Local Small Businesses and the Search Engines – Geo-Targeting

“If you, as a local business person, choose to ignore the trend, you’ll miss a window of opportunity which will remain open only until all your competitors have jumped on the band-wagon, and the playing field is level again. Until that happens — as it will — you have the chance to get ahead of the rest, and establish yourself at the top. It’ll be harder later!”

Geo-Targeting – What’s that?

Something every local business operator should know!

More and more people nowadays are using Web search engines to find and compare local shops and businesses for their goods and services, and those local small businesses which are unaware of or ignore this fact are suffering an ever-increasing disadvantage.

Many people see little or no use for a local or regional business to have a Web site to promote their goods or services. After all, the Internet is a global thing, right? Wrong! There are several ways to promote a Web site locally or regionally, so that it brings in a disproportionately large volume of local traffic. Any business owner not using a Web site to promote a local or regional business is making a huge mistake, and ultimately leaving money on the table.

The factors now encapsulated in the field of search engine optimisation (SEO) are varied yet simple. Time and time again, however, Web site owners fail to see some of the most recent naturally occurring ‘common-sense principles’ behind an effective and successful SEO strategy. This article brings to light the most recent important change in SEO: Geo-Targeting…

The trend…

The increase in on-line purchasing generally has led to more consumers using the Web to look for goods and services in their local area. For many obvious reasons they prefer to deal with a local business than one far away.

If customers are looking to buy jewellery, and they are located in Essex, England, it is very common for them nowadays to append “Essex” to their search, or even “Southend”, if that’s the town where they live. So, instead of looking simply for “jewellery” they will search for “jewellery Essex”, “jewellery Southend”, or a similar variation of this.

“Local Search — using Internet search engines and on-line business directories to find local traders — is growing at an extraordinary pace. Figures in the US, comparable to the UK, show that 63 percent of all on-line users performed a local search in July 2006. This is a 43 percent increase year on year. On-line local searches do lead to customer action. The same study showed that 50 percent of all local searchers visited a local merchant as a result of their search behaviour, while 41 percent made contact off-line.” (Source: comScore networksmarketwire.com)

When it comes to consumers making a purchase, local search has more of an impact than national search. At the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo, held in London in 2007, John Myers of Latitude said that users are 30 percent more likely to purchase a product or service when it is related to local search. Speaker Grant Muckle from Touch Local said that 40 percent of all on-line searches are local in the UK.

The cycle…

These statistics are nothing less than phenomenal. At LocalShoppers.co.uk we think that the “art of shopping” is reaching a full cycle, but on another level. Before the Web, consumers bought locally, unless there was a good reason not to. The reasons are obvious: the travel time and expense saved by buying locally at, perhaps, even a higher price than in the next town compensated for the lower price there; likewise if the goods had to be returned for any reason, or the merchant had to supply spare parts, etc., etc.

With the advent of Web sites, consumers slowly but surely came to trust the technology, and now order goods from all over the world. Astute merchants, however, are beginning to realise that traditional shopping principles still apply. After all, they’ve hardly changed for millennia, and are entrenched in our psyche. It is these astute merchants, often small businesses and even ‘one-man bands’, who are jumping on the Internet band-wagon, and, knowingly or unwittingly, are driving the trend full circle towards shopping locally, merely by having a presence on the Web.

The future…

This is not to say that global shopping has had its day. On the contrary, it will continue to grow, but, now that the initial euphoria of being able to buy anything from anywhere is subsiding with blasé acceptance, people are coming back down to earth, and the in-bred habits of shopping locally are resurfacing. The big difference is that consumers will continue to use the Web as a tool, simply because it is there, just as they did after the advent of the telephone.

Indeed, the telephone can be seen easily as a direct precedent. It appeared first in only a few homes, and was a luxury. Then, as it became cheaper, it became more popular. Nowadays the telephone is an integral part of almost everyone’s life, and people use it to order goods and services quite naturally. Even schoolkids regard a telephone as a necessity! Now think about the on-line computer: Sound familiar? History is repeating itself.

