Monday, May 15, 2006

The entrepreneur's favourite knowledge tool

Enterprise Toronto, the municipal agency dedicated to new business development, recently polled its visitors (most of them are presumably business owners or aspiring so) about their principal sources of small business knowledge.

I was pretty surprised at the one-sided nature of the result. I guess I shouldn't have been, but in blogs one is supposed to be truthful.

The major source of small business knowledge cited by 41.5% of the 106 respondents was…

(a few blank lines to build the tension and give you time to guess)

(a few more blank lines to further build the tension and give you time to change your guess)

The major source of small business knowledge cited by 41.5% of respondents was… the Internet!

I have known for a long time that entrepreneurs are wary of books and magazines and formal instruction, and that they prefer the school-of-hard-knocks wisdom they can derive from discussions with experienced business people. But I was surprised to see the Internet run away with it all.

The actual results:
What is your major source for small business knowledge?

The Internet – 44 (41.5%)
On the Job Experience – 24 (22.6%)
Books - 13 (12.26%)
Seminars – 13 (12.26%)
Other Entrepreneurs – 6 (5.7%)
School – 5 (4.7%)
Audio/Video Programs – 1 (0.94%)

Obviously these aren’t the only sources entrepreneurs use – but merely the distribution of their preferred methods. With just over 100 respondents, this is clearly not a scientific sample. But I think the results are important.

(Although I wish they hadn't included "On the Job Experience" as an option. That's a different kind of knowledge, and it's one which everyone has and gains more of daily, so I think it diminished the results for some of the other sources of info.)

So why did the Net win so big? With the flexibility of Google and other search tools, the Net’s round-the-clock availability, and the sheer depth of (mostly free!) business, management, market and financial information online, the Internet is a tool almost made to order for entrepreneurs. The question is: what are they looking up, and why? **

Follow-Up: How are your customers using the Internet? And how can you use digital technologies to reach them when they are using their favourite mode of business research?

(**Of course, there is also the matter of sample bias. You would expect the results of an online survey to reflect the fact that all respondents, by definition, already use the Net for business purposes. I think the same bias accounts for the relatively high ranking of the fourth result, Seminars, since ET puts on lots of workshops and seminars, for beginners and experienced entrepreneurs alike.)

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