|When people think about companies on the Internet, names
like Microsoft and IBM come to mind but over the past few years smaller
businesses are carving a unique advertising niche through the Internet.
Several small San Antonio companies advertise their products or services
through individual internet providers. Three example companies are Dusty's
Flowers, Practical Traveler and CompleteSeal.
This past month I interviewed each company about the pros and cons of Internet advertising, the process they use to advertise and any problems attached to internet advertising. Before conducting the interview, I was a little biased because I expected that a small business web site might not pay for itself because of lack of advertising funds compared to larger companies. I was pleasantly surprised. All the interviewees spoke positively about their services and the amazing advertising opportunities.
The Internet is becoming an ideal solution for small companies to bring their unique personalities to the global public. The arrival of the Internet provider and web page designers has created a technical service similar to the telephone company. Companies obtain a web page in the same way they obtain, say, a new telephone line. A small company contacts an internet provider/web page designer to create web pages, maintain the pages and update the pages. The small business chooses from a wide variety of Internet providers from a local San Antonio provider such as TexasNet to a country-wide provider such as America Online. Different prices and services come from each provider.
Various sources list Web page's addresses both printed and on-line. People can look-up a web address in an address book sold at local bookstores or search the Internet using keywords through various search engines: Yahoo, Excite, Web Crawler.
To the Internet-savvy consumer, looking up company information by web site is as easy as looking up a companies address through the phone book except the Internet provides more information. Not only can the Internet provide hours of operation, address, and contact information, it can also provide product information. The consumer can analyze the product before deciding to purchase it. The advertiser can create an image for the consumer even before the consumer goes down to the shop or talks to someone on the phone.
Internet advertising's main advantage is the opportunity to contact the global customer. Often, small businesses have small advertising budgets geared towards newspaper ads or radio advertisements. Only the small business, local population hears or sees the advertisement. The Internet provides the advertisement to anyone willing to view the web site, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes a global customer may be looking for the small business's product or perhaps they are looking for products produced in San Antonio for one reason or another. Small businesses only need to provide the budget for the web site, not funds for global newspaper or radio ads.
Each highlighted small business maintains a cooperative relationship
with their web page designers. The Internet provides each company an opportunity
to reach the global market easily and economically. CompleteSeal felt that
their web site, "Made the business and paid for itself a couple of times
over each month." All felt theInternet advertising was a good corporate
investment. Until the business began to advertise over the Internet, most
had little chance to reach a global market. The web sites serve as a type
of global catalog presenting products to interested markets.
Dusty's FlowersOver the past 44 years, Dusty's Flowers had become San Antonio's largest locally-owned florist offering a wide variety of choices throughout the year. The internet seemed like a perfect opportunity to extend themselves outside the San Antonio local market into additional global markets. Although the weekly out-of-town orders are not in the hundreds, six to twelve orders came in through the Internet connection during a week. Dusty's Flowers President, Sue Gelinas, fills orders from India, South America and Europe to name a few.
Dust'ys Flowers web site, http://www.flowerlink.com/dustys, operates through a large east coast florist that allows the company to display arrangements in a catalog format with local prices listed. Dusty's Flowers sent the firm the company logo, company information and arrangement prices. Although most of the web page material remains static, Dusty's provides the web designers with 2 or 3 yearly updates. During the interview, Dusty's remarked the web page price is economical with an annual payment. The only drawback with advertising on the Internet is the search engines. Potential customers usually locate a product through a search engine if they don't have the specific web site address. They might search by subject or by company name.
Most search engines evaluate descriptive company summaries looking for certain specified keywords entered by the user. Bob Gelinas, Sue's spouse, remarked that many companies list certain keywords in their summaries even if they have nothing to do with the subject just so people will see their company's web address. So, if you were to look for San Antonio and flowers, you might come up with all sorts of unrelated items. Without the specific web address, people may have difficulty finding specialized companies.
Web sites can be complicated or simple depending on a company's needs. Dusty's Flowers uses a fairly simple, straight-forward web site design, consisting of a couple of pages with graphics, contact information, logo and pricing information. To place an order the customer uses a toll-free 1-800 number. For customers with slow modem connections or older browsers, the Dusty's Flowers page is perfect. Each web page loads up quickly.
Practical TravelerAnother small business, Practical Traveler, has provided twelve years of family centered vacations throughout the world from apartments in Paris and London to Condos in the Caribbean and Mexico. Their web page site, http://www.practicaltraveler.com, highlights monthly company specials as well as tips for traveling. As a result of changing travel specials and prices, Practical Traveler changes the web site information more often than Dusty's Flowers or CompleteSeal. The Practical Traveler is more fluid as a small business because pricing may change as often as every day. Contact with the customer is critical.
The unique aspect of their page is the opportunity to complete a reservation request form that contacts the travel agency through e-mail. The travel agent can then research the request and provide quick information for the customer. Other aspects of the page are moving text and a special section dedicated to San Antonio. Sheila Wolfe, Practical Traveler owner, wanted to incorporate features for the local customer as well as the global customer.
Originally, Sheila contracted with a web page designer after attending
an ATSA travel industry conference. The conference highlighted the benefits
of Internet advertising for the travel agency. Practical Traveler's first
web site was less than satisfactory. She e-mailed another web site design
service to provide Practical Traveler with prices and layout choices. The
second Internet provider worked out wonderfully. Sheila feels that web
pages need to fit the personality of the company. Their current page provides
graphics and information tailored to a Practical Traveler customer. Another
point to stress is that a large amount of customers may come from a web
site so, if the web site does not match the personality of the small business
then they can find another service fairly quickly.
Complete SealCompleteSeal's website, http://www.cains.com/completeseal, provides fabric protection services worldwide as a direct result of their Internet advertising. Chris Amundsen, CompleteSeal's owner, uses the web site to distribute product information and distributorship opportunities to the global market. Recently, he established several global distributorships for CompleteSeal Products. Chris plans to continue his web site service well into the future. During the interview, he had only positive comments for Internet advertising.
Each CompleteSeal web page loads up quickly and provides concise information. Their logo displays at the top of the web page with links listed below. Similar to Dusty's Flowers, CompleteSeal's information may not change every month. Internet web site service does not require a large amount of upkeep from the company. At some level, through Internet advertising the CompleteSeal product seems to sell itself. So, after reading through this article you might ask yourself: Why do I care about small business' advertising on the Internet? I care (and I hope you do) because when these small businesses use the internet to find both local and global customers, it represents that San Antonions are learning to use the newest technologies to improve the economy. Every customer helps a small company stay in business. The small business advertising helps the web page designers stay in business which in turn helps the Internet provider stay in business. A cycle of economic success can potential exist.
After interviewing each small business owner, I think a strong future exists for Internet advertising. Good companies with good products are able to reach a larger market. CompleteSeal, Dusty's Flowers and Practical Traveler found success on the internet. Success may wait for other small businesses advertising on the Internet.
For more information on any of small business contact:Also, to get information on the web page designers each small business uses, look near the bottom of each web page. All three businesses have an icon or information about the web page designer and how to contact them.
Roberta Henson is a technical writer specializing in Intranet/Internet documentation and Lotus notes Applications Development. She recently received a B.S. in technical communication.