Tech gap deepens between Business “Haves and Have-nots”

The challenges of managing and sustaining a small business in today’s economy seem to change by the minute. Many of the challenges involve technology and online tools that require a certain internet and technical skill set and regular time commitment. A startling number of businesses in Northern Michigan have not embraced technology, and suffer from their lack of web presence, online marketing, and financial management.

Think about a local store that you may have wanted to shop with, but before planning your trip to visit, you looked online for their hours and location. If the retailer has no web site you on some level doubt their credibility and are likely to move on to that store’s competitor. If you are a visitor to the area, this lack of an online presence becomes even more crucial

Most people under the age of 35 plan, shop, compare, and buy as a result of an online web search, not by looking through a phone book. Yet many businesses will invest in an expensive phone advertisement without giving it another thought to having a regularly updated web site.

If your business is not receptive to online technology, shifting customer dynamics will cause you to lose market share to your competition. The choice is clear, either ride along with the technological advances, and integrate them into your business to strengthen it, or ignore the changes and fall even further behind. The difference now is that the gap that results from doing nothing is growing exponentially.

Businesses in the beginning start-up phase should invest in a web site that can serve as the cornerstone of their branding and name identification.  The idea would be to start with one page informational site that can be updated, and expanded on as the business grows. Information such as your business hours and contact information (a phone number prominently displayed) are a must. The initial monetary and time expense to have this basic web site presence involves is minimal, and there are plenty of local sources to help you do this right.

Established companies without an online presence are also seeing their customers, traffic, and profits dwindle. An enhanced web effort enables a company to find new customers, expand on existing customer relationships, create business during traditionally slow times (winter in Northern Michigan), and to produce more sales.

While traditional advertising to a targeted audience will never be replaced by online marketing, internet marketing can reach out in a permission-based manner to customers outside the Grand Traverse Region. This would include the integration of a blog site to build a community of  people who have a genuine interest in your product or service and can spread the word of your niche to others, and social networking sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) to spread the word through am enhanced referral type of network.

For those who have not embraced these tools the learning curve may seem daunting. However, it is easy to start with a simple informational web site and progress forward. Many organizations are finding it more advantageous to have an employee who is already familiar with the online marketing piece to develop that component.

The other area that many local small businesses fall behind on is the financial management of their companies. Without the infrastructure of a bookkeeping system that is set up properly by a professional bookkeeper or accountant, many a business owner is left to judging his or her financial situation by assessing and projecting their business performance based on the balance in their checking account.

Making the comparatively simple investment in a program such as QuickBooks or Peachtree, and having a professional set up the program initially, will help you assess cash flow, pricing, and increase your ability to successfully work on (not in) your business.

The success of your business rests on your ability to use new technology and move your company into the future with a position of strength compared to your competition. The secret is acknowledging your technology deficiency, and getting help either internally from your staff or from other local sources.

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