I have to admit at the outset that I have always loved BusinessWeek Magazine. It’s not as thick as it used to be, but I consistently find it full of good writing and insightful opinions. I’d be proud to write for them myself. But a Twitter from Jennifer Laycock alerted me to an article posted this week that is just so far off the mark that it’s hard to know even where to start.
The article, “Tech Solutions Your Small Biz Can’t Use” by Gene Marks, seems like one of those link-baiting contrarian pieces that wants to pooh-pooh the conventional wisdom. Go ahead and read it for yourself. I’ll wait right here.
Gene Marks might be a very smart guy, but it’s hard for me to agree with much of what he writes here. In fact, it’s easy to summarize what I agree with: Don’t believe all the hype—just because something works for one business doesn’t mean it will work for yours. I also agree that I’ve seen few businesses so far for whom mobile applications are working in the U.S. (but if you’re in Japan, there are many successes). And CRM software might be overkill for many small businesses when simple contact management would suffice.
But that’s it. The rest of the article is a real disservice to small business owners. Let’s take them one by one.
RSS Feeds. Maybe RSS Feeds aren’t for everyone, but I find it much easier to scan through a list of headlines than to have to connect to a dozen different Web sites each day to see if anything is new. Sure you can waste your time poring over RSS Feeds just as you can waste your time doing anything, but I’ve never heard anyone say that it takes longer to get information with RSS. Gene’s assertion that abandoning RSS somehow puts you back in control of getting information is at odds with my experience and that of everyone I know.
Spam Filters. Maybe Gene is using the wrong spam filters, but I can’t live without my SpamFighter. It was a breeze to install and I’ve never had a minute’s trouble with it. I don’t understand how anyone can advise people to manually handle their spam.
Antivirus Software. OK, if you advise people not to use antivirus software, you are just a nut. Now, I am not here to tell you that it is easy or it is always pleasant, but as someone whose computer has contracted dozens of viruses over the years that have been detected by the software, and one that was not not that cost me a week’s worth of time to correct, I put up with the problems. This was the most egregious thing Gene had to say. Please keep using your antivirus software, folks.
Blogs. Blogs are not for everyone, of course. But small businesses can use them every bit as effectively as large ones. Gene’s right that you need to have something to say, and it does take time, but most one-person consulting shops I know have a blog. It certainly doesn’t make sense for every business, but there’s no reason to discriminate based on size—any business with information to share can use a blog effectively, big or small.
Search Engine Optimization. Gene is totally wrong here. In fact, as I wrote the other day, small businesses have an edge in search marketing over big ones. I can’t tell you the number of times I have walked into a major corporation that is being outranked by its dealers and affiliates for its own brand name product searches. Small businesses that work to get links will do well in SEO for far less money than any other marketing tactic.
AdWords. Paid search isn’t right for everyone, but Gene’s belief that it’s mass marketing suitable for Coke or Pepsi is ludicrous. All search marketing is the exact opposite of mass marketing and it’s exactly wrong for low-priced offline mass market sales like soda pop. Studies show that paid search yields more leads per dollar than direct mail and lots of other tactics, so why small businesses wouldn’t at least try it is beyond me.
Online Video. Here again, I don’t know what planet Gene is on. Blendtec and many other businesses have shown how video can get you a lot more bang for your buck than traditional tactics.
Web 2.0. I guess Gene doesn’t realize that several of the things he trashed earlier are part of Web 2.0, so it’s probably not even worth dismantling this argument.
I think Gene has a huge blind spot here. He expects each of these things to be easy, to work with no effort, and to require no learning. If he tries it and it doesn’t work the first time, then he gives up. That doesn’t sound like a successful small business owner to me. They are the hardest working people I know. What they need to do is to learn a bit about the opportunities and then decide which one to try, along with knowing how to measure whether it is working.
If Gene doesn’t have the computer skills to pull this off, then these tactics probably aren’t for him. But for him to think that no small business owner should try them just because he has no clue is crazy. Perhaps he should talk to a different group of small business owners that make the Web work for them every day. I’d be happy to introduce him if he is interested.