NET.COLUMNS: The Internet For Small Business – III

Every company setting up a Web site has a dream about the Internet: put
your home page on the Internet, and lo and behold, you are flooded
with orders from all over the world! The myth about the Net is that
small businesses have at last got a level playing field against their
bigger cousins. Life isn’t so simple, else no one would be running a
small business. But used intelligently, the Internet can
definitely help small businesses grow and reach out to markets and
companies they would otherwise not easily be able to. We’ll see how.

First, an anecdote. Recently, I was giving a seminar in Delhi. I had
just completed 2 hours of speaking about how the Internet was great for
business: standard textbook stuff, peppered with examples of some of
the success stories from India, and the world (Amazon, GE, Dell). When it was
time for questions, one gentleman got up and asked, “I am an auto parts
manufacturer. How can the Internet help me target buyers abroad?” The
question seemed simple enough; the answer wasn’t. And that was the
inspiration for this series.

The one thing we have to realise is that big companies have many
choices and a lot more resources. Distribution and reach are less of a
problem than they are for the smaller companies. The Internet,
definitely, can help smaller businesses a lot more than it can the
bigger players, simply because smaller companies have fewer
alternatives. Trade shows, personal visits, and international advertising
are expensive options. The Internet can become a viable complement to
present efforts. But, most companies we’ve talked to seem to look at
only part of the effort: putting up a home page and waiting for
inquiries, which are few and far between.

Here then is a 3-step strategy for your Web presence.

1. The Web site: a window to your world

Give as much importance to creating your Web site as you would to
opening a new office or a new division in your company. Content and
updates are the most important elements of the site. The visitor
should find something of value, besides your company profile, products,
services and financials. This “something” — which also works as an
attractor the second time around — could be an aggregation of
industry news, relevant links, policy information, etc. It does not
matter whether you are small or big; neither does it take a lot of
time to create this, but it helps broaden the profile of visitors to
your site and also ensures that there is a possibility of a repeat-visit.

A newsletter can be an inducement to get people to leave behind their
e-mail addresses, and allow you to stay in touch with them. Also, make
sure you have a contact form rather than just an e-mail address for
people to write back to you. This way, you can capture useful details
about the visitor’s background and interests.

2. Direct publicity

With little incremental cost, you can become your biggest
advertiser. Instead of going for (expensive) online advertising, you
can do your own publicity to the audience which probably has the most
use for it: your clients, suppliers, employees, investors. Make sure
that every communication sent out has the Web address (and if possible,
your personalised e-mail address): right from business cards and
letterheads to brochures and your print advertising. A letter or fax
to international clients is also a useful way to generate traffic, and
send a subtle message that you are also Internet-savvy. Also, by
ensuring that the Web site becomes your “electronic catalogue”, you can
reduce production and distribution costs.

3. Visiting other sites: do unto others…

Surprisingly, few companies think of this: just as you expect others
to visit your site and leave an inquiry behind, what stops you from
visiting their Web sites and doing the same? With an invitation to
stop by your Web site, of course. Spend time browsing the Web and identifying
companies who are on the Web and who might be interested in doing
business with you. Don’t wait for them to come to you: you go to
them. The Web is like on global round-the-year customisable
exhibition centre: make it work for you.


The obvious ideas are of course there: registering in search engines
is one of them (try khoj for India-specific
sites). Also, look for industry-specific directories:
if people were to look for your type of company on the Web, where
would they look? Many industry-specific trade directories work as
meeting points for buyers and sellers (some were mentioned in
last week’s article.

Also, once you receive an e-mail, make sure you reply promptly to it. A
tip: keep a standard reply ready, from where you can cut-and-paste,
with some customisation. This is fast, doesn’t require you to think
each time you need to reply, and therefore, ensures a coherent message
goes across.

A recent issue of the Economist had a story on an Asian directory
set-up by Asian Sources,
which is an example of how electronic commerce can be done in emerging
markets. Many small- and medium-sized businesses are able to get
inquiries via their presence on the Web site. We need a dynamic Indian
organisation to do something similar for our up-and-coming
companies. After all, if India’s exports have to triple in the next
3-5 years, the Internet’s going to have to play a very critical role
in this.

We hope this set of three articles have been useful to you. We would
also like to hear from you
if you have a small business and have benefited from the
Internet. Your story can definitely inspire others in India, and we
will be delighted to share it through this column.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.