Fortunately for entrepreneurs who prefer to run their businesses far from frenetic population centers, the Internet has rendered the world flat.
Laramie, Wyo., population 26,000, sits 7,200 feet above sea level between the Medicine Bow and Laramie mountain ranges.
"This is a big state with 500,000 people," says Jonathon Benson, CEO of the Wyoming Technology Business Center at the University of Wyoming, a nine-firm business incubator. "Thereï¿½s no longer any need to live next to population centers to grow your business. All my clients sell nationally and it wouldnï¿½t be possible without the Internet."
We see thousands of entrepreneurs in our community at StartupNation, some trying to start a business and some trying to grow. In todayï¿½s world, thereï¿½s no excuse for not having a Website. Whether you need a brick-and-mortar storefront, well, that's not always as clear. Sometimes it pays to have both; the key lies in knowing your market.
A Website Saves Money, Expands Market
IDES, a plastic materials information company, began in Laramie 20 years ago with a catalog. When IDES stopped printing the book and moved its information exclusively online, it not only slashed overhead by two-thirds, it expanded the companyï¿½s visibility.
"The neat thing about the Internet is your customer finds you," Benson says. "How cool is this? Before, we were all trying to find our customer and make him aware of what it is we have."
Still, a strong online presence doesnï¿½t mean you sit back and relax. Donï¿½t forget the impact sales calls can have.
"Thereï¿½s still a lot to be said for calling on people, face-to-face, particularly when you first start your business," Benson says.
And, despite the enormous growth of e-tail, many brick-and-mortar stores have emphasized one of their biggest advantages ï¿½ an in-person, hands-on experience.
"Something goes on in a retail situation thatï¿½s fun, that draws you there," Benson says. "You canï¿½t try out a fly reel online ï¿½ but you can in an in-store fish tank. You canï¿½t listen to music, people-watch or try on clothes, either."
Make Storefronts and Websites Complement Each Other
Websites and brick-and-mortar businesses arenï¿½t mutually exclusive. But is one necessary or more important than the other? Todayï¿½s entrepreneurs often must figure out how to marry, or at least engage, the two.
Itï¿½s possible to succeed by being strictly one or the other, but itï¿½s not the smartest approach, says Tony Warren, director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, at Penn State.
"The Internet is a vital part of any business now and if youï¿½re starting a company and you donï¿½t think about that, youï¿½re missing an opportunity," he says. "The real opportunities are when you are both."
Smart entrepreneurs combine the best of the Web with brick-and-mortar. A good example is the once storefront-only movie-rental giant Blockbuster and its recent efforts to fight back at rival Netflix, the Web-based mail-order DVD-rental company. Blockbuster now offers both in-store and mail-order DVD rental options, and includes free in-store game rentals with its monthly rental agreements.
Know Your Market
Many startups are online-only, primarily because itï¿½s the cheapest, easiest way to start up, says Michelle Madhok, founder and president of SheFinds.com, an online shopping site that studies trends then finds and links to deals so busy women donï¿½t have to.
"Iï¿½m a big believer in being where your customer is," she says. "I target busy women, and most of the time theyï¿½re at their desks. Theyï¿½re certainly not walking the mall."
Madhok created SheFinds.com in 2004, after overseeing online content for AOL and CBS television. It cost her about $1,000 to launch the site, which gets 10,000 hits a day and recently launched a spinoff, SheFindsMom.com.
It frustrates Madhok when the small design houses she works with donï¿½t take the Internet seriously. "Iï¿½m appalled when I find some of them havenï¿½t done anything with their Websites," she says. "It seems like such a waste of an opportunity.
About the Author
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