Archive for the 'e-Business' Category

Welcome to Amazonia – third rock from the sun

Eeep—Eeep—Eeep —Eee

“Uh! Yes, Echo. I’m awake.” Walter’s answer stopped the noise and prompted this message from inside his pillow:

“Good morning, Walter. It’s 6:30am in Amazone 3, Monday, March 8, 2087.  Current temperature is a crisp 11 degrees Ama-Cius. Have a nice day.”

Walter Wallace had received the same wake-up notice every morning of his life since 2060, the year he turned eight. That was the year planet Earth, third rock from the sun, became Amazonia, wholly owned by Amazon.com.

By the middle of the 21st century, the world economy became dominated by Amazon and a few other online retailers and tech giants, like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. For decades the megalomaniacs of those firms pursued shared goals of influence over sectors such as the global consumer goods supply chain, the content origination and curation universe, the global 24/7 news cycle, big data mining/consumer manipulation, etc. Ultimately, planetary control was complete as their long-held geo-economic dominance coalesced with their nascent global political influence.

In 2053, Amazon moved its headquarters from Seattle to occupy the entire lower third of the island formerly known as Manhattan — now called New Bezos, after the company’s late founder. By then, most Earthlings received whatever they needed in life – including employment – from some combination of the tech giants. By 2057, a final merger resulted in absorption of the other tech behemoths by the ultimate powerhouse, as Amazon controlled every function of society, commerce and governance.

Walking to his job as an Amazonia community planner, Walter no longer noticed the constant buzzing of the Amadrones, the iconic device for how the company gained global control, as they delivered goods. The internal nomenclature was “unmanned delivery and surveillance platform,” or UDASP, because they doubled as aerial spies. Everybody knew that. But Amazonians had long since suspended any expectation of personal privacy or self-determination.

Walter’s parents had told him stories about a diverse marketplace that included something called small businesses. But the same year the planet became Amazonia, the last one closed in what was once Lake Station, Indiana, now part of Amazone 4. Louis Lukedic, Jr. finally gave up the fight against the UDASPs and closed Louie’s Dry Cleaning, the 60-year business his father founded as the new millennia dawned. Besides, Louie Jr.’s children had all been assimilated by Amazon.

Walking to work in what was once Cincinnati, Ohio, all around Walter were Amazon branded buildings, including commercial structures for doing the corporation’s business, and high rises, to house Amazonians. Just last year, Walter, his wife and two children moved into one of the newest buildings. His parent’s generation were the last to experience home-ownership.

Every morning Walter stopped at an AmaMac SDD (sustenance delivery device) to procure a green breakfast wafer that tasted better than it looked, and coffee-flavored liquid. As a holographic scan confirmed whose personal Amaccount to debit, a strange noise came out of the SDD.

Eeep—Eeep—Ee —

“Wazzat?”  Walter grunted loudly, as he slapped the snooze button. “Where am I?”

“Honey, are you okay?” Walter’s wife, Wilma asked. “I think you had a nightmare.”

“Boy, I’ll say,” Walter exclaimed, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck.  “I dreamed Amazon had taken over the world. I tell you, Wilma, it was awful — they owned everything. There were no small businesses anywhere. All the people had blank stares on their faces as they went about their lives. Even me.”

Opening the morning paper at breakfast, Walter felt a chill as he read this very real headline, “Retail Ice Age advances as Amazon and other e-tail giants transform Main Street.”

In his small business later that day, Walter thought about his nightmare, the newspaper headline and another dream of his — the one about passing his business on to his children. In a meeting that morning, Walter vowed to fight back harder than ever as he encouraged his staff.

“We must stay focused on what customers expect from us,” Walter continued, “which is our special sauce of combining a certain level of high tech AND the high touch only we can deliver. We’ll combine both to achieve higher margins with what customers want – customization, and leave the commodities – what customers need – to Amazon.”

“And here’s Breaking News: Amazon is 100% digital, but customers are 100% analog. Amazon may deliver dozens of different back scratchers, but it can’t scratch one back. Only a Main Street business like ours can reach that analog itch that’s unique for every customer. Amazon can’t beat us if we keep customers focused on that advantage.”

Write this on a rock … Deliver the small business special sauce and you’ll have nothing to fear from Amazon.

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.




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