I Now Feel Their Pain

When I left The Kelsey Group I suddenly became one of those small businesses I’d been writing and talking so authoritatively about for the last several years. And now I’m living the agony and ecstasy of the small business experience. 🙂

But let’s talk for a moment about small business websites.

Nobody these days would argue that local businesses don’t need a web presence. And probably no small business would argue against the value or importance of online marketing as a general proposition. But getting from those ideas to actual execution is quite another matter. Kind of like losing weight: I know I gotta do it but how?

Arguably building a website today is more confusing than ever, partly because there are so many options. Do I use a blog? Do I use somebody’s free website product? Do I just set up a landing page on somebody else’s site?

While I was at The Kelsey Group we pulled data that reflected about 42% of SMEs (<100 headcount) had a web presence. If you use the Small Business Association’s definition (<500 headcount) the percentage jumps way up. (All this begs the question “what is a website” – a blog, a landing page, a profile page in a directory site?)

I thought I needed a conventional website. So back in late April I got a word of mouth referral from someone I trusted in the search marketing world. I didn’t do any due diligence because I didn’t have time. Then I spent a couple of months going back and forth on designs and I just wasn’t satisfied with anything that I saw. But I didn’t want to resort to the “templated” approaches of most of the major small business web hosts.

It’s incredibly painful to try and get a professional, reasonably customized site up and running if you want anything that is slightly unique. There are hundreds of vendors and beyond several familiar brands it’s hard to comparatively evaluate them.

As with online marketing, there are few places to get objective education or advice about what you need and the best provider to meet those needs. Most domain registrars now offer site hosting and online marketing as part of a complete suite of products. The hope there is you start at a domains and end with an online marketing package all from the same vendor.

As the Yahoo! SES party the other night I spoke to Jimmy Duvall, director e-commerce products for Yahoo! Small Business. He and I chatted about these very issues and he said, basically, Yahoo! is working on improving the process.

I very much hope so.

7 Responses to “I Now Feel Their Pain”

  1. AhmedF Says:

    I will also argue though that people are far too cheap. Just look at what happened with Lieberman – his site went down because he was using a crappy host, and instead he went around accusing of hacking attempts.

  2. Howard Owens Says:

    I don’t think I agree that most small businesses wouldn’t argue against the value of a Web site.

    While I agree all small businesses should have a Web site, that’s more of a philosophical debate than a practical debate.

    Many small businesses are doing just fine without the Web, and they can continue to do so. Many small business owners are quite satisfied with their business as it is now. Anybody who has ever sold local advertising has heard, “I don’t need to advertise. I have all the business I can handle now.”

    That is a stunningly pervasive attitude and I don’t think the Web changes it.

    Have you ever noticed that very few truly local businesses (except for real estate) use Google AdWords? Many small business owners simply do not see the need, when balanced against the hassle.

  3. Steven Cox, Click For Lessons Says:

    I think Howard has a point. There are many small business owners that have been in business 30 years and struggled to build their company without the help of an online presence. I think a good portion of those fall into the “I don’t need to advertise” description above.

    However, what is not mentioned is the tens of thousands of new businesses that are started each year by entrepreneurs that grew up online and see it as an integral part of life. These are the businesses that understand the value of web and will adopt an online presence as part of their initial and ongoing buisness strategy. It is these businesses that will eventually take over those owners who are “doing just fine without the web”.

    Currently, it is indeed a struggle to get an online presence for most. We recently surveyed over 500 of our small business customers. 55% do not have a web site. Half of those would like a web site, but see it as too confusing and cumbersome. The more time they have to spend on a web site, the less time they can spend running their business.

    Thus we see an opportunity to make things better for our users…

  4. mike m Says:

    “Thus we see an opportunity to make things better for our users…”

    Same here. I find a certain amount of satisfaction helping a business or service get listed and derive business from the web.
    The common theme I hear is they all want a website but have been scared off by expensive bids and pushy sales tactics. As for online marketing most are shocked how inexpensive it is compared to print.

  5. Hunt Hosting Blog - Telling it like it is. » Unique, Professional Website Design Says:

    […] Back in August he wrote this post. Here are some exerpts: Nobody these days would argue that local businesses don’t need a web presence. And probably no small business would argue against the value or importance of online marketing as a general proposition. But getting from those ideas to actual execution is quite another matter. It’s incredibly painful to try and get a professional, reasonably customized site up and running if you want anything that is slightly unique. As with online marketing, there are few places to get objective education or advice about what you need and the best provider to meet those needs. […]

  6. New, Simpler Yahoo! Website Creation Tools « Screenwerk Says:

    […] my earlier set of complaints about website building for small businesses (from last August).  Here’s the site I quickly […]

  7. Your Marketing Guy » Blog Archive » Unique, Professional Website Design Help Says:

    […] in August he wrote this post. Here are some exerpts from it: Nobody these days would argue that local businesses don’t need a […]

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