An on-line computer has, of course, several advantages over the telephone: You can see what you’re buying; You can look for what you want at any time of the day or night; You can get far more information about the product or service, and about the merchant; You don’t need actually to talk to anyone; There’s a visible record of the offers being made, thus avoiding misunderstandings; etc. An important benefit of the on-line computer over the telephone is that comparison shopping is now so much easier and quicker. It’s human nature to want the best deal, and people are finding it on the Web. What better opportunity, then, is there for local businesses to display their wares than the one now presenting itself?

The local merchants and tradespeople who grasp the significance of the Web quickly, and take action to be a part of it, will be the ones who will be ahead of the game, and will already have an established presence by the time their slower competitors realise that they must follow them.

The opportunity…

Customers looking for goods or services are becoming more savvy. They now know that, if they search for “magnotherapy”, for example, they’ll get almost 100,000 results to choose from. If they type “magnotherapy essex”, however, they’ll get fewer than 1,000. That’s still a lot. If they enter their town in the search, like “magnotherapy canvey”, only about 100 results are returned. The more local the search phrase is, the fewer are the results.

Because consumers naturally feel more comfortable dealing with a local supplier, and they now understand how search engines work, it explains why more and more of them are performing such local searches.

If you, as a local business person, choose to ignore the trend, you’ll miss a window of opportunity which will remain open only until all your competitors have jumped on the band-wagon, and the playing field is level again.

Until that happens — as it will — you have the chance to get ahead of the rest, and establish yourself at the top. It’ll be harder later!

Setting Up Shop – Starting a Small Business

Making the decision to set up shop as a new small business can be one of the most exhilarating, and yet also one of the most challenging for most people to make. Here are three suggestions to reduce some of the challenge associated with starting a new business venture:

  1. Choose businesses with lasting demand, whenever possible
  2. A new business based on a short-term fad can work for a little while. However, a lasting business should be based on trends which are more likely to be continuous, since fads will come and go. Even if the demand should change, a business based on an ongoing trends will be able to adapt more easily than one which is based upon only temporary events. Carefully consider customer characteristics (demographics, psychographics, etc.) to improve the selection of a business which has customers with lasting demand(s) for the products and services that you offer.

  3. Choose businesses in superior locations
  4. Some geographic areas will naturally be better locations for target customer markets. All else being equal, customers tend to prefer closer locations to those which are far away, unless your product or service is capable of being provided remotely, at little or no cost. Locating near customers who have established patterns of buying from your type of business is ideal, and most likely to result in better business results overall. Look for indicators (new housing developments, apartment complexes, etc.) which will closely match the target customer characteristics, and market segments you seek to win over.

  5. Choose businesses which are in high-growth industries
  6. All things considered, it is best to pick a business in an industry which is experiencing high growth, as it is much better to get some of an available market, as opposed to having complete dominance of a market where there are nearly no customers left to serve profitably. Entering high-growth markets can also lead to profitably specializing in sub-segments of that market, as your firm develops more expertise. However, also realize that every industry eventually experiences a slowdown as well, so be certain your business plan includes preparation for surviving the inevitable slowdown, once it does occur. Your business should be somewhat diversified by then, to reduce your risks of depending entirely on one market.

In summary, it is best to choose a business based on lasting trends, which is in a superior location, and which is in a high-growth industry. By doing so, you maximize the odds that your business will succeed, and last well into the future.

Copyright 2010, by Marc Mays

Writing an Effective Business Plan For Your Small Business

Plans are Useless; Planning is Indispensable

“Plans are useless; planning is indispensable,” according to Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII. Now, you may be in total agreement with the first part of that statement, but you are really not convinced of the truth of the second part.

At this point, you may be tempted to skip writing a business plan altogether, viewing it as an unnecessary exercise in jumping-through-the-hoops, suggested by some old business professor who probably never held down a “real” job anyway. Maybe it’s okay as an assignment for an MBA class, but it would be just too confining and irrelevant for today’s fast-paced business environment. Anyway, you’re ready! You’ve thought about this business venture for a long time and talked it over with friends and everybody agrees it’s a great idea. Best to strike while the iron is hot!

