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Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Online Impact


While the Internet has become as much a part of our lives as... well... breathing... Believe it or not, there are still some who feel that online sales will never become a viable source of revenue for their business. Several years back, I probably would have said the same thing when I opened my little cafe in downtown Rochester. My hours were 7am to 3:30pm Mon-Fri, and parking was a nightmare. I had to rely on walk-ins from local businesses, and I was surrounded by many vacant buildings. I did manage to secure some small catering jobs, but at best, revenue was between 9-10k a month. Food costs were nearly half of the revenue due to the fact that I had to maintain a minimum order for delivery. At that rate, I was surely destined to go out of business.
Like most entrepreneurs, I worked long hours during the day, and spent the night worrying about how I would survive. However, the anxiety became a catalyst for what I now know to be an 'SEO' strategy. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. (More on that later.) For now, just know that I was spending countless nights on my computer listing my website on every directory I could find. I created social media pages, and I used very descriptive keywords to engage potential customers. I didn't have much of a marketing budget, nor would it have made sense to market to a place that had so many geographical limitations. So every night, I just kept listing, and praying for a miracle!
It was probably close to a year before I really felt the impact of my efforts. You would have never have been able to convince me that I could've achieved the results that I did. My business was steady at around 12-13k a month, and I was beginning to receive random calls for catering from out-of-town visitors. At the time, I thought, "Well, that's a nice little bonus." Soon, I began to receive more calls... and then more calls...  A tv show by the name of 'Hoarders' was scheduled to film in the area, and they needed breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 2 days. Another production company called because they were shooting a movie in town for 2 months, and needed breakfast, lunch, dinner, and craft services. All of a sudden, my 12k/mo business had skyrocketed to $30k. How could I have possibly won these jobs over some of my more established competitors?
Remember that SEO thing I mentioned earlier? What I didn't realize was that I had been doing something my competitors weren't. I was establishing myself as a credible business, online, to potential customers all over the country. While back-linking, and maintaining my website, I had been building my domain authority. I was engaging my customers on social media, and managing my reputation.  I was coming up at the top of organic searches for caterers in the area, despite the fact that other caterers may have been in business for 30 years! I had built an online foundation that I would have never thought possible due to my surroundings, but because of the Internet, I was able to attract customers as far away as California. 
The Internet provides opportunities that could never be realized through traditional business models, and for many who have been in operation for more than a quarter of a century, this perspective may be a little out of the comfort zone. Therefore, many business owners are still clinging to 'what they know' as a measure for maintaining stability. Meanwhile, a digital generation is emerging. So my advice to any business owner still standing in favor of 'old school operations' is this... Go ahead and keep your feet planted firmly on the ground... but your business on the other hand, should be planted firmly in the cloud!