Welcome to 2010 . . . we’ve closed the books on 2009 and can all collectively let out a sigh of relief, roll up our sleeves and get busy growing our businesses. Whether you’ve survived, thrived or even succumbed to the numerous challenges all small businesses faced last year, the way is clear: If you want to level the playing field competitively in a new or existing venture, then your website is the place on which to focus.
Ben Franklin once said that nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. If he was alive today and a small business consultant, he’d probably say that nothing can be said to be certain for small businesses, except online marketing and eCommerce. When I started Web.com back in 1997, I did so to help the underserved small business owner establish an online presence. At the time, a website’s true value wasn’t always obvious to many small business merchants, but given the current economic environment, as well as the astounding technological advances since then, that’s no longer the case.
The news in 2009 wasn’t good and you felt it. The latest report released by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), reflects the sinking optimism of many small business owners—the optimism index dropped 0.8 points, making November the sixth consecutive month the index has been below 90. What’s driving this crisis in confidence? Consumers are not spending like they used to, so merchants are stuck with inventory and have been forced to lay off employees. While 9% of businesses increased employment by 2.3 workers, 21% reduced headcount by an average of 4.2 workers. The percentage of businesses planning to make capital expenditures also fell to a 35-year low: 16%. The uncertainties are many: Will taxes increase, and if so, by how much? Will your industry face additional regulation? Your customers are waiting to see what happens, also, which is why they’re reluctant to spend.
Modified spending habits have left many small business owners with overflowing inventory, so few are seeking loans, as a result. Those who do seek credit, continue to face obstacles, despite continuing efforts in Washington to improve access, such as guaranteeing a higher percentage of SBA-backed loans and increasing the size of the loans.
If sales and customers are the key to recovery, then look no further than this holiday shopping season to find the silver lining. 2009 may well be remembered as the year that eCommerce is crowned retail’s most valuable player. The convenience of shopping online and the promise of potential savings drove consumers to retail websites at record levels. In 2009, eCommerce accounted for approximately 10% of all U.S. retail sales—up from 6% in 2008. Holiday shoppers spent $27 billion online, a 5% increase over last year.
While it’s true that a significant portion of the season’s website revenue went to large retailers, the unavoidable fact is the stakes have been raised. The good news is that a website can elevate the fortunes of a small business in a way that offline channels never could. Well-executed SEO and SEM strategies, a well-designed website and e-store, can make all the difference. If your website ranks higher on search engines than your competitors’, you stand a good chance of making the sale, no matter how large your competitors are. If you help your customers find you easily and provide them with the right incentive to make the sale, the rest will take care of itself.
No one can say for certain how 2010 will play out, but at a time of year when so many of us are inclined to make resolutions, the obvious resolution for all small business owners to make is to move more retail “bricks” to “clicks.”
From all of us at Web.com, have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!