Press for Success

Far be it from me to dampen your enthusiasm, but you should give yourself every opportunity for success. That’s what the planning part of the process of creating your business plan will do. By the time you have pressed your way through it, you will not merely have some neatly arranged document to keep on file, you will have a working tool that addresses the essential factors that influence your future.

Besides, your friends may be 100% behind you in your new venture, but, in case you are hoping to involve others who have actual money to invest, you may need to be able to make a convincing case. Wouldn’t it be nice to have anticipated possible questions and be ready with plausible answers? If you are risking your own money, that is perhaps even a stronger reason to do some indispensable planning.

Easy Writer

If you are one who is intimidated by the blank page, never fear! There are several good software packages that will guide you through the process, such as Business Plan Pro Complete from PaloAltoSoftware. Business Plan Pro Complete walks you through the entire planning process and generates a complete, professional and ready to distribute plan with a proven formula for success. The planning wizard makes it a snap to get started since you simply answer yes or no questions to create your custom business plan framework. Bplans.com offers free business plan samples and how-to articles as well as a wealth of other information. It is definitely worth taking the time to checkout. Microsoft Office Online Templates also has a variety of free templates to use with their products. The wizard indicates the information you need and you fill it in as you go.

You may find that the easiest part is the actual writing of the plan. The real work comes in the data-gathering, which may take you a hundred hours or more, depending on what you already know or have researched. If your new venture is in an area where you’ve been working, you may already know about your customers, your suppliers, your marketing plan, your organizational structure, your financial and cash flow needs, equipment, inventory, and so on. If you know all of these except for Marketing, say, then this is where you will need to invest some time and effort. You can find a wealth of information by utilizing the traditional data sources such as chambers of commerce, major cities’ websites, trade associations, the US Census Bureau, trade journals, magazine and online articles and advertising, etc. Performing keyword searches on Google, or Ask will bring up websites to check out. Following are some places to start:

  • James J. Hill Reference Library (jjhill.org): One of the nation’s premier business libraries to bring you FREE and affordably priced tools and resources you can use to create a better business plan based on relevant and credible data.
  • U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov): A source for a variety of useful statistics, especially the Economic Census that comes out every 5 years.
  • American Demographics (adage.com/americandemographics): Just as the title suggests, numerous free reports about consumer demographics in the U.S. nationally and by statistical area.
  • Internet Public Library – The Census Data and Demographics (ipl.org)/: An especially useful site that has links to information about countries other than the U.S.
  • Corporate Information (corporateinformation.com): Features information summaries on over 350,000 companies in the U.S. and abroad for competitive analysis.

You can find a variety of companies online to help you with your market research. For example: Sundale Research’s (sundaleresearch.com) primary goal is to provide new and mature businesses with objective, accurate industry data and market analysis on a wide range of topics. Their market research is intended to save you time and money while keeping up with industry trends.

But your idea may be so new that you may also need to talk to potential customers, host some focus groups, talk to an ad agency, or maybe even make a prototype and float it past some people. Be prepared to spend the time. Remember, it’s not about the Plan but the Planning.

Build It on Paper First

Whether you decide to use business plan writing software or to just follow this guide and create your plan with your word processor, here are the sections of a good plan and the questions that need to be addressed:

