By Carl Weiss
One of the many things that has made our country great is its dreamers, tinkerers and inventors. The Internet itself is proof positive of the power of the American Dream. There are millions of people with great ideas for new businesses, products or services. The one reality many share is that there’s a big difference between drawing an idea on a napkin versus actually bringing your concept to fruition. This week we’ll discuss six key ways that the Internet can help you achieve the American Dream without breaking the bank.
People tend to forget that the Internet as we know it is not quite 20-years old. In fact, back in 1994,
there were only around 10,000 websites. Fast forward to 2014: more than 130,000 websites will be launched … and that’s just today. This gives you an idea of the exponential online growth that has occurred in the past decade. Many of the sites that currently grace the Internet are business-related, making the World Wide Web the ultimate destination for established businesses and start-ups alike. But what’s even more incredible is when it comes to either boot strapping or building a business, there’s no single entity on the planet that’s more useful than the Internet. Allow me to count the ways:
1. Funding a Business – Back in ’94, there were only a few methods most entrepreneurs could use to find the financial backing to get a new venture going. They either dipped into their own savings, borrowed from friends or family, or dug a hole in their credit cards and prayed they could get their investment back before interest rates ate them alive. (Take it from me, since I self-funded my first Internet business. This latter method is not for the faint of heart.)
Today’s tinkerers, dreamers and entrepreneurs can secure startup funding at the click of a mouse by looking at crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub, among others. The best part about these sites is they not only offer to help you start your business, but they do so without requiring you to give up any equity in your firm, or in some cases, even require you to pay back the investors. What a deal!
This form of funding has become so popular that there are now books and online video tutorials that show you, step-by-step, how to get crowdfunding to work for you. An article by “Entrepreneur Magazine” entitled, “10 Top Crowdfunding Websites,” details the variety and scope of the industry.
In her book Cash From the Crowd, Sally Outlaw, founder and CEO of crowdfunding website peerbackers, reveals the secrets of funding your business with help from colleagues, peers, family, friends and even perfect strangers through a crowdfunding campaign.
2. Starting a Business – Before the advent of the Internet, there were really only two viable business models from which to choose: Brick & Mortar or Mail Order. Both of these models were expensive to instigate, own and operate. The Brick & Mortar model necessitated scouting a location, site build out, purchasing inventory, furnishing and stocking the shelves, etc. And all of which could take months, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars, to accomplish. Keep in mind all of this had to occur before you opened your doors for business. Even today, this is a high-risk way to go into business.
The Mail-order model, while eliminating the overhead associated with a Brick & Mortar, wasn’t without its own perils. Back then, this business model required an entrepreneur to purchase and warehouse inventory, and then print and snail mail tens or even hundreds of thousands of catalogs in the hopes of generating sales. While some businesses today still use this model, more and more mail order ventures rely on the Internet to showcase their wares and process orders electronically. This not only saves time and money, but it saves a whole lot of trees as well.
3. Promoting a Business – In ’94 there were three primary methods to promote your venture: Print, Radio and TV. None of these models were particularly user- friendly or cheap. Usually, in most towns, there was only a single newspaper and a handful of broadcast stations. This gave the owners of the newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations the ability to charge whatever the market would bear, thus pricing many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market before they could even get off the ground.
Then along came the Internet and sites such as Craigslist, eBay and YouTube were born that gave startups a whole new lease on life. Not only have these portals become a success, they’ve become so successful that they actually threaten the viability of their more traditional counterparts. (Craigslist has been cited as one of the prime reasons the newspaper industry has been in sharp decline, since the site offers classified advertising at low or even no cost.)
For small businesses, the advent of these and other websites have not only meant the difference between life and death, it means entrepreneurs now have a way to cost-effectively test and refine their business models. With the availability of blogs, social networking, podcasting and video portals, which offer much of the same things as traditional print and broadcasting venues — only for free — now small businesses have a much better chance of creating a sustainable revenue since promotional expenses are much less than they were 20 years ago.
4. Staffing a Business – Hiring personnel is still something that causes many business owners to wake up in a cold sweat in the dead of night. The costs associated with hiring, training, supporting and creating/equipping workstations for employees can be a daunting task for any business, let alone a startup with limited resources. Back in ’94, with the exception of temps, there was little a business owner could do to contain the costs associated with hiring new employees. Then along came outsourcing and the world became a business owner’s oyster. Today, most businesses take advantage to outsource many tasks, from HR, to customer service, to IT, to clerical services, to bookkeeping, and even editorial functions.
In a recent article from “Business Week” entitled “The Future of Outsourcing,” the practice of outsourcing jobs offshore has become a political hot potato since it is seen as big business’ way of eliminating high paying jobs that would otherwise be given to Americans. However, when it comes to small businesses, their consensus is quite different:
Thus entrepreneurs see a chance to turn around dying businesses, speed up their pace of innovation, or fund development projects that otherwise would have been unaffordable. More aggressive outsourcers are aiming to create radical business models that can give them an edge and change the game in their industries.
Love it or hate it, outsourcing is a resource most small businesses could little afford to do without today. Besides, in our current business environment, it isn’t always necessary to take your outsourcing needs offshore. In our current business, we use a number of US-based independent contractors for everything from web design, to writing and editorial tasks, to on-screen talent and more. It’s been my experience that employing outsourced labor in the short term results in hiring a qualified full-time employee down the road. In many cases, this can mean hiring the same person that was employed as an indie. (Think of his/her outsourcing tenure as an “audition.”) Even better, it allows business owners the flexibility of generating occasional jobs for hire that can add to the bottom line without threatening the business’ viability.
5. Sustaining a Business – Once you’ve started a business, you need to find a way to sustain and grow it. This meant the Small Business Administration (SBA) back in ’94. While the SBA is still one resource that can be called upon to help fledgling businesses, it’s by no means the only one. Today there are thousands of entities that are but a point-and-click away, which offer everything from business coaching, to business networking, to online marketing and more.
There comes a time in every growing business when, as the owner, you "come to the end of your sleeve." Your business reaches capacity. Either your business has surpassed your skill set or your capacity, or both.
What happens when you realize you’ve taken your business to the point where your acumen is no longer sufficient to take it to the next level? It used to mean incurring the expense of hiring high-priced consultants or employees that were a drain on the business. Today, that’s no longer an issue, since there are a number of business assets online that can provide the knowledge you seek. Or you can acquire outsourced technical experts on a per-hour or per-project basis.
6. Selling a Business – The best reason to own a business is to be able to sell the business down the road. In the past, this meant hiring a business broker and paying a percentage of the sale price to a third party. While I’m not saying business brokers don’t have their place when it comes to selling a business, they’re no longer the only way to go. Just as the real estate industry has spawned a For Sale By Owner (FSBO) craze, there are a number of web portals that have sprung up whose primary task is to help business owners sell their firms.
Many business owners looking to sell their business don't realize they can use the internet to make the selling process go more smoothly. Online business-for-sale marketplaces allow sellers to reach a large number of potential buyers and provide resources for owners considering putting their business up for sale.
Sporting names such as bizbuysell.com, BizQuest.com, businessforsale.com, globalbx.com and sellingyourbusiness.com, these sites can help you price, position, and sell your business, since they cater to business owners and buyers galore. More importantly, even if you do end up dealing with a broker to sell your business, you’ll be a much savvier seller who better understands the process. That’s money in the bank.
The bottom line is that when it comes to starting, funding, promoting, staffing, sustaining or selling a business, the Internet is the American dream Machine.
Carl Weiss is CEO of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida. You can interface with Carl every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern when he airs his radio show on Blog Talk Radio.