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?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich