A year ago no one wanted to support small business education because there was so much big money elsewhere. Now the excuse is there is no money at all. But the need was real last year, and it's more real this year.
I learned this first hand when I approached some people about an idea I call the "E-Commerce Comeback Tour."
The idea is this. Give small businesses those simple, cheap, easy-to-implement ideas that can make the difference between an online success and failure. Show them how to identify their niche, research that niche to find customers, then demonstrate how to get recommendations from satisfied customers and how to use e-mail to follow-up and provide real service.
I figure we could make this a one-day seminar with short uplifting talks in the morning, break-out sessions on specific topics after lunch and a "trunk show" in between which really pays for the whole thing. Target a city's small businesses and aim the pre-show publicity at those local TV and radio outlets they watch most closely. Get one of those outlets as a sponsor.
The investment needed here is minimal. Mainly you need a salesman. A suburban hall like Atlanta's Cobb Galleria Center shouldn't cost more than $20,000 to rent for a day. If you concentrate on local speakers (maybe bringing in a single "star" in the morning) those costs are minimized. Local businesses will pay to be part of the event, but of course you also want to target all the industry's vendors as exhibitors. The big risk lies in the publicity campaign - you really need to get the thing on radio and TV. (If you need to make the media co-sponsorship deal free you do it.)
If we could train just 10 businesspeople (out of maybe 200 who attend) into building an online success there's enough oomph to take care of next year's event. And the same thing could be done in every major American City.
It can be done because the basics really are basic. When you use the Web to find out where your customers and competitors are before you launch your chances of failure are minimal. When you use personalized e-mail (the kind of messages written one-at-a-time) to build networks of contacts and to really fulfill promises to customers any honest businessman can turn a profit.
Yet, as I said, I found no takers. That says a lot about the times we're in. Fear has replaced greed. What will replace fear won't be new greed (not at first), but determination, belief and hope. The grieving process over the end of the Bubble may take longer than I want, but I never believed in the Bubble to begin with. Still, the grieving will end, and at the end of that process the only thing we'll have to fear is fear itself.
Boardwatch has launched its newsletter under my byline called ISP Executive. Check it out. I'm also doing a series of features for Advertising Age this month on new media technologies. If you want to be interviewed for it give me a call.
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Takes on the News
The Taste Makers
Lawrence Lessig has summarized my position on the copyright law much better than I could (must by why he gets the big money). But the time has come to consider how and why the record companies might win the war over digital music, and what that implies.
The major labels are pretending to move into digital music , but on the whole the moves are head-fakes. The only plan with prices announced charges more for music downloads than the retail price of most current CDs.
Despite this Yahoo, Microsoft and RealAudio have all fought to lick the industry's jackboot, lest they suffer the fate of Napster or MP3.com. Never mind that people don't buy music based on the label, and most legal music lovers will have to buy subscriptions to all three services (perhaps at hundreds of dollars per month, with copy protection controls in place) in order to hear what they want. As I said before, had the Digital Millenium Copyright Act been in force back in the early 80s, videotape recorders would be illegal.
It's also clear now what is in this for the labels. Not just ironclad control but control without middlemen . We should also reflect what it is the labels control.
What they control is tastes. My teenage daughter obediently follows the industry's tastes. She sees artists like Britney Spears on TV, hears them on the radio, and then demands the CD. This combined control of all media can turn any act - even the putrid girl band Eden's Crush - into chart-toppers. And when was the last time you saw a hit from David Bowie, Prince or Peter Gabriel - stars that are fighting the power? My guess is Metallica will get to #1 before those boys.
Right now this control of all media works for movies as well - how else do you explain "Blow?" The movie does, yet people still rush to see it because AOL tells them to.
This control can last only so long as people accept it, but even after the revolt the industry may just accept a few new players and go on as before. (That's what happened with rock and rap, why not this?) When the labels control all channels, when no act can make it without them, then anyone who wants to make music must take just 15% of the gross (with the labels doing the accounting) and the poverty that goes with it. The music industry should be creating thousands of multi-millionaires a year - why is it creating just a handful? It's because this industry controls the distribution and the government.
The movie business, the book business and the software business are all watching what happens here. If the labels win, you're next.
Speaking of Evil Plots
You're not depressed enough. Now you're going to hear about Microsoft's plot to take over the world
Dave Winer is one of the good guys, and if he says Microsoft is trying to transform XML from an open platform into a closed one I believe him. (He says it's not quite as bad as all that.)
But it all fits together - Jim Allchin's claim that open source should be illegal, the copyright controls built into Windows XP (and the commercial demands now built into every Windows PC), the Secure Audio Protocol, and the move to capture XML. Microsoft sees itself as an arm of the government, its code a law enforcement mechanism. The only way for that to work is for that code to be universal, for alternatives to go away. In the present political environment, that's appealing to policy makers. It's another reason to fight the power. And below you'll find yet another one.
The Anti-Web Administration
The Clinton people could be Clueless about the Web. It wasn't high on their priority list and the Web's interests could be bargained away. Attorney General Reno was interested in law enforcement, not user rights, and was seldom fought when she pushed her anti-Web agenda.
But the new boys are more than Clueless. They seem little better than China in terms of their attitudes. The result is likely to be a period of anarchy, with governments of all types fighting efforts by people everywhere to use the Internet as a tool for freedom.
The Bush attitude is easily seen in FTC-approved testimony before the Senate given by Hugh Stevenson, an associate director of that agency. He praised "Consumer Sentinel," a shared (and supposedly secure) database used by U.S., Canadian and Australian law enforcement, which logged over 100,000 complaints last year. Is there any control over this, any protection for the rights of the accused? No, there is none.
Liberty is just another word for nothing left to lose under the Bush Administration, which is forcing all library computers (even those used by staff) to install inefficient (political) filters by next July. If you work in an American library after that date, you will have no more freedom than the average