What Small Business Can Get From the Net. Part 1

To a small businessperson, the Internet can seem dark and mysterious, full of techno-babble and confusing terminology.

Many small business executives wonder, “what can the Internet do for me?” Plenty of things — it can save you money, it can help you track topics that you are interested in, and it can be a method by which you provide customer and client support. And in t he longer term, it will become a method by which you will regularly market your goods and services. The beauty of the Internet to small business is that it is probably one of the lowest cost investments that you can make — with rates as low as $20-30 a m onth for a basic Internet account. For such a small fee, it can be a powerful business tool — but you have to be willing to take the time to master it.

Cost savings are a big reason any small business should be on the ‘Net. Internet e-mail, for example, is dramatically less expensive than courier, fax and telephone costs. With more and more people putting Internet addresses on their business cards, there are tremendous opportunities for cost savings.

Consider an example — let’s say you had to send a two page letter to someone in Halifax, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. If you sent a fax to those three cities, it would probably cost at least a couple of bucks. Sending paper mail will cost $1.32 or more. Send ing three courier packages might cost $15 or $20. Sending that same information via the Internet will cost, at most, a nickel, and in most cases, even less. And since you can send a message to many people all at once, you’ll face the same cost whether you send a message to one person or to two hundred people. What a bargain! Personally, I send and receive several thousand electronic mail messages each month related to my clients, our book and related to other business activities, and my monthly e-mail bil l never exceeds more than about $50. I still use fax, courier and long distance services — I always will — but I believe I am probably saving at least $2,000 to $4,000 a year because of my use of the Internet.

Small businesses will find that the Internet can help as an inexpensive method to track topics of importance to the business or to the customer. Why could this possibly be useful? One reason is that with today’s increasingly complex business environment, a business that is in tune with evelopments in its industry, can respond quicker to changing conditions, and hence enhance the ability to provide services to customers and clients.

The Internet is full of information by which small business can track issues of importance — but one of the common complaints is that there is simply too much of it. But something called “automatic news filters” offers a solution. These filters track wh at people say throughout the public discussion area of the Internet known as USENET — a place where millions of people are talking about millions of things — and if someone is talking about the topic you are interested in, you are told about it.

How would you use this in your business? Let’s say you’re the owner of a small pet store or you are a veterinarian. You decide you want to keep a few of your customers up to date on the risks associated with a new type of cat medication — since by doing so, you will help ensure they are good, loyal customers. Using a filter, you set up your ‘profile’ to track the topic. You will now known on a daily basis where people are talking about the medication, and can thus monitor those discussions, to see if th ere is anything you should warn your customers or clients about.

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