The digital age introduces a new challenge that the majority of companies are not prepared for
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Imagine doing business 25 years ago. For most businesses, the only people who would hear from you would be the locals. If you even wanted to have a luck being known anywhere outside of your area, your only option would be to purchase extremely expensive radio, TV or newspaper ads. Even making a phone call to the nearby zip code often resulted in long distance charges.
Today every business has such incredible access to people at such a low cost that if you told someone in 1995 they would make you laugh in the hall for you were crazy. And the only thing you need to tap into this incredible power? A website, social media profiles and content.
“Publish or perish” has always been synonymous with professors, but it now applies to all business owners in all industries and all market sizes. If you don’t post content, you just can’t reach people in a world where 70 million blog posts are posted per month – and those are just wordpress.com websites.
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With the power of unlimited reach comes a whole new set of challenges
Before the digital age, there was a distinct advantage: As a local business, you could operate in your own bubble. You weren’t expecting to produce a lot of content, and the competition was limited to a handful of people around you. Most of the time, as long as you had a listing in the local phone book, you at least got phone calls and had a chance to get a customer.
Now it’s not just your immediate competition to worry about. You also have to face the expectations set by all other industries. This is happening because other independent companies are forced to step up their digital content game in order to be competitive. Customers get used to certain amenities, and research and purchase decisions are made based on what every other industry is doing.
If I’m used to being able to search for information on topics and easily access critical information without ever speaking to someone, this is how I judge the quality of any business by default. For example, let’s say you run a restaurant but your menu isn’t easy to find or access. My first impression is to be incredibly frustrated and wonder why you can’t even afford to provide the most basic functionality on your website.
Here’s the deal: you’re not just judged by the expectations set by how your competition does business. You are judged by the digital expectations and experiences that all other industries define as ‘the normal way’.
Ignoring this means the bottom line is simple: you lose a large chunk of your potential customers to causes that you can’t even identify correctly, because they are not immediately related to the actual quality of your product or service.
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Ignoring the importance of content makes your business incredibly vulnerable
Two major risk factors are at play:
- Big tech companies (such as Grubhub and HomeAdvisor)
- New direct competitors who favor digital communication.
In the first scenario, what happens is that the technology-based business is essentially a marketing and lead generation business with a different label. Often times, they partner with local businesses providing a more convenient way to get customers to a results-based payment plan. Since these businesses depend solely on their ability to supply business to business, they need to take digital marketing very seriously, potentially devoting hundreds of staff to producing and promoting content.
When they enter a market, what happens is all of their promotional efforts totally displace your business. You lose the exposure that you would have potentially gotten naturally before. This then creates a dependency on that source of customers for your business and often ends up costing you up to 30% of your selling price.
If you don’t already prioritize the digital experience and your own content, your chances of the customer “using you directly” become more and more difficult (And most of the time, if the provider finds out you’re doing this, they’ll ban you simply platform, cutting off the source of customers.)
The other scenario is the new competitor, who must favor digital to establish itself in the market because it does not have the advantage of an established reputation. Their only choice is to be incredibly proactive with content production and digital marketing. It’s scary because most of the time you won’t even notice that they exist at all until they have already taken over the market.
That’s exactly what happened when we helped a local roofing company take a digital-first approach to marketing. When they competed “traditionally”, they had no chance of competing with established market leaders. But when they entered digital competition, acted as content editors, and made the web their top priority, their size more than quadrupled (from $ 300,000 to $ 1.4 million) to the end of their first year. In the second year, they opened locations in three new markets.
Additionally, this disruption was caused by a new business that only had two employees and less than $ 30,000 in available cash. It’s the incredibly terrifying power of internet and content-based marketing approaches.
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Business leaders must now have the skills of both publishers and operators
Our modern digital world introduces a new problem that businesses are simply not prepared for: you have to be a media editor, planner, and creator. Skills like writing, speaking, and entertaining are suddenly a must. Those who hone these skills get a clear advantage over those who don’t.
The problem is, there is no formal business education or training that deals with this in a traditional sense. As a result, most entrepreneurs are simply unaware of how critical this is to their success.
It’s convenient to think of this as something that “applies to other businesses” or as an “optional” way to grow a business, as its impact is still underestimated by mainstream thinking. But, waiting for it to become conventional wisdom to take it seriously will only end in disaster.
The first step in fixing the problem is to find out what the real cause of the problem is. We are in a new era with massive disruption occurring at all scales of the way business is traditionally conducted. The most valuable skill you can develop to take advantage of the digital age is translating your expertise into value-driven content and learning how to maximize the power of the internet.
The paradigm shifts that change the world are never practical. There is no shortcut. It’s a skill set that takes a lot of time and practice to get good and mastery, with all the normal frustrations of learning a new skill. You can always spot someone who doesn’t take the time to learn the skill because they will have already given up after not seeing immediate results. They’ll say a version of, “Well, that might work for other companies, but it doesn’t work for mine. ”
If you are the person saying this, you have to radically change the way you think because this group lives on borrowed time. Instead, adopt the mindset of diligently learning the craft of publishing and content creation. This will pay huge dividends in the future.
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