The Internet was supposed to be the key to success for the small business owner. It was supposed to level the playing field and allow the innovative small business to go head to head with a Fortune 500 company because "on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." Unfortunately, as time has passed and the Internet marketing industry has matured, it's become more and more difficult for small businesses to not only figure out how to compete, but to come up with the dollars so that they can afford to compete. In fact, some could argue that the wide variety of online marketing options makes it MORE difficult for small businesses to compete. After all, it's a lot harder to decide between choices A-Z than it is to decide between choices A, B and C. Far too often, small businesses are left paralyzed with the fear of making the wrong decision and end up making NO decision.

That's one of the primary reasons that Search Engine Guide exists. The world of search engine marketing, link building, online reputation management and all of the other search related disciplines can get complicated. Small business owners don't have time to become experts in each of these areas and they rarely have the dollars to afford the several hundred dollars an hour that consultants can charge. Thus, we spend every day trying to come up with new ways to help filter things down to a level of "this is how it impacts you and this is what you can do about it." Perhaps the best example of this was the 30 Day experiment that showed how many "little" things have to be done and considered when marketing a site online. That series clearly struck a chord with readers based on both email feedback and the fact that the free ebook has been downloaded over 3300 times.

Last week I alluded to the next big project that I'll be launching here at Search Engine Guide. Since I had so much fun working on the 30 Day project and we've had so much positive feedback about the "real-to-life" style of both the experiment and the writing, I've decided that we need to aim for something similar this time around. Thus, we're going to be launching a new series of articles that once again focuses on the realities of life as a small business owner and that provides practical (re: affordable) advice that can be implemented by our readers on their own sites.

The difference is that this time, it won't be just me with an admittedly niche site. I'll be working with a team of volunteers from different areas of the industry in order to help an existing small business figure out the next steps that they need to take in order to get their online business moving. This isn't simply a hand-out of free marketing services, this will be a transparent project that aims to help readers understand what needs to be done to a specific type of site and why.

Each month, I'll be writing a four-part article series focusing on one small business. The articles will be written interview style to mimic the back and forth conversation that goes on between a small business owner and a consultant. The first article will provide some background on the current business including how they got started and why along with more pertinent information like what their biggest challenges are and what they've tried in the past. The second article will move into issues like design and usability along with learning how to use web analytics to figure out where improvements need to be made. The third article will focus on content development and search marketing and the final article of the month will focus on things like link building, viral marketing ideas and anything else that hasn't yet been covered.

It will be up to the site owners to implement the plans, but they will have access to a variety of industry experts to help them work out the best and most cost effective way to tackle each of these areas. We'll also run a dedicated forum thread for each small business so that readers can follow along, ask questions, offer up their own suggestions and even ask how things are going a few months down the line.

The series will be starting up soon, but in the meantime, feel free to drop me an email if you can help out. I'm still open to finding a few more industry experts to add to the team, I'm also looking for a few more companies that might want to donate some products or services that would help out and of course I'll need to find a dozen really interesting small busineses to feature over the next year.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

June 29, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Real Small Businesses, Real Big Ideas (This Time, It's Personal)