Could the rise of the Internet and decline of print be the death knell for the traditional small mom-and-pop Kiwi business and the self-employed?
Many small businesses in New Zealand, particularly tradesmen, are unexpectedly finding themselves battling with the consequences of declining newspaper readership and the demise of traditional directories like Yellow and the White Pages.
"The overwhelming dominance of the Internet as a source of information in 2016 has left thousands of SME owners frustrated and at their wits end because, for all its wonders, the Internet is a realistically a very narrow, competitive sales pipeline," says Chris Price, the CEO of Google Adwords certified partner Ark Advance.
The Internet's dominance effectively means fewer marketing options for small businesses.
The high level of technical understanding and knowledge needed to create, maintain and promote a successful website, the demise of traditional print channels and the cat fight for limited space on page one of Google, are factors leaving SME owners and self-employed people out in the cold.
"Even Google Adwords has become more difficult and expensive since the search engine company removed Ads from the right hand column of the search page earlier this year, creating more competition and higher prices," says Price.
"Activities like networking and referrals require more work and money, which translates into less productive time in the business. Radio advertising is expensive, not many people use the Yellow Pages anymore and local newspapers have falling readership. On the Internet, SMEs are under pressure from those with deeper pockets."
Price said he receives regular inquiries from people who don't understand SEO (search engine optimisation), analytics, conversion and Google Adwords because the level of technical skill required is high.
"The old Kiwi DIY spirit that characterised so many small businesses just isn't cutting it anymore, particularly for Baby Boomers. I know I make my living from SEO and Google Adwords, but I still don't like to see this happening," he said.
While spending more to increase traffic is possible, and even within the reach of many small businesses, converting that traffic is a real obstacle.
"Conversion is about clear succinct messages, and no grey areas – perhaps Donald Trump is doing so well in the United States because people understand clearly what he stands for – but to do that you need to understand your buyer and their needs and have a strong point of difference.
"That takes time and all the while your wallet is being hammered," he said.
Price offered the following tips to SMEs with no option but to try and make it online:
1. Measure and understand so that you can see what is broken.
"Online marketing is more of a measurement game than a numbers game. You may find that just 20 percent of your online presence needs work to generate 80 percent of the results – often this is just one or two pages that are not working correctly. Perhaps they're not as persuasive as they could be."
2. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer.
"Survey your existing customers to understand what they want and what they're looking for. Your messages must be written for your customer, and less about you."
3. Test and measure, test and measure.
"The one thing the Internet does allow is the ability to set up and run testing to see what people respond to and what they ignore – whether it's a social media message, a website page or your newsletter articles."
Price said SMEs also needed to think hard about creating additional channels like alliances with other companies that can refer them business, because online results may take time.
"If you've just started out online, it would be unrealistic to expect results quickly. The online marketplace is a ruthless space, especially Google search pages. Space is limited and people make a decision very quickly on where to click," he said.
For more information, visit http://arkadvance.com/
May 18, 2016