Small businesses thrive on the Internet. They may not be a huge e-commerce story that fill the headlines, but many small and home-based businesses are finding wealth of opportunities on the Web. Small businesses may not gain mass recognition and they may not have the sophisticated technologies of their deep-pocketed counterparts, but they thrive, and many in fact, are operating profitably.
Their secret? They’ve discovered that niche rules on the Internet.
The web has slowly come to be known as a great place to reach very specialized markets, and this has greatly benefited small companies. With the right keywords, customers can have an easy time locating specialized products and services that may be difficult to find elsewhere. By grabbing a well-defined specialty line, many small and home-based businesses have found that they can make the Internet a profitable venue for finding customers and selling them products and services.
With their more limited resources, smaller companies find that they stand a greater chance if they focus on a specific product line, and becoming the best in that niche market. RedWagons.com may not have the financial and marketing muscle of a ToysRUs.com, but it found profitability after it concentrated on nothing but Red Flyer toy wagons. While the big conglomerates carry only three to five models of Red Flyer wagons, RedWagons.com has been offering the entire product line. Customers of the product now knows that they can go to RedWagons.com if they want to buy a Red Flyer wagon that is not offered by any of the leading toy chains in the country.
Small and home-based businesses are using the Web in three different ways:
The Web as the Starting Point
Many entrepreneurs, mostly first-time business owners, have found the Web as an inviting medium for starting a business. They are lured by the prospects of lower overhead costs, the ability to reach a wide audience and the marketing potential of the Web. They love the promise that they can “earn even while sleeping,” waking up to an email full of orders. Some businesses are into retailing; others earn through affiliate programs; and many others operate ad-based or subscription-based sites.
Of course, like many other businesses, these Net-preneurs are discovering that it takes more than a Web site to earn on the Internet. A lot of small and home-based entrepreneurs are finding that the rules of the business game also apply on the Web. They need to create compelling reasons for customers to patronize their business and buy their products or services. They need to possess exemplary customer service, constantly listening to what their customers want and working twice as hard than their offline counterparts to engage their customers. After all, surfers and web shoppers on the Web seem to have shorter attention span and can easily move from one site to the next.
Nonetheless, the Web has opened many doors and opportunities for the small entrepreneur dreaming of becoming their own boss.
The Web as Business Extension
Many small and home-based businesses operating in the real world found that they need to jump into the Web bandwagon to stay competitive.
Polly’s Pet Store (http://pollyspets.com), for example, has already been operating two retail stores before venturing into the Web. While enjoying moderate success online, they felt that the Web could increase their revenue stream and attract new clientele for their business. They use their site as a showcase of their products and their stores, even offering an online tour of their two branches. In addition, they are able to create additional value for their customers by providing an educational forum for their customers.
It is important to point out that it takes more to successfully expand a business on the Web. More than putting their catalog or brochure online, small and home-based businesses need to change their mindset to learn how Internet buyers shop and what they expect from online retailers. It is a re-learning process, with a more personalized customer service becoming the common strength of the smaller companies. Nonetheless, these small and home-based businesses are a step ahead those pure-play entrepreneurs given their previous business experiences and successes offline.
However, many small firms on tight budgets still find it difficult to make the investment in technology upgrades to expand their business into the Web. Many small and home-based businesses are still hesitant in spending resources to create a Web presence, but nonetheless finding that the cash outlay is necessary to them toward the new millennium and compete with other companies.
The Web as Business Support
Some small and home-based businesses do not necessarily want to sell on the Web. Rather, they simply want a Web presence to support their existing operations. They architect their site to provide an overview of their business or service, serve as a contact point for existing and potential customers, and a vehicle for reaching new markets.
These companies still do the bulk of the business offline, but they recognize the many benefits a Web presence can create for their business. They use their sites to inform clients of new products, provide greater product or service explanations, and provide a forum to interact with them. The site becomes an extension of their customer service strategy, offering an easy access to customers.
They use their web sites as an interactive marketing brochure (without the costly reprinting charges of a printed brochure). Whether their clientele is local or global, the Web provides an excellent place for telling potential customers everything they need to know about the business. Many small and home-based businesses are finding that the Web could be a great venue for showing examples of their work, describing their pricing, and displaying customer testimonials – with the hope of pushing those eyeballs into action and sealing a deal with these potential customers.
Recommended Books on How to Use the Web for Your Small Business:
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Web-Based Business
- The Six-Figure Second Income: How To Start and Grow A Successful Online Business Without Quitting Your Day Job
- Starting an Online Business All-in-One For Dummies
- Starting an Online Business For Dummies
- Web Marketing for Small Businesses: 7 Steps to Explosive Business Growth (Quick Start Your Business)