Just because you’ve built a business from the ground up, doesn’t mean you were the cause of its success. In fact, it may just be doing well in *spite* of you. This concept is highlighted in several episodes of CNBC’s new show ‘The Profit’.
Nothing elicits more of my facepalms than seeing technology companies who seriously don’t understand small businesses. Hence why my threshold for self-induced pain reached its limit today seeing not one, not two, but three stories about new initiatives in this space by industry incumbents that show just how entrenched inside the ‘bubble’ they truly are.
Foursquare released a new app for business tracking, analytics and local updates, Get Satisfaction launched a new service for social media engagement, and mighty Google announced a webinar series to teach these small business folks sound digital marketing strategies using their products (obviously).
Combined with Groupon’s recent pledge to give retailers wider access to data, the obscenely narrow trend has been towards supplying small business owners with the necessary tools, resources and information to effectively market themselves in the digital landscape. While these offerings can absolutely benefit any local business, it completely ignores the fundamental issues faced by them on a day-to-day basis. These technology-focused companies are creating technology-focused solutions when there’s no truly technology-focused problem to solve.
Give these small businesses as much information and as easy-to-use applications as you’d like, it still won’t make a dent. Nothing will make up for the physical time and effort needed to actually utilize it. That’s true even for those business owners who are indeed tech-savvy, so it’s not a matter of these tools still being user-unfriendly and complicated to learn. They just don’t have the fucking time.
These ‘mom and pop’ shops many times are literally just Mom and Pop. Even those with over fifty employees are typically stretched thin on man hours. Sales and marketing is usually one department. Hell, sometimes it’s only one person. With the amount of work already on their plate day-to-day, where do these innovative new tools and glut of information available to them fit in? They don’t. Nor do businesses at this size have the budget to hire someone in-house to focus on utilizing them. Essentially, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Go to any small business owner with your new-fangled application and most will respond the same exact way. “Fuck the tools. Just do it for me.”
Take a look at enterprise-level software companies and you’ll see the same sentiment at a larger scale. Many of these technology companies don’t show the most revenue off their actual product offerings. Their balance sheet is padded by their insanely expensive consultancy wing and support divisions. Most clients don’t want software-in-box. They want custom solutions and the people to implement, utilize and tweak them accordingly. Without a knowledgable and experienced human being at the helm, the software is useless.
These companies building marketing platforms for small businesses really need to get out of their lofts in the Valley and actually walk in an owner’s shoes. See what it’s like to run a restaurant, auto body shop, nail salon, dental practice. See what it’s like to get their hands dirty, understaffed and dealing with retail customers. See what it’s like when the only person in the office with any sparse amount of free time is the secretary, maybe. Then hopefully they’ll see that another tool, another resource, another shiny object won’t accomplish a goddamn thing.
Small businesses don’t want your software. They want you.
Yes, it’s not scalable. Yes, it’s not replicable. But it’s what they need.
In North America, where the daily-deals business is now shrinking, the reasons have to do with a longer-term trend Groupon is unlikely to stop. The group-buying fad has passed. A core market of bargain hunters will keep going for Groupon deals, but Groupon is likely to face the kind of slow bleed that eBay saw in its online-auction business.
In the same way that those weekly circulars and ‘value pack’ coupon envelopes in the mail have come to be merely a straight-to-trash annoyance by most folks, these daily deal sites have quickly became the online equivalent.
The reasoning? Because we’re fucking tired of them. Especially when most offers are for products, services, establishments that we can frankly not give two shits about and probably suck anyways. Why else would a business run a Groupon that lops off 75% of their gross income anyways? Successful places don’t need to embark in this type of exorbitant loss leader.
Now, when offers like this were scarce (you know, when daily deal sites only had one fucking daily deal), people were willing to take a chance on the unknown. But with all these players in the space nationally as well as hyperlocal versions of the same model, consumers now have an abundance of choice and it’s not as urgently enticing to jump on a deal like they’re getting a steal. Tragedy of the commons rears its ugly head in yet another industry.
On top of that, there’s just not enough inventory to go around. Can someone tell Groupon that I don’t want a fucking manicure, horseback riding lessons or a shitty custom bobblehead doll? When I’m opening their app less and less and I’m more surprised when there actually is a deal that comes anywhere close to of interest to me, the writing is on the wall.
