Leveraging the Internet to Build Successful Businesses in 2012Cara Mia Ciasulli
January 10th, 2012
As we settle into this new decade the roles between business and the internet are indelibly blurred. I recall back in 2004 going to stores in San Diego offering video-centric websites and fielding the response of, “We don’t need a computer”. Maybe I was that bad at sales? Or, maybe the internet hadn’t yet reached this age where everyone recognizes it as something we all need and love? We’ve come a long way, it’s exciting!
With YouTube!, Facebook and Twitter experiences (among many others) directly at our fingertips at any moment, we are constantly seeking new information/visual stimulation. Instead of buying print space now however many businesses are realizing the power of becoming their own miniature media outlets. By publishing relevant content that keeps your users engaged near-daily presents your brand to them in the most unobtrusive means possible. In short, just wow at this last decade in technology, the internet and communications – businesses literally have success in their own hands now (and we can track traffic/response ourselves, too).
To celebrate this new year we contracted Jessica Goldsmith, a recent marketing graduate from U.C.S.D. (who incidentally found us on the web) to interview five businesses that illustrate our overall excitement about how the internet totally stokes business growth. From a real-time, online insurance quoting engine to vegan, gorgeously-scented dry shampoo please read on to see how the internet presents very accessible opportunities for all business-types to grow:
As we move into 2012, it’s astounding to see the difference between now and what the Internet could do for businesses just a decade ago. These days, successful businesses grasp that harnessing Internet tools is imperative if they want to market their products more effectively, conduct more of their operations independently and reach new customers. We spoke to CEOs and founders of local businesses to find out about their favorite Internet tools and how they’ve used social media to promote their products.
I interviewed several businesses and a non-profit organization about how they use the Internet to increase sales and draw attention to their services, including: MyHairFix.com, ServiceContractors.com, A Reason to Survive (non-profit) and Cathedral.
The first person I interviewed was Gina Grega, founder of MyHairFix.com and maker of vegan, organic dry shampoos. Hair Fix is nearly 100% online so the website is “absolutely vital” to Gina’s business. Gina uses tools like Vertical Response to create e-newsletter campaigns and send out special offers. She says she uses social media site, Facebook “to create community and offer special ‘Facebook-only’ coupon codes and offers.’”
Gina’s MyHairFix.com is an Internet success story about how a customer-base can be grown online without having a storefront. She says word-of-mouth referrals, both on and offline, bring in the most business. Gina talked about the value of customers who review and blog about her products, as their mentions are “worth so much more than straight old, paid advertising because they serve as both an advertisement AND an endorsement from a trusted source.”
MyHairFix.com advertises using a swapping system with other vegan and eco-friendly businesses. She is also involved in programs that give her “ad benefits online” (site/newsletter mentions) in exchange for donations (e.g., Farm Sanctuary’s Corporate Partners for Compassion program). Giveaways and free product promotions on others’ blogs or websites also generate traffic back to MyHairFix.com.
Another online business that uses a different set of strategies is ServiceContractors.com. Owner Sam Castronova has created an online, automated workers’ compensation quoting and purchasing engine. On the site, business owners answer a series of questions that formulate the user’s quoted rate in real-time and then are presented with the means to purchase their policy online – and receive a temporary, custom PDF coverage certificate. Sam testifies that Search Engine Marketing (SEM), particularly Google AdWords, has been the most important Internet marketing tool for his company. With a competitive zero-down program, his website gets excellent click through rates (CTR) on Google.
By taking advantage of the capabilities of the Internet, Sam admits he may be a little ahead of his customer demographic who is “…behind when it comes to comfort and willingness to shop online.” Despite this issue, as well as doing business in a highly competitive market, ServiceContractors.com generates consistent sales.
Kathryn Stephens, Director of Development for A Reason to Survive (ARTS), says Facebook and Twitter increase awareness of her non-profit, which promotes the therapeutic powers of art to transform lives for underprivileged children. Social media is used to announce events, acknowledge special gifts and update people about what is happening at the ARTS Center.
On the benefits of blogging, Kathryn states, “We can update immediately and quickly versus having our web designers do it” after email blasts. E-blasts with links to an-easy-to- maintain website are A Reason to Survive’s most effective attention-grabber. Kathryn says that they are now processing on-line donations in-house and that about 25-30% of their donations come through the website. A Reason to Survive provides important services and activities to even more underprivileged children because the Internet has given them a farther-reaching voice.
So, what are the benefits of the Internet for the company with a physical store? Amy Capano, owner of Cathedral, San Diego’s Premier Candle Boutique in Hillcrest says social media allows her to interact with their customers easily and creates a fun environment. They update their customers on the latest products as they come in. Using Twitter and Facebook, Cathedral can reach an audience that their in-store sales team can’t.
Amy says weekly email blasts and Facebook are what she considers among the best Internet tools for drawing sales. The Internet has served Cathedral by attracting more customers and making it easy to remind them about Cathedral’s products.
We’ve touched on just some of the numerous tools the Internet offers to companies and organizations wishing to market online. Social media is a free and easy source of advertising that reaches a potential audience of millions daily. Swapping advertisements is another great way for those small businesses on an advertising budget to get their brands out to the public. Paid programs like Google AdWords or e-marketing tools can also help niche businesses widen their customer base.