Archive for the 'e-Business' Category

Defending your business against Big Boxes and Cyber-Boxes

Besides the traditional, local, competitive landscape small business retailers must navigate every day, they also feel pressure from two other fronts to which they’re typically less adept at responding:

1. The Big Boxes, anchored around the corner.
2. Cyber-competitors, untethered in the Internet.

And pressure from the second one is increasing every day.

Here are a few ideas on how Main Street businesses can minimize the pressure from these two:

Big Box competitors
Let’s begin with these two truths:

1. Unlike Big Boxes, a small business doesn’t have to conquer the world to be successful.

2. The price war is over and you lost.

Your most qualified prospects and reliable customers are also the least likely to spend much time or money with a Big Box. The same feeling that attracts them to the customization and connection of your small business also causes them to be unimpressed by size and underwhelmed by poor service. Those who don’t fit this profile were never real prospects for you anyway; get over it – let them go. Your job is to re-enforce that “connection/customization” emotion by delivering value, not price, and quit trying to be something you’re not – big.

Online competitors
Those same customers just mentioned, who love your small business special sauce, still expect you to provide some level of online support. Your brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have to conquer the e-business world to keep customers happy, but you do have to show up online. Here’s what that means:

1. Two words that reveal why you MUST have a professional presence online: local search. Prospects and customers use local search every day – especially on smart phones – to find companies and consider their offerings. Disregard the imperative of local search optimization at your peril. There are professionals who can help you with this – let them.

2. Besides a regular website, yours must also be mobile-ready, including a hot phone link and directions. Nothing about your business’s past was mobile, but mobile will define your future.

3. Prospects and customers increasingly expect businesses they like to connect with them with useful information, service announcements, and special offerings.

There’s a reason the special offerings were listed last. “Connect” means by any means: email, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you aren’t asking prospects and customers for their electronic contact information, which platform they prefer, and then connect with them there, your business will suffer the slow death of irrelevance. And remember, some will still just want face-to-face.

You can compete against the Big Boxes by merely not trying to be like them. And regarding traditional best practices and the virtual world, remember this: it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Write this on a rock … You don’t have to conquer the world; just show up and be yourself.

RESULTS: How much of your revenue comes from online sales?

The Question:

Small businesses are increasingly using e-business to grow. How much of your annual revenue do you estimate comes from online sales?

0% - 100%
6% - More than 50%
39% - Less than 50%
55% - None
Jim’s Comments:
As you can see, our respondents this week aren’t using the Internet much to drive sales. Over the years our responses have been consistent with several scientific surveys I report on my radio program, but I hope this isn’t the case this time.  Consider the research below:

  • According to an aggregation of sales research, the amount of global online sales reached almost $1.5 TRILLION in 2014 (all caps for emphasis), and is projected to be almost $2.5 TRILLION by 2018. And that’s just business-to-consumer (B2C).
  • But the big online bell ringer is business-to-business (B2B), projected to reach almost $7 TRILLION by 2020.

I’m going to have more to say about this in an upcoming Feature Article, but for now let me tell you that if you’re not providing at least some online capability for all kinds of customers to do business with you online, you’re becoming a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to dinosaurs.


Is crowdfunding investment capital right for your business?

In previous columns I introduced three crowdfunding sources including donation fundraising, startup transactions, and lending. Now let’s talk about the fourth and most problematic method: raising capital from investors.

Historically, small businesses acquired investor capital from two sources: venture capital and angel investors. So when crowdfunding popped up on our radar, many in the entrepreneurial universe got excited thinking the Internet could be used as a lever for investor capital as it has for other business applications. Here are four reasons why I was not among this group.

1.  Securities Laws
Remember those two crowdfunding markers identified in my previous columns, “innumerable and anonymous?” Well, they’re the most problematic in raising investor funds because, by definition, the public (people you don’t know) has access to Internet offerings. U.S. securities laws are enormously restrictive about selling investments to the public, and the approval process is prohibitively expensive for most startups. Plus, even as part of Obama’s 2012 JOBS Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has yet to approve crowdfunding for investors and won’t say when rulemaking will happen.

2.  Financial reporting
One of the essential markers of investing is financial reporting. Alas, one of the markers of the small business sector is poor financial recordkeeping. When small businesses learn the level of disclosure required for crowdfunding investment, most will not pursue this path.

3.  Minority shareholders
Investors become shareholders. A crowdfunding offering is likely to create many shareholders. When small business owners understand the maintenance expense and effort to comply with mandated reporting to shareholders, most will seek other capital sources.

4.  Exit strategies
Small business owners love their businesses, but most don’t have an exit strategy. Since capital is not romantic, it’s unlikely that a small business owner’s idea of an exit will align with that of crowdfunding investors. And with no after-market for these shares, crowdfunding creates an inherent exit expectation conflict, which will be a non-starter.

When and if SEC rulemaking occurs, crowdfunding equity will benefit some entrepreneurs. But I predict this capital source won’t be a high percentage option for most small businesses. Crowdfunding is part of the future of small business capitalization, but it’s not for everyone.

Write this on a rock … Don’t count on crowdfunding to replace your banking relationships.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”


RESULTS: How much do you depend on your smartphone?

