The World Wide Web isn’t quite the level playing field it used to be.
It is still equally accessible to every business, large and small. And every size of business still has an equal opportunity to succeed or fail online.
But one thing that has changed a great deal over the last couple of years is the noise level.
Online businesses like Amazon.com, eBay.com, Priceline.com, Dell.com and a hundred other large players all spend hundreds of millions of dollars making noise.
They make noise on my computer, they make noise on my TV, they make noise in just about every magazine and newspaper I read.
The net result of their noisy jostling is that I am now less likely to hear the smaller voices of smaller businesses online. There’s only so much noise that any one person can deal with during the course of a day.
Does this mean that the golden days of the smaller online entrepreneur are over?
I don’t think so for an instant.
But I do think that smaller businesses need to recognize these changes and leverage their ‘small’ advantages in order to be heard.
Over the next five weeks I’m going to explore five different ways in which you can play David to the big-biz Goliath.
- Be flexible
- Remain personable
- Go vertical
- Think local
- Network, network, network
Keep Your Business Model Flexible
When you look at a huge online company like Amazon.com, it isn’t unreasonable to feel a little envy. However, size and age online create certain disadvantages.
The Amazon.com model shows very little flexibility. Arguably, the last major moment of real inspiration and change at Amazon.com was the invention of the online world’s first affiliate program back in 1996.
Beyond that, the addition of more and more tabs to its navigation bar is about as exciting as it gets these days. (Plus thinking about what they can and perhaps shouldn’t do with their customer database.)
Why can’t Amazon.com be more innovative? Because its infrastructure and systems are set in concrete. This isn’t because they’re not smart. It’s because they’re big, old and tied to the way the things were.
As a small business you can take advantage of the flexibility that your small size allows you.
For instance, if I were to start an online bookstore right now, I might ask myself if the basic model would accommodate the following possible futures:
- Would I have the flexibility to respond to increasing bandwidth? Can my interface and model take advantage of improved access speeds with animation, video book-readings etc?
- Will I have the flexibility to respond to online/offline convergence? For instance, could I partner with chains of small, independent booksellers as their online outlet?
- Will I be ready for on-demand printing technologies? Will my model allow me to serve authors directly, as publisher, printer and sales outlet?
- Will my interface be adaptable enough to offer a completely different look for different types of readerships: horror, cooking, mystery, business, kids?
- Am I ready to think about media convergence? Could my site partner in a project with a TV cooking show?
It may be that I wouldn’t do any of these things. But I’d like to think that my business model would give me the flexibility to make a choice.
As a small business, don’t look at your biggest competitors for your model. If you do, you’ll be looking backward instead of forward.
Leverage your smaller size. Take advantage of the fact that you are smaller, more responsive and ‘closer to the future.’
Build a flexibility into your model that allows you to keep up with the future. As best you can.