The Sum of All Small Business Owners Fears

One possible future:

Joe looked up from his paperwork and thought out loud that the phone hadn’t been ringing much in the last few days. He finished the estimate he had been working on and emailed it to the old couple he met with last week.

Still thinking it had been unusually slow, Joe logged into his Google Analytics account. The Dashboard indicated that traffic had slowed in the last 5 days or so. He clicked on ‘Traffic Sources’ and found the decline in traffic was pretty evenly distributed throughout his organic and paid advertising. The beginnings of a frustration that can only be caused by internet advertising began as Joe started wading through the links in GA’s main navigation one at a time.

Joe Highley is a roofing contractor. A former bond trader, he had grown tired of building a book of business that lasted only as long as the economic cycle. Owning his own business would not make him immune to the economy but it would put him in control of his own fate. That difficult decision proved to be a good one and Joe is proud of the ‘Since 1994′ that appears in all his ads.

Joe relied on his courage and salesmanship when he started out. He mortgaged his home, hired 2 guys, and purchased $43,575 in yellow pages advertising. He spread it across multiple counties so the monthly payment would be staggered. His phone bill would not bear the full weight of the $4,000 plus until October. The first book would drop in March, the beginning of the season.

Joe focused the ad copy on repair, thinking that would get him busy faster and make the sales a little easier. Maybe convenience and service would be more important than price and experience on the repair end of the business. Luck struck in the form of a wicked storm in early April, Joe’s phone started to ring and it kept on ringing as Joe’s yellow page budget swelled to 6 figures over the next 10 years.

That’s when it started to fall apart. As the advertising bills swelled competition from multiple publishers and the internet made the spend less effective. Combined with a soft economy, Joe was in real trouble for the first time since starting the business.

Staring at bills that had no chance of getting paid out of cash flow, Joe started to work out a plan. Over the next 2 years, he became a sophisticated internet marketer. His cost per lead on the net was far lower than yellow pages and the volume of calls was good enough to get him back to profitability. The stress level was, well, manageable. The best a small business owner could hope for.

Ultimately, Joe’s sophistication on the internet allowed him to cut his yellow pages spending in half. That was now providing a significant chunk of what Joe was able to bring home each month.

Getting impatient going through the links in Google Analytics and finding no answers to his problem, he skipped ‘Browser Capabilities’ and clicked on Mobile devices. There it was. His mobile traffic had gone down by half at the end of last week and was now nearly flatlined.

Android, Iphone, Ipad each one looked dead. As if all at once, everyone decided to throw their handhelds in a river. 8 Years after the first Iphone, mobile traffic to Joe’s site had swelled to 65% of the total volume.

A sophisticated internet advertiser, he realized a lot of that was due to tablet sales and that ‘mobile’ referred more to the operating system than it did the user’s place on earth. In reality, the searcher had only moved from the desk chair to the couch. However, after he bought an Ipad, switched on the w-fi and sat in a more comfortable spot, the world started calling the traffic mobile and Google Analytics was no different. The change seemed semantic.

Joe pulled out his own phone, touched the screen so the image would display on the flat panel hanging in his office and spoke the name of his business to Google’s search box, the list loaded and speaking to Google once more he said “one” and waited for the top result to load.

The normal pride Joe felt when his mobile site loaded quickly, was replaced by a combination of fear and anger that can only happen when know you something bad is about to happen and there is nothing you can do about it. Rather than seeing his own site, Joe was presented with a page containing the Verizon logo and a headline that read “Stay Informed And Empowered.”

Following that was a paragraph that started like a history lesson, detailing how the network had began charging subscribers for downloading more than 5 gigabytes of data back in December 2010 and now it was time the owners of that content being downloaded shared the burden of the cost.

They made it sound more than just palatable, they made you feel like you should be asking, How did those darn content providers get away without paying for so long?

Touching the number on the screen led to a conversation with a Verizon sales rep that filled in the remaining answers to the original traffic problem. According to Verizon, there is no charge for your website to be on the internet. Only if someone downloads it while on their network. It started a couple of weeks ago but didn’t cause a problem until the 100 free downloads were used up.

The Verizon rep walked Joe through all the available plans. He asked Joe about his Analytics data and in the end recommended a plan that would provide Joe with the best opportunity “to be available” on Verizon’s network 100% of the time. Next, Joe had these conversations with At&t, Sprint and several cable companies who had all started similar plans when Net Neutrality rules were officially vacated for mobile devices.

The cable companies surprised Joe, after all, these weren’t “mobile networks”, how come up he had to pay them. Turns out mobility is determined by the device, the operating system, not the network. Not just semantic anymore, Joe thought as he pictured some guy leaning back back on his sofa and pecking away at his tablet as the wi-fi delivered the same signal to his wife paying bills on the laptop on the dining room table.

Joe stared at the 7 contracts lined up side by side filling the entirety of the panel on his wall and decided whether or not to sign an annual contract in order to get the discount. It had been nearly 2 decades since he faced a decision like this one. Then the yellow page contracts had been printed out and lined up on his desk but ironically the logos on many of the contracts had not changed.

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7 Responses to The Sum of All Small Business Owners Fears

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Sum of All Small Business Owners Fears --

  2. Lance Curtis says:

    This is a very scary scenario especially for those of us who advise small businesses on website marketing and local search engine optimization.

    Thanks for the wake up call!

  3. Vlad Rascanu says:

    What wake up call Lance? The article mentioned that he cut his Yellowpages advertising spend in half thanks to the internet… The wake up call is for all those old school guys and companies still advertising in Yellow Pages.

  4. dang this made me shiver. All that hard work optimizing.

  5. What a story. The sum of all business fears. Now that is a catchy phrase. It is a a scary scenario indeed.

  6. Wake up call. I agree with the earlier comment. it is scary.

  7. LoneStar says:

    I am a small business owner and I say this is a good thing. As a garage door business owner, more choices is always a good thing. Thanks for sharing.