Why So Many Business Owners Are Not Marketing Online (Hint: It’s Not Always Their Fault)

It’s a pretty well-known fact that many offline small businesses have yet to make the leap to online marketing. For example, a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey of 550 small business owners found that only 3 percent of their advertising budgets are being directed online. Compare this to the national market, which is dominated by large companies, where 15 percent of advertising budgets are being directed to Internet-based marketing.

BCG Survey of Small Business Online AdvertisingBut why is it that so many small businesses are choosing to operate the “old-fashioned” way, with little recognition of the Internet as a channel or a source of leads?

(As an aside…To be fair, most big businesses don’t get Internet marketing either, but they have many more resources to just throw into the process. It’s kind of like filling both your hands with darts, closing your eyes and hurling them in the direction of a dart board. You may just happen to get a bulls-eye. If you don’t care much about the 99 other darts that missed the mark, then you’re good to go.)

Internet Marketing and Business Consultants Need to Change Their Approach

Though there are several common reasons why small business owners are seemingly giving Internet marketing the cold shoulder (the biggest of which I’ll mention below), it really boils down to an over-abundance of conflicting information and a general lack of understanding of what Internet marketing is all about.

There are plenty of people out there who make it sound like Internet marketing will be the greatest thing since sliced bread for a small business. They make all kinds of predictions and promises and wax poetic about how small business owners need to leverage this vast source of potential leads and sales.

If you are one of those people, then realize that this approach is all wrong; it’s not the right language- at least not when we’re talking about the owners of off-line service businesses and brick and mortars. The focus has to be about responding to a market reality: The way many people are making purchasing decisions has forever changed.

An ever increasing number of consumers are using the Internet and relying on their social networks to decide what to buy, when, and from whom. It’s an undeniable fact that affects just about any kind of purchase a person could make- whether it’s a product or a service, a big ticket item or a small accessory.

This trend small businesses owners of all stripes cannot afford to ignore. You have to be where your customers are so that they can find you. That’s just common sense. It’s Marketing 101. If you don’t make yourself accessible in this medium, at least in the most basic ways, then you can’t expect your connected customers to even know you exist.

Once a small business owner can understand this, then you can talk leverage…

Five Big Reasons Why Off-line Small Business Owners Are Staying Away From Internet Marketing

If you work in the business consulting field then you’ve probably made a mental list of common responses small business owners give for not pursuing Internet-based marketing. Typically, they’ll all fall into one of five categories. If you are the owner of an off-line business with a limited focus on online marketing, then see how many of the following apply:

1. “It’s just not for my kind of business.” This is a common response among the owners of service businesses like, dry cleaners, plumbers, lawn care specialists, HVAC guys, and even among some retail store owners. Their response is understandable. They think their businesses lack the “cool” factor and thus they fail to see how their Internet marketing efforts would even appeal to their customers.

The truth is, however, that many of their customers may almost instinctively head for Google or various social and location-based networks to search for the products and services they need as well as seek out an assortment of related questions or tips.

2. “I don’t have time for it.” In order to benefit from Internet marketing, you have to put in some consistent hours. It can take a significant amount of time to build up your presence and your following. There is also the learning curve factor, and this learning curve exists even if the business owner already spends a lot of time online for both business and personal use.

Here again, the reason for not starting up is understandable- especially where time is limited. But, there are ways around it. Once a small business owner recognizes the importance of maintaining an online presence and of building an audience, then he or she would need to treat it like any other operational activity. This means setting aside time and money for continuing education and training, as well as implementation, and maintenance.

3. “There’s no payback.” When it comes to online marketing, the return is harder to measure because it’s much less definable and tangible. Traditional advertising, like a circular ad, generally requires a set, predictable expense, and you could measure success by the increase in sales or the number of redeemed coupons following an ad campaign. Measuring the expense of a social media campaign or of building up a subscriber list, from the outside, just seems more abstract.

The truth is though that there are ways to measure and even arrive at a dollar value for almost any given action or hour spent in online marketing. But, many, many small business owners are unaware of this. Which brings me to the next point…

4. “I don’t know what I can do or where to even start.” For the uninitiated (and even for those who have already stuck their toes in the water) marketing a business online can be overwhelming. After all, there are so many evolving platforms and trends and follow, and let’s not forget, a whole lot of noise. Many small businesses are not fully aware of all the internet-based marketing options available to them, and even when they are aware of those options, they are often not sure what to do with them.

These business owners just need clear and proven guidance- which in my opinion is very hard to come by these days. It exists, for sure, but you really have to do your research to find it.

5. “Been there, done that.” By far, the hardest group of small business owners to convince are those who have already made an attempt to market their businesses online, didn’t get the results they hoped for, and then just abandoned ship. Or, they are maintaining an online presence but it’s being executed so poorly that it may actually be hurting their businesses instead of helping them. They don’t see it, though, and they blame the Internet or the medium itself for the weak performance. Finally, there are those who consulted some Internet marketing guru who steered them in the wrong direction. These people may have some added resistance- especially if they paid a small fortune for this “assistance.”

These business owners will seem to have picked up an anti-Internet virus along the way, and they would need to be approached with understanding, as well as concrete facts, numbers, and goals.

In short, Internet marketing is itself not a tool to increase leads, sales, or brand awareness. It’s a medium of communication, in the language consumers are already speaking, and small business owners need to be aware of this so that they don’t get left out of the conversation.

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