By Bob McElwain
The statement that the Web has created a level playing field
upon which a small home-based business can compete on equal
footing with the big boys is a myth. It never was so. And it
never will be.
For one thing, a small home-based business is limited by the
capacities of the individual operating it. No matter how gifted
this individual may be, one person can only know so much. A
large business can draw upon the knowledge of a number of people.
The decision maker does not need to understand the details, only
the results of thinking from those who do. There is a tremendous
advantage in this, simply not available to an individual, unless
there is cash to buy such results.
You may be able to stretch your work day to 12 hours, but
that's about the limit. A large company can bring as many hours
to the task as needed. Unless cash is available to buy the
needed hours, the individual is forced to move more slowly toward
certain goals or abandon them completely in favor of something
less time consuming.
All comes down to bucks. Even a modestly successful company
has dollars to commit to a new project, or can get them. Without
a friendly bank handy, a home business without ready cash must
focus on improving sales and thus profits before committing
Search engines and directories are powerful tools with which
to draw traffic to your site. Larger companies have always been
able to buy search engine positioning services beyond the
economic reach of small businesses.
Recently Yahoo began offering a pay-for-review service at
$199. While it does not assure a listing, it does promise a
speedy site review. While the free submission service remains
available, I personally know of only one person who obtained a
listing through repeated submissions with this option. On the
other hand, I don't know of anyone who paid this fee who was not
subsequently listed. While some have undoubtedly been turned
down, the only reasonable approach is to consider the fee as a
one time advertising cost and pay up.
LookSmart is also now asking $199 and they offer no free
option. Personally, I think they overrate themselves, but as
with Yahoo, I recommend paying the fee. (Even Snap for a time
was demanding $79.)
Getting Started Now Costs More
In the past, starting an online business required only filing
a factious name statement ($50-$100), a bank account ($10/month),
a domain name (previously $35/year, now less), and a hosting
service ($6/month and up).
This cost has gone up in just the last year, for $398 needs
to be added for submission to the above directories. You can not
afford to ignore either service. And add another $100/year if
you want to play the Real Names game.
Search Engines Are In Business
With billions of dollars at stake in the search engine game,
be assured they will continue to seek to present the most
relevant listings in the briefest time. However, they will also
continue to look for ways to increase profits that do not detract
from the quality of listings provided. Here's another example.
Ask Jeeves, LookSmart, and Inktomi now have a for-pay service
which assures more pages on large sites will be listed. While
this does not say anything about page positioning, it does mean
that given more pages there is a better chance one of them will
come up. Payment at present ranges from five cents to a dollar
This is not a game at which a home business owner wants to
sit down and play. Since the plan is designed to accommodate
very large sites, a small site would not be accepted at this
time. The reason for this qualifier is that it's so just now.
But look for similar models to emerge for small businesses.
However these may remain out of reach for the home business
Another new service is eLuminator from MediaDNA. It
generates spider friendly pages from protected sites. (Also
from framed pages and those generated dynamically.) These pages
are then submitted to the search engines. Clicks on the listing
generated take the visitor to a page which explains what is
needed to access the actual page. At this writing, MediaDNA
is partnered only with Inktomi. But others will join in.
Cost? $5000 initially. And up to $0.40 for each clickthrough.
This is out of reach for most home businesses.
The two news items above were taken from a newsletter by
Danny Sullivan, "Search Engine Watch." There is a free version
available. Details about the above are available only to paid
subscribers. As is the dynamite private site. For info about
subscribing, check out ...
If interested only in the free version, click back to the home
page. Whatever your choice, if you are serious about search
engines, Danny Sullivan is the primary source. Nobody beats
his work. Period.
Look For Further Tilting
Count on it. There will be further advantages available to
those with bucks to spend. Even now, large advertising runs
cost far less per impression than do short runs, the sort a home
business can afford. Look for this difference to continue and
Are We Doomed?
No way. But it is time to forget the myth that the playing
field is level. It never was. And it never will be. Still
there is room for all players, however small.
A Narrowly Focused Niche: Within your realm, you can still
be king of the hill. If you are not selling Ford trucks, you
are not concerned about what automobile manufactures may do.
And they don't think of you at all. Within your niche, you
are concerned only about others claiming your turf.
Provide Expertise Not Available Elsewhere: This is another
way of saying you need a narrowly focused realm in which you
are the Guru. It's the only way to go.
Newsletter: Even if you gather many thousands of customers,
you can still beat the big guys. With a newsletter, you can
stay in direct, personal touch with each and every one.
Search Engines And Directories: Don't ignore them, for that
would be foolish. But only do what is reasonable. Then turn
to more effective strategies. Things such as strategic alliances
(if only an exchange of links), joint ventures, and advertising.
The latter may prove central to success.
Provide Multiple Products And Services: This is a must,
even if the additional products and/or services are not your
own. The reason this matters so is the cost of generating
a first time customer. Anybody who has bought from you even
once is a far better prospect than is a new visitor.
One Undeniable Advantage
Bigness comes with a great burden a home business never
encounters. You are in charge. There is no need for approval
from any committee or boss. The ability to change a procedure
quickly and easily is invaluable. If what worked yesterday
fails today, change it now.
Imagine what a large business must go through to drop an
existing product. Or add a new one. But when you are in charge,
the decision can be made immediately. And with the dynamic of
the Web, you will know within days if the decision was good.
Further, you can easily reverse it if it was not.
The Greatest Opportunity
Above all, as a home business operator, you can provide
great service and support tailored precisely to the needs of
your customers. You can provide it more quickly and in a more
personal manner than can any large outfit. This alone is likely
to remain a sufficient advantage to assure you win big time.