How to Really Take Back the Net

Michael Tchong, who is younger, more handsome, wittier, and much wealthier than I am (he’s also a snappy dresser), is pushing an idea called “Take Back the Net.”

The idea is that if we all buy some Internet stock and order merchandise from dot-com companies come April 3, we can convince the market this medium has a future.

Along the same lines, we might hold a bake sale for Tim Koogle’s retirement, pass the hat for Jeff Bezos, or attack cars with squeegees and signs reading “Will e-market for food.” (Clapping our hands together so that Tinker Bell might live is also a good idea.)

But I actually have a more practical suggestion, and unlike those in the previous paragraphs, it might actually work.

I found in Hawaii recently that there are tens of thousands of small businesses out there with Web stores. There are probably some in your own neighborhood. Some are successful, but many are not, although they could be. The fact is that many of these small Web merchants fail to do the simplest things.

They don’t know where they’re world class so they can focus on one product or service. They don’t know where their online markets are or how to find them. They don’t follow up orders with emails soliciting feedback. Many have already burned their budgets on Web design or search engine submission scams.

So here’s my idea. Take one of these people in hand, and teach him or her the basics, free. If you do that, scale will not be a problem because small businesses can easily handle fulfillment of a few orders per day.

Small businesses don’t need big success to make a go of an online store. If they increase sales by just a few hundred dollars per month, or find just a few dozen more regular customers, it will make a huge difference to their profit, their lifestyle, their self-esteem, and their view of the medium.

The next month, when they’re trained, ask these people to “pay it forward,” teaching the basics to someone else.

I know there are thousands of you who know Internet marketing and have the power to make this happen. I’m talking about donating just a few hours building, training, and teaching. But if each of you does this for just one friend, and they do it for another, we’ll have built tens of thousands of online success stories in just a few months.

The fact lost in the Internet bubble and the dot-calm that followed is that change flows from the bottom up, not from the top down. For every Fortune 500 company, there are hundreds of thousands of small shops employing ten or fewer people. For every Avenue A, there are dozens of companies like TechMarcom. For every, there are thousands of places like The Other Change of Hobbit in Berkeley.

In other words, instead of having a fish dinner on April 3, try teaching someone to fish instead.

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