Small business solutions: Beyond the click

The RevenueTwoPointZero event happened on Saturday in Washington. This is the report from the small business solutions team.

Our group considering options for small and medium businesses started by putting ourselves in business owners’ shoes, imagining:

  • A handful of employees, if that many
  • Probably only one location, and probably not exactly where we’d like it to be
  • Little time to just think or plan strategically
  • A total marketing and promotion budget less than $1,000 a month
  • Disruptive pressure from “big-box” retailers
  • A tendency to spend marketing dollars on the “squeakiest wheels,” meaning sales reps who come calling consistently and insistently — Yellow Pages, maybe radio, maybe the local paper (depending on market size)

Web banner ads probably don’t help small/medium businesses much, especially if the message is poorly crafted, includes no calls to action, or points generically to a “brochureware” Web site.

That annual Yellow Pages ad fills the name/address/phone/category need well enough. What Web advertising should do for small businesses is deliver the message they want to deliver to prospective customers right now, not what they put in the book once a year.

What’s the deal? What’s the special offer, incentive, promotion or value proposition that brings customers in the door this day, this week, this month?

The deal should be the next thing beyond the click for small/medium businesses, and that’s what we created — a way to aggregate, browse, search and promote the best deals from the businesses in a newspaper.com’s community.

A typical newspaper.com — pretty much all of them, honestly — places banner ads in a way that makes them blind spots for Google, Yahoo! and the other search spiders. We don’t treat the advertising messages — the deals — as content. We should. We should put them in databases that are at least as well optimized for search as news articles. Then we should promote the best of them as chosen by users (via printing/redemption of coupons), the most urgent of them by creating limited-time or limited-number coupon offers, and the latest offers placed by advertisers.

We built some wireframes (download the PDF here) that show how these indexes might look and work, how they would connect to advertiser brochure pages, and what we and advertisers could accomplish from them.

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So much more to say, and we’ll lay out more details in the coming days, including:

  • Evolving services for small/medium businesses to include reputation management – showing business owners what people say about them all over the Web, whether they have a site of their own or not.
  • How this works underneath banner ad servers, targeting techniques, even ad networks — because the focus is on services for small businesses beyond the introductory message couched in a banner.
  • How it scales up to larger businesses, and to different size newspaper companies.

Stay tuned, check out the PDF examples, and add to this discussion. We need your help to make this practical and profitable.

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The small biz team: Patrick Cooper, Chris Krewson, Wesley Lindamood, Carlos Roig, Jay Small, Mary Specht, and Yuri Victor.