You may have a big company, and theirs may be small. But don't talk down to business owners, and don't think for a minute that they are second-rate or stupid. Business owners are proud of their businesses, and they hate being talked down to.
No one means to insult their customers, but it happens all the time in small business. Take, for instance, a recent marketing venture involving Google, RBC, Rogers and The Globe and Mail.
“Get Your Business Online” (www.gybo.ca) offers Canadian business owners a free dot.ca web registration – and a free low-end hosting account. The laudable objective was to get more Canadian businesses online – but I found the solution clunky and even disrespectful.Sure, participants could save the cost of registering a dot-ca domain name (e.g., sellingtosmallbusiness.ca), but that’s only a $13 item – and the free offer only covers the first year. Participants also got a barebones hosting account, enough to build a basic, no-frills web site – but again, the free offer only lasts a year. In ensuing years the hosting site (yola.com) collects another $13 or so per annum – although of course it really hopes to sell these clients up to more costly, but more fully featured, hosting plans.
The big problem, to my mind, was the sponsors’ assumption that a $13 fee was holding back entrepreneurs from setting up their own website. More likely, it’s a failure of vision, or ignorance of the web or how to sell on it, that prevent more companies from branding themselves and selling online. Setting up a cheap-looking website does nothing to solve these problems or help these businesses grow.Worse, the program allowed YOLA to advertise on the participants’ sites. Site pages also contained the phrase, “Designed by free CSS templates,” which pretty much exposes the website owners as freebie-seekers.
In other words, the program sponsors weren't respecting the participants’ businesses. They seem to have never thought about entrepreneurs' needs for credibility.The system was finally revised to eliminate the telltale line, “Designed by free CSS templates,” but only after I complained about the program to an executive of one of its sponsor groups. I had previously denounced the oversight in my Financial Post column, but none of the sponsors seem to have noticed that. (You can read my original article on “Get Your Business Online” here.)
This is a prime example of how companies with the best of intentions can mess up when they sell to small business. Recognize the market’s need for respect and for well-considered, sophisticated solutions. Hard-working business owners deserve nothing less.