You’d have to be a lunatic now if you still don’t think Andrew Mason and friends should have taken that $6 billion from Google two years ago.
A decade ago, eBay auctions were a cultural phenomenon, with many consumers drawn by the thrill of winning an auction. In time, the allure of that challenge passed, prompting eBay to adopt a fixed-price model. Some eBay users still love auctions, but that business has become more of a niche for eBay. Just as the group-discount business will become for Groupon, LivingSocial, and others, as online consumers move onto the next buying fad.
The value proposition is in the product you sell, not the method of payment.
Now can someone tell me where I can get a horse manicurist bobblehead made?
Let’s say you’re the owner of a small business looking to generate more customers. While in the past, your go-to avenues for marketing included radio, newspapers and the Yellow Pages, now you can’t walk three feet without hearing about Facebook being the place where everyone’s at.
Any marketing professional you seek help from talks about you needing to be there. Needing a presence. Needing to be active. Needing to do this, that and the other thing. Shit, you’re starting to think that these people work for Facebook itself. (It isn’t that far from the truth in a roundabout way.)
Of course, as any small business owner can attest to, you don’t have the time. Hell, you’re barely on Facebook personally with the hours you work all week, let alone have the inkling of knowledge even how to set up a Facebook page for your business.
But you know you have to be there. You don’t know why you know. You just do. It’s almost as if your mind has convinced you of this fact just from the osmosis of hearing everone talk about it. So you finally give in and after three hours of fiddling, manage to launch your brand new Facebook page ready to take on the world.
Day one, zero likes.
Day two, zero likes.
Day three, zero likes.
After day four of garnering absolutely no likes, you think to yourself “what the fuck?” If there’s 800+ million people on Facebook, you wonder why not a single solitary soul has liked your page yet. Then you see the invite button and get a revelation: “Oh, I have to tell people about my page in order for them to like it!” Since you’re barely active there, you send these page invites to your fairly minimal 43 friends, most of which are high school buddies from your hometown.
Day five, 4 likes.
Day six, 4 likes.
Day seven, 4 likes.
While you were excited to see the initial burst of four likes, now you’re wondering again what happened. “How am I supposed to market my business to people if I can’t get anyone to like my page?” You gloss over the fact that your four high school buddies live a thousand miles away and are in no need of your service anyways. But you do come up with another revelation: “Oh, I need to post stuff here in order for it to go viral as they say. That will get people to like it!” So you post your specials. You post what you’re doing at the store right now. You even post a cat photo since you know that’s the stuff people love on the internet.
Week two, 4 likes.
Week three, 4 likes.
Week four, 5 likes. (Your wife finally gave in.)
After dedicating at least an hour a day for a month, now you’re starting to get fed up. You put a like button on your website. You put a Facebook logo on your store window. You’ve done seemingly everything people have suggested you do. You take a look at some of your competitor’s pages and see 242 likes, 568 likes, and so forth. “How the fuck did they get these people there?”
Before finally writing Facebook off completely, you find out about paid ads. After all that hassle, you think “this must be how it’s done”, and start playing around with the ad manager interface. Using common sense, you design an ad, target you local area and set a small daily budget. Hey, at least if you’re paying per click, you think it’s not a waste because if you don’t get likes, you don’t pay anything.
Week five, 10 likes.
Week six, 12 likes.
Week seven, 15 likes.
Excited once again seeing a small uptick in likes, you post up to six times a day to reach these new people with your message. You get to the point of having your administrative assistant on duty to do this throughout the day since you’ve noticed things have piled up for your business that you neglected. You figure that you’ll tweak the ads every so often to gain new likes and she’ll take care of posting. It sounds like a good plan to you.
Week eight, 16 likes.
Week nine, 16 likes.
Week ten, 16 likes.
“Why the fuck aren’t my ads showing any impressions anymore?!?!” You e-mail the address show in the Facebook help center thinking it’s a bug in their system. Of course, you don’t hear back at all. You pause the campaign and are at the brink of throwing in the towel completely yet again. But this voice in the back of your head keeps bugging you. “Everyone is on Facebook. Everyone tells you that you have to be on Facebook.”