The Question:

How much do you depend on your smartphone for tasks other than calling, texting, and email?
24% — Heavy dependence, like social media, newspapers, navigation, travel, etc.
53% — Just a few other tasks right now, but increasingly using it more.
9% — Nothing other than the three in the question.
14% — I don’t own a smartphone.

Jim’s Comments:

There are several reasons why more people - 77% of respondents in our latest poll - are increasingly using smartphones for tasks in their lives.  For example, it now costs no more to manufacture a smartphone than a dumb one, mobile apps increasingly appeal to the

non-technical user, mobile networks encourage them in a number of ways, and perhaps the most important - the cool factor.

I’m pleased to see that small business owners are increasingly owning and using smartphones. When we polled our audience about this not long ago, barely half owned a smartphone. For several years I’ve told you in my articles and on my radio program that if you don’t have and use a smartphone, you can’t keep up with the ever-evolving expectations of your customers.

In my new book, The Age of the Customer, I devote an entire chapter to mobile computing. From Chapter 13, one of the most important points I want you to remember is, “Global computing was not any part of your small business’s past, but it will dominate your future.”

My friend and Brain Trust member, Chuck Martin, has written books about mobile computing and, indeed, has devoted his entire career to the topic.  I encourage you to increase your understanding of the impact of mobile computing with my thoughts and then graduate to Chuck.  Here’s his website where you can find all of Chuck’s information:MobileFutureInstitute.com.  And here’s a link to interviews on mobile computing I’ve had with Chuck on my show.

As a small business owner, using your smartphone for more things delivers two benefits: It will help you become more efficient and productive personally, while providing key insights into what your customers expect from the companies they do business with.

SBA Poll Results: Stop Obama from giving the Internet away

The Question:
President Obama is planning to give U.S. control of the Internet to a global consortium. What do you think?

2% - Agree with the president-it doesn’t matter who governs the Internet.

86% - This is a very dangerous decision that could have catastrophic implications.

12% - Uncertain

My Comments:
For at least a dozen years, I’ve reported on my radio program about the global covetousness of the U.S. control of the Internet–even though we built it. So it doesn’t surprise me that other global players would like for the U.S. government to relinquish its control. But I was surprised a few weeks ago when my Brain Trust member and ICANN expert, Steve DelBianco, reported on my show that the Obama administration planned to cede ultimate ownership and control of Internet governance and management to a “multi-stakeholder” global group.

Since I believe this plan is a dangerous mistake of epic proportions, I’ve ramped up my reporting on this with other experts, including Mike Daniels, former President of Network Solutions, Inc., the governance contractor prior to ICANN. Plus last week I wrote an article about why Obama’s plans for the Internet are unnecessary and could be disastrous (see last week’s Feature Article). Even former President Clinton has recently gone on record as an opponent of Obama’s plan.

For some reason, the ICANN issue didn’t get the media coverage it deserved–probably because of the Malaysian Airline story, or Russia invading Crimea–but it looks like it may now be coming to the attention of Congress. Hopefully something can be done to stop the divesting of arguably one of the greatest assets of the U.S., and one we’ve shared as honest stewards with the rest of the world, freely and unencumbered by geopolitics.

And I’m happy to report that when we polled our audience about what they think, 86% gave a thumbs down to the Obama administration’s Internet governance plans. But there’s more to do. Contact your members of Congress and tell them as Americans, we don’t want to relinquish oversight of the Internet. You may not care whether Putin invades Crimea, but you should care a lot about whether Russia, China, Iran, or Venezuela one day has a vote in how the Internet is managed.

The Age of the Customer®

My latest book The Age of the Customer® is now available for purchase at the locations below. Click the images to purchase the book and to view more information about maintaining relevance with your small business.

This Has Never Happened Before.

You’re operating your business in a time when something is happening that is so momentous it has never happened before. Jim Blasingame identifies it as an epochal marketplace shift that’s causing the 10,000-year-old Age of the Seller to be replaced by the Age of the Customer.

Jim will reveal to you in plain language:

• How the two Ages currently, but temporarily, exist in parallel universes, and how much time you have left to join the emerging universe.

• How relevance is replacing competitiveness as the coin of the realm, and what you have to do to make this switch to Age of the Customer thinking.

• How your future will increasingly be decided at the Moment of Relevance, and what you have to do to be the chosen one at that moment.

• The new influencers who co-own your brand message sometimes before you even know they exist and how you can get them to be your partner.

• Why you must become a storyteller.

• The good, bad, and ugly of social media.

• The killer app that wasn’t any part of your past but will dominate your future.

Jim will teach you how the Age of the Customer is impacting love, trust, emotions, niches, globalization, intellectual property, selling, branding, and even technology. Plus he will reveal what is not going to change.

In the Foreword, Steve Forbes says Jim has both the foresight of a prophet and the courage of a heretic. This book is a visionary message delivered with tough love and, as Steve says, Jim is the best at this.

You’ll keep this book handy for continual reference, because you won’t find the perspectives Jim Blasingame delivers here anywhere else in any one place. It’s The Age of the Customer®. Let Jim Blasingame help you Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.




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