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The End of the Beginning

  |  February 16, 2001   |  Comments

Just because the road ahead for your e-business is littered with mines doesn't mean you have to stand still. All you need is some advice on how to maneuver across the Internet battlefield.

If you're thinking that all of these "dot-bombs" going out of business have given you a reprieve from working out your own e-business strategy, think again. You're bound to become one of them.

Despite all that has changed in the competitive landscape for start-ups, many things remain the same. In fact, the impact of the Internet on business as we know it has only increased.

Maybe now is not the appropriate time to open a new online toy store. If you were just struck with the vision that selling pet food online is your ticket to the Fortune 500, you may want to reconsider. However, I suspect that you have a serious e-business or a serious corporation with meaningful e-business projects. If this is the case, and you are thinking about taking a breather during this slump in e-business, it could very well be your last breath.

Rest assured, not everyone has given up hope. Instead of sitting back and relaxing, e-business leaders are learning from the mistakes of the past and applying them to the future of their businesses.

Consider the following advice to get ahead:

First-mover advantage is out, industry experience is in. On the Web, the winner isn't the first mover, it's the best implementer.

Money can't buy you love. Or profits. Some of the best-capitalized companies on the Web are long gone, and the companies that continue to grind out quality day after day are still around. This isn't an accident.

Don't forget about reality. For the long term, Amazon.com's best strategy would probably be to spend like crazy and continue building what is considered by many (including myself) to be the best e-business infrastructure in the world. But for the short term, if Amazon wants to be in business next year, it has to "give the people what they want." Today (and tomorrow), the people want profits. That is the reality.

If you aren't in it for the long term, you aren't in it at all. The days of the quick, easy "exit strategy" are over. If you can't sustain your business over the long haul (i.e., if your business has no chance of staying in business), the time to retool is now.

Branding is the most misunderstood marketing concept of our time. Let's not forget that there is a difference between branding and advertising. If you are a huge industry powerhouse (like Compaq), your brand is vital to the consumer's perception of your long-term value. If you are an Internet retailer, a B2B company, an infrastructure provider, etc., trying to build a business and make a profit (nearly everyone else), your focus should be on advertising to your core audience, not branding to the world. Don't forget: Your new goal is to build a business. You can worry about building a dynasty later.

You are only as strong as your weakest link. Isn't it time to re-examine all of your partnerships to see who that link is? Hint: Which of your critical partners will go out of business next?

The "Internet industry" is at a critical juncture. While other companies are trying to survive the downturn, careful consideration of the ideas above and their effect on your business will help you to not only survive, but to take advantage of this rare time in the history of the Web.

In the long run (let's define that as 10 years from now), do you believe that the Internet will not be a factor in business? Far from it. We can only imagine what the impact will be. You'll look back and remember, vaguely, the Internet downturn of 2000 and 2001 was a period of opportunity for business growth.

The road ahead for your e-business is littered with mines, but the only sure way to blow up is to stay where you are. There is no excuse for missing an opportunity like this one.

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Christopher Balfe

Christopher J. Balfe is a Consultant with Accenture in their Communications and High Tech practice. He has helped dozens of companies create and refine their e-business strategies to ensure they are taking advantage of the Internet effectively.

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