  • Cover Page – Show the name of the company, your name, and the date.
  • Introduction – What is the name and address of the business? Who are the principals, their titles, and their addresses? What is the nature or purpose of the business? What is your launch date? How much start-up and/or operating capital is needed?
  • Executive Summary – One to three pages that summarize all the information to follow; come back and write this last.
  • Industry Analysis – How does your product or service compare with what is currently on the market? What is the trend in the overall industry? What have been the total sales in this industry over the previous 3 to 5 years? What new products or technologies have had the biggest impact on this industry recently? What is the future outlook for these and what trends are emerging? Who are the competitors, where are they located, and how are they doing? What advantage do you offer over them? Who is buying this product or service now? Describe the typical customer for this product or service. Are there emerging markets or market segments? Where does this product or service currently perform best? Possible Data Sources: trade associations; trade journals; attorneys & accountants dealing with the industry; industry salespeople; state business websites; focus groups.
  • Description – What product(s) or service(s) are you offering specifically? Are any patents, copyrights, or trademarks needed? Have they been acquired/filed? What is the size of your business? Where will it be located? Will this require purchasing or building a facility? Will this require leasing a facility? At what cost? Has a lease been negotiated? What personnel will you need? Where will you find suitable employees? What equipment do you need? Will it be purchased or leased? What are the qualifications of your principals? How do their backgrounds promote the success of this venture? Why do they think this will be a successful venture? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; community colleges & local universities; local employee leasing company; real estate agents; US Patent & Trademark Office; US Copyright Office.
  • Production Operation – If a product must be manufactured, what is the process? Will the work be done on-site or subcontracted? Who are the subcontractor(s)? If on-site, what space, equipment, machinery, production employees are needed? What suppliers are needed? Who are they? How will quality be assured? What is the anticipated production output? What established credit lines do you have? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; yellow pages; trade associations.
  • Service Operation – If a service is offered, describe it. Will the work be done by company personnel or subcontracted? Who are the subcontractor(s)? If on-site or in cyberspace, what employee qualifications, equipment, and technologies are needed? How will quality be assured? What performance levels are anticipated per employee? Possible Data Sources: local Chamber of Commerce; yellow pages; trade associations.
  • Marketing – How is the product or service priced? How will it be distributed? How will it be promoted? Will it be promoted by the venture or an outside agency? What agency? How have you determined what amount to set aside for marketing? How have you determined product or service forecasts? Possible Data Sources: on-line searches; Amazon; local outlets; trade journals; industry attorneys & accountants; salespeople.
  • Organization
  • How is the business structured? Who are the principals and the principal shareholders? What authority does each principal have in the venture? What are management’s qualifications? What is the job description for each position? What does the organizational chart look like? Possible Data Sources: on-line templates for job descriptions & organizational chart.
  • Risk Assessment – What weaknesses are inherent in this venture? What vulnerabilities face this type of venture? What impact will these have? What new technologies may affect this venture over the next 1 to 3 years? What contingency plans are in place? What level of liability insurance is required? What does it cost? Who is the carrier? Possible Data Sources: trade associations; trade journals; Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE); industry salespeople; customers; focus groups.
  • Financial Plan – What is the anticipated income? What are the cash flow projections? What is the anticipated budget over the next 3 years? What is the break even point? When is it anticipated to be met? What funding is needed and where will it come from? What funding is currently available? What collateral is available? What is the net worth of the principals, if applicable? Possible Data Sources: accountant; accounting software; Small Business Administration; Small Business Development Center; SCORE; banks; venture capitalists.
  • Appendix – Resumes of principals/management; letters of recommendation from current business associates/customers/suppliers; marketing research data; demographic data; leases or contracts in place or as promised; business licenses; price lists from suppliers; trade or industry articles or data; floor plans; information on subcontractors; liability insurance policies.

Impress for Success – Now you have to admit, this is going to make an impressive package! Put it in a binder and you have built something to be proud of – the first of your many business accomplishments. Your potential investors will appreciate the depth of your analysis, but this tool will prove helpful in describing your venture to your employees, customers, and suppliers, as well. After you have been up and running for a few months, you will find that the planning that you have done will sensitize your inner “business compass” and allow you to flexibly adjust to contingencies. And that is indispensable!

In Summary

Planning out your business on paper first gives you long-term benefits with potential investors, employees, vendors, and suppliers. The business plan becomes your roadmap to success, with pertinent data that shapes the course of your business start-up and lets you adjust your journey as contingencies arise. Business planning templates are readily available and data sources abound at your fingertips. You will achieve a solid understanding of your business as you work through each section of your plan.

IMPress Action Checklist:

Below is a list of the steps that will help you put together your business plan. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.

  1. Purchase business plan software or download a template
  2. Read over the business plan sections to decide what data you have, what data you need
  3. Gather data via the internet, phone interviews, print material
  4. Fill in the plan’s sections
  5. Write the Executive Summary
  6. Print and Bind Your Plan