Anybody Got a Barn?

One of the natural results of a recession is that good people become fearful.

I don’t want to spend money, either. We don’t go out as often; we don’t plan on buying a new home or car; we make do; and the spiral continues.

This happens in business as well. I learned this firsthand after developing a concept I called the “E-Commerce Comeback Tour.”

The idea was simple. Give small businesses those uncomplicated, cheap, easy-to-implement ideas that can make the difference between an online success or failure. Show them how to identify their niche, how to research that niche, how to get recommendations, and how to use email to follow up with customers and provide real service.

Make it a one-day seminar with short, uplifting talks in the morning, breakout sessions after lunch, and a “trunk show” in between, which really pays for the whole thing. Target a city’s small businesses and aim the preshow publicity at those local TV and radio outlets these businesses watch most closely.

The investment would be minimal, the returns sublime. When I approached the smartest people I know about this, hoping for funding (and maybe a speaking gig), I was politely turned down.

I could understand their fear. I share it. But e-commerce isn’t going to make the comeback our careers demand until someone steps up to the plate and makes it happen — preferably, a lot of someones.

I like old movies because they represent living history. They often reveal more than they knew about how people thought when the movie was made. After being turned down by my friend, I thought about this while glancing at the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland chestnut “Babes in Arms.”

In many ways, this is one of the worst movies ever made. It was also so popular that Rooney and Garland spent the next few years remaking it. The subliminal message was that young people would solve problems adults were afraid to face (and, sure enough, “The Greatest Generation” did just that).

“Hey, my uncle has a barn.” It’s one of the hokiest, hackneyed lines in all movie history. It’s how Judy gets Mickey over the little problem that the kids don’t have the assets necessary to stage a show. (“Uncle,” in this case, turned out to be Louie B. Mayer, but never mind.)

Right now e-commerce could use an Uncle Louie. But we also need the honesty and helpfulness of those wide-eyed kids. We need organizers, sure, along with some investment, but we also need to tell the audience we draw the truth about the cheap, easy, quick, and dirty things that can make them an online profit.

The audience is going to be skeptical. Shysters who sold “search engine” services, phony “online malls,” and other worthless opportunities have burned many, many small-business people in the last five years. But only successful businesses can buy the tracking tools, databases, and ad campaigns we must sell to really start our comeback.

So our work is cut out for us. Anybody got a barn?

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