In the ancient days of web design (the mid-90s), graphic designers like myself had finally figured out “the dreaded HTML” and discovered that by shoving images into tables, we could force our web pages to look like print designs. Back then, it was possible for a single person to fulfill all the client’s online needs. SEO was still in its infancy and someone like me, who was a decent writer, could churn out some acceptable META tags and website copy. I was the epitome of the one-stop shop.
But the static site gave way to dynamic web pages, and programming languages like Perl, ASP, and PHP required someone with a completely different set of skills than the artsy front-end designer. Search engine optimization evolved into a pseudo-science and continues to present a moving target to even the most diligent of SEO experts, who must struggle to keep up with the latest Penguin and Panda.
But it didn’t end there. When I quit my web business, the iPhone was barely a gleam in Steve Job’s eye, and Facebook was an invitation-only social network for college and university students. Today, both Facebook and smartphone users have crossed the one billion mark.
- Social media adoption has become mainstream, disrupting small business marketing, as people create unofficial fan pages for businesses and organizations, or post negative reviews that damage a company’s brand.
- Consumer smartphone usage is forcing businesses to have a “mobile-friendly” website, giving birth to a new sub-set of web design that we must master.
As Web 2.0 grows exponentially, more diverse skills will be required to satisfy our clients’ needs … and the more you and I become a smaller piece of that puzzle. There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist. But specialties have a way of becoming obsolete. Just ask anyone skilled in typesetting, or the ancient art of painting billboards by hand. Don’t assume that what you sell today will be the same as what you’ll sell tomorrow.
Besides rendering many skills obsolete, disruptive technologies have given rise to an entire do-it-yourself industry. People with basic computer skills and no programming or design abilities can create a fully-functional business website and automate their marketing and social media. This ability has fragmented our client base into three distinct and separate groups—each fraught with perils and opportunities.
Do It Myself
I’ve written previously about the do-it-yourself consumer. The bottom line is this: if you can’t compete against DIY solutions, why try? It’s perilous to waste time attempting to convince a prospect of the folly of a DIY solution. As one person stated: I’d rather find the company who already tried a DIY solution … and failed.
But at some point, most small businesses will outgrow their amateur solution. When they do, they’ll need a qualified professional such as yourself. Consider how you can position yourself to be in the right place at the right time.
Do It For Me
Since 2009, Google has offered business owners the do-it-yourself ability to claim and manage their Google Places (now Google+ Local) listings. In spite of that, nearly 90 percent of these listings remain unclaimed. Clearly, the self-fulfillment model—at least in this arena—has failed.
Perhaps they’re too occupied building their own GoDaddy website to take the time to claim their listing. But as business owners become educated about the impact an owner-verified listing has on their local search results, this is certain to change.
The “Do It For Me” crowd are those who’d rather spend their time servicing customers than trying to find them. So rather than agonizing over DIY solutions or vilifying those that use them, focus your energy and effort on finding the Do-It-For Me’s. You’ll discover that they’re the sweet spot in your client base.
Do It With Me
In a 2012 survey [pdf], 53 percent of small business owners ranked social media as the marketing channel they need the most help with.
Social media has become a double-edge sword. Google now takes “social signals” into account when ranking websites, which also includes the number of reviews the business has. Yet one bad review or negative social mention can damage a company’s reputation—to the degree that some businesses are resorting to legal action.
There have been cases where a web-savvy employee has been allowed to create and manage a business owner’s company profiles, then wreaked havoc by inappropriately responding to negative feedback, unbeknown to the owner. The need for reputation and brand management presents opportunities for those with genuine social media savvy to consult and teach companies, business owners, and their employees how to properly use this space.
A mentor and coach taught me the concept of making the fourth sale first, which means:
- Having a sales processes designed to produce life-time clients, rather than one-time customers
- Positioning yourself as a resource instead of a provider
- Changing your sales process so prospects will think about the pattern of improvement you can help them achieve
The opportunity to win larger clients and help them overcome each hurdle to online success has never been greater. Many will require both “do it for me” and “do it with me” services. If you want to land larger clients—much less succeed in the ever-changing online world—then ask yourself: How can I make the fourth sale first?
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.