bowls, she checked her phone. She exclaimed with giddy excitement, “I just had another person sign up for my workshop AND they’ve already paid.”

Yeah . . . she’s figured out how to let the web work for her while we ski; and she did it in year one (and I’m envious!). Based on the stats above, most of us have not yet figured out how to do this, but we must. This is not a fad. The Internet is not going away. Your customers are using Google and social media to find you and, if they can’t find you, to find your competitors.

I spoke to a Vistage group in Las Vegas last week, and after three hours, the overwhelming comment was, “I’m convinced I need to do this, but I have no idea where to begin.”

It’s overwhelming and there is a lot to not just think about, but also learn. So I recommend taking one step at a time. Sit down for 15 minutes with a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself, “Should we be using social media? Can we test some online advertising through Google AdWords? Can we sell something online? Can we expand our business nationally or internationally?”  If you answer yes to at least one of these questions, decide which one to tackle first and do it.

Within a matter of weeks you’ll be using the good, ol’ Al Gore to sell for you while you ski (or golf or lay on the beach or ride your motorcycle or nap or read or whatever the heck you want to do).

Which steps do you recommend business leaders take first in learning how to use the Internet for business growth?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Gini,

    There seems to be no shortage of ignorance in business.

    The study I was looking at today suggests that the only companies that increased their communication/public relations budgets last year were companies that the employees considered long-term strategic focused companies that were innovative and people driven. Right, those were the companies that grew threw the recession. The rest, they lost ground.

    The first step, it seems to me, is to develop their strategic communication or marketing plan and then determining where the Internet falls within the budget.

    All my best,

  • Rich – you are so right! At the beginning of the recession, LOTS of companies cut their PR/marketing budgets. Now they’re scrambling trying to fill the pipeline. They are losing coming out of the recession, too. Thanks for the tip on what to do first!

  • Because business leaders are often so busy it can actually be worth their time to sit down and go through things with a consultant 1X1. Sure, conferences and training seminars are great. But just sitting there in front of a laptop and showing someone what’s happening out there can be really worthwhile.

    You have structure the training and work with a clear goal in mind, of course.

    I find that management have to have an understanding of the core features of online marcom to be able to evaluate their team, get their head around strategic online marketing and keep up.

  • So Jon, are you recommending that business leaders hire someone to come in and help them set an online marketing strategy and be sure they have the team (either internal or external) set up to execute?

  • Hi Gini,

    You really hit the nail on the head here, and that horrible word “overwhelming” sums it up perfectly. So many business owners know they should be doing something to bring the Web into their marketing/PR mix, but don’t know where to start.

    So what’s the first step? I think businesses definitely have to bring in an outside consultant/coach to sit down with them and go over the big picture and help set up a marketing plan — one that includes social media. After that, if the business wants to keep tasks in house, training would need to be done for staff. The business’s entire team needs to really be involved in things, and maybe that’s one of the biggest obstacles, since you can have such a wide gap in opinions about the value of the Web within one group of people. Oftentimes the biggest anti-Web voices are those doing the marketing/PR! It’s scary to change. Easier to just sit on those old practices and hope that they start to work again. Only problem is things aren’t going to go back to how they used to be…

  • It’s kind of self-serving for me to say that small businesses should hire outside consultants to help them drive an online strategy. So I thank each of you for making the case for me! 🙂

  • This is where you will get people to click your affiliate links. Website development is not as hard as it once was and there are many tools now that can practically automate the entire design process.