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A couple of people I know had a little success selling items on eBay, and not wishing to be wage slaves all their lives invested a considerable amount of money setting up a shopping website serving a niche market they know well. I am all for enterprise, and would always wish them good luck. However, usually we need more than good luck, because we need to do proper research.

Our shopping site owners realised that they needed traffic to their website, for which they had paid quite a lot of money. They settled on a company which promised to get them up to the top of the search engines. As most of us know, this service is called Search Engine Optimization, SEO for short. They paid £3,000 over the first year, which is just over US$4,600 at the time of writing. Was their site easily found for the top key words a year later? No, it was nowhere to be seen.

The SEO company owned up to the failure and promised to work for free until they had got a result, which would be to get the site up the search rankings. Even if they are successful, at least another six months will have been lost, and there had been very few sales after the first year. My worry would be that if they failed once, they may well fail gain.

I know several SEO experts who really can deliver results. One or two may even read this post. To you I say that I have recommended you, but unfortunately pride gets in the way of making a judgment about spending even more money.

Sixteen months on, the site is still nowhere to be seen. I have tried several searches on key words I would use, one even using a word which is part of their URL, but I cannot find them unless by typing in the name of the business, which of course no one will do if they are just looking for a particular product.

I have not pressed the business owners again with my recommendations. I feel reluctant to intrude on private grief, but if either of them comments again on their poor sales I will bring the matter up. In a way I am pleased for them they have not given up their day jobs, but that very fact may explain why they lack business focus.

As most of us know, when buying in a service, do not go for advertising hype. Get a recommendation or two or go to someone you already know and trust. That way, apart from knowing about that provider’s ability to deliver,.they will have an added incentive not to let you down.

What is your experience? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Is networking not for everyone?

It is the strangest thing, but there must be a lot of small business owners who simply do not get out to networking meetings. People do not like to get out of their comfort zones, but it seems an awful waste.

I went to an event this morning. It was not too early, so no one had to get up at the crack of dawn. It was a pleasure to meet one or two people whom I had not met before; new people to me and new people to the local networks. The majority of those there I had met before and some of them are in my quite close trusted network. They would be people I would be happy to help or whom I already have helped, or people who have helped me. A couple have become very good friends and I would never have met them in the ordinary course of business or social events. I know them because we have all made the effort to get out and meet new people.

All this is fine and proves that networking works and we can all get great rewards. However, the puzzle is that in a digital age and with so many people working from home or running small businesses on our high streets or industrial or business parks, there are not more. I do not suppose that the “missing” potential networkers simply do not go to the events I go to. We networkers go to quite a cross-section and in fact at one time or another have been to most of the networking groups around, whether they be BNI, the local Chamber of Commerce or one of our home-grown groups of which I run one.

My conclusion is that there are many people whom we are somehow missing who would be valuable resources for us, in that we could refer our network friends to them; they could benefit so much. I remember that when I was in BNI, a fine organisation, I took a lot of trouble to try to find people to come along to our visitors’ day. It was such hard work though and so few could be persuaded to come along. Those who visit my own group and join do it on their own initiative, though they may originally learn about the group from current members. The visitors understand the deal from meeting the excellent networkers I am fortunate to have. However, there must be a huge number of people sitting on their own working in their business and hoping for their best without tapping into the huge resources that networking brings. They may fail on their own. There is strength in numbers.

Some admittedly somewhat out-of-date figures (2004) said that

• 2,200,000 businesses had no employees (about 61% of SMEs).
• 1,450,000 businesses had an annual turnover of less than £50,000.
• 1,350,000 businesses had less than £10,000 worth of assets.

I believe there may be about 10% fewer businesses now, but plenty to go round.

Where are all these business owners? I love meeting my “same old faces”, my trusted network, but I am sure that we would all like to meet new people, expand our networks and tap into them as a resource, from which they would benefit. How can we get the message over? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010