There are all these pages on Facebook that are doing well, so you think there has to be some system. The problem is, you’ve already wasted enough time trying to figure it out yourself. Combine that with the fact you’re swamped with physical day-to-day work anyways and your administrative assistant appears to be in the same position since you’ve placed another job responsibility on her.
But you know you have to do this. So you finally call in an expert. Recommended to you by a fellow local proprietor who has 836 likes on his business’ Facebook page, you have a conference call with the head of this digital marketing agency that specializes in small business. “They look like they’re doing well by Joe, so why not use them too?”
Boy, are you impressed by his pitch. You don’t understand half the terms he’s talking about, but he surely sounds like he knows his shit. Click through rates and multi-variate testing. Engagement scores and sentiment analysis. Content strategy and automation. Hands-off for you. All the work on them. “Was that guaranteed results, he said?”
While it’s a bit more than you budget really allows, you sign the three-month contract and send out the check. You add the agency’s account executive as an administrator on your page and feel even more comfortable when he replies to four individual e-mails you sent asking questions over the course of the first week.
Week eleven, 38 likes.
Week twelve, 62 likes.
Week thirteen, 97 likes.
“Wow, they really know what they’re doing!” You pat yourself on the back for making a great decision on hiring this agency. You tell your fellow local proprietor, Joe, how good it’s going so far and he agrees with the assessment. Neither of you have really thought about if any of your Facebook fans have actually frequented your establishment due to these marketing efforts. But you’re not the expert, anyways. You just know you need to do this.
Month three, 168 likes.
Month four, 227 likes.
Month five, 293 likes.
You sign the check every month for the digital agency. You even tell them every time a person actually came into the store and mentioned the thing they posted on your Facebook page. Well, it only happened once, really. But since you figure that you forget to even ask your customers where they found out about your store, there must still be a bunch that have because of Facebook.
Your sales numbers are even up 7% since you started the page, so you guess that some part of that must be due to your Facebook presence. Of course, you haven’t even looked at your page for the past ten weeks since you’ve been so busy anyways. You finally do and notice things that prompt you to make questions. “How come the last two week’s worth of posts pretty much got no comments or likes?”
The agency says a few big words that seem to make sense, e-mails over a few graphs you really don’t understand and tells you to just hang on there as they try some creative ideas out. You oblige the request but subtlely remind them that their contract period is up for renewal at the end of the month. They’ll get the hint.
Month six, week one, 647 likes.
Month six, week two, 952 likes.
Month six, week three, 1461 likes.
This month you’re keeping a closer eye on the agency, but are delighted to see that your likes are going up exponentially greater this month. Better than ever. You’re still a bit concerned that there’s barely a comment on your page’s posts, but in an e-mail, the agency says that your audience is probably not the type to engage anyways – they’re social media window shoppers that will just look and then come into your store.
You sign the contract renewal with the agency for another three months. You brag to Joe, your fellow local proprietor, that your business now has more likes then his. “In your face!” A little competitive rivalry doesn’t hurt anyone. That’s when you hear that he stopped working with that digital agency. The same digital agency he recommended to you. The digital agency that appeared to be doing well by both of them.
Apparently, Joe actually did a bit of research, something he had never done over the past year, and he couldn’t find a single person who liked his business’ Facebook page that was in his internal computer system as a customer. In fact, most of the fans of his page appeared to be foreigners. Some looked like kids. “Why the hell would an eighteen year-old from Egypt like the page of a chiropractor in Milwaukee?”
You rush back to your office and check the fans of your page. It’s something you never even thought you can do, let alone bothered to actually do. Sadly, you find a similar case. These photos and names you see, most are definitely not your customers, potential or otherwise. “What the fuck has that agency been doing the past six months and why am I paying them to do that?”
This is a hypothetical story, but it actually occurs more than you think.
In fact, it’s happening right now as you read this for hundreds, if not thousands of small businesses across the country. Owners signing checks at this moment thinking how good of a job is being done on their behalf. Continuing to do so for months on end. Almost all oblivious to what’s going on.
If you’re a social media marketer or run a digital agency and you’re reading this post, you know exactly what the agency did, how they did it and why it was done.
If you’re a small business owner and you’re reading this post, you probably don’t.
Don’t you think that’s a problem?