Meet seasoned entrepreneur Dr. Waide Miller from Lake Zurich, Illinois. Dr Miller has a thriving practice as a chiropractor but only 73 people who like his Facebook page. His last post, as of the date of this blog post, was in February of 2013. Meet Virginia Sibanda and Farai Mpofu, the co-Founders of VIRL. They have a thriving microfinance business that has 8 offices that span across Zimbabwe, in Africa, and have over 4000 loans out to rural farmers and yet have only 695 friends who like their Facebook page (at the time this article was written) .
I bet you know a small business that is successful and thriving, within the community you work or live in, who too has few who follow them on social media? And it’s not likely either to stop you from patronizing them, or telling those you know about them, if you like the way they operate and the services or products they provide. And it’s also not likely to really matter to that small business owner to grow their presence on social media IF they seek to remain a small community based business, are happy with the number of clients they already have, or earn enough money providing the services they already offer and don’t need to raise any money to expand.
If this describes you, then your reputation in your community and the word of mouth referrals you receive may be enough to continue to support your small business. And maybe it always will be. But what happens if your market starts to dry up because of a new product or service that makes yours obsolete? And what happens when you find yourself without enough paying customers to cover your overhead and pay for the lifestyle to which you have grown accustom? Can you afford right now to take the risk of that happening?
If you run a small business, answer these 3 questions for me:
Have you ever run a Facebook ad to promote your products or services?
What percentage of your business leads are generated through social media?
- 75% or more
How many different countries do you desire to sell your products or services in?
- 4 or more
The research firm Forrester estimates that e-commerce is now approaching 2.3 trillion dollars globally, up from 1.5 trillion in 2014. Current consumer research supports that by 2020 85% of all sales will be consummated online. Reaching a global audience has never been easier or more important. With over 1 billion on Facebook alone, using targeted advertising makes it incredibly easy to reach specific countries and target individuals with the characteristics and interest that match your primary demographic for the products and services you sell.
Experts estimate that digital information already influences about 50% of store sales, and that number is growing rapidly. Anyone who has shopped extensively online knows the reasons why eCommerce is growing at such a rapid rate: the selection is vast, yet remarkably easy to search; its convenient; you can do it at home or at work without using gasoline or fighting to park.
The advantages of digital retailing are equally increasing as innovations flood the market to make it even easier for us to use, as small business owners. For instance, Amazon has already earned valuable patents on keystone innovations such as 1-Click checkout and an online system that allows consumers to exchange unwanted gifts even before receiving them.
And as of 2014 almost every mobile phone in the United States was a smartphone connected to the internet. An estimated 40% of Americans are now using tablets such as the iPad; which make online shopping so incredibly painless and easy to do.
Unless conventional merchants adopt an entirely new perspective—one that allows them to integrate a much larger variety of ‘channels’- which include websites, physical stores, kiosks, direct mail and online catalogs, call centers, social media, mobile devices, gaming consoles, televisions, and more into a single seamless experience— the research supports that folks like Dr. Miller are likely, in the not too distant future, to simply be swept away.
As a small business owner, myself, I have seen this shift first hand. For over 35 years, since the age of 17, I have been in the music business. Trained as a professional musician, a clarinetist, I sell high-end clarinets through Lisa’s Clarinet Shop. We generate about 1.3 million dollars in sales in less than 15 hours a week. It’s a full time income, albeit from very specialized honed skills, for part time work.
About 15 years ago I saw a huge shift in how my customers where making their purchases. My phone would ring off-the-hook with customers calling to place orders and ask questions. And then all of a sudden a clear shift began to occur.
Increasingly we noticed that questions and complete pre-sale exchanges where occurring through email. Only when the customer was ready to place the order, and give us their credit card information, did they pick up the phone and call or opt to fill out a secure form through our website to deliver the information to us. And then we noticed an uptick of the same kind of activity that came through our social media channels. We began to receive more and more messages from our customers on Facebook about products and services as well as through our website.
What would have happened if we had not noticed these shifting patterns and invested in building alternative ‘channels’ to support customer interaction? Where would my small business be today?
While I love my small business, I spend the rest of my waking hours helping organizations, accelerators, universities, development organizations, foundations and government focused on helping small and medium sized businesses (SME’s) learn how to build crowd so that they can use it to raise money and grow.
Your reputation in your community and the word of mouth referrals you receive are only amplified that much further when you invest in building a digital presence online.
Take for example Dr Miller who in the last few years he has spent considerable time and money designing a piece of exercise equipment that helps rebuild muscle faster. He just received his patent on it in fact. His investment of time and money into its development is considerable and now he wants to build sales to support all of his previous efforts. He will also need access to capital, and access to individuals who have distribution channels nationally and internationally he can access. But he has not put the time into building up his online reputation through social media. How can he persuade others of all his success to date when he has not invested into building an online community that will validate his already established success?
There are no shortcuts to do it, unfortunately. How much would you invest into Dr Miller’s machine if you could not validate that he has traction on social media? Would you find him credible or believe that what he has designed and created could change your life?
Let’s face it- the first thing anyone does when they are trying to learn about who you are and what your all about is to Google your name. If you don’t have a Linkedin profile with at least 500 friends and at least one Facebook with 2000+ followers who is going to really trust you now today?
Today your digital presence is your first calling card; your first door opener to new friends, new opportunities, and new sales. While it may take years to build up your social media presence, the investment you make provides to a global community of new and old friends that you are savvy enough to recognize the shift in today’s marketing as well as seek to leverage the benefits of digital media to your own advantage professionally.
To your highest purpose and best self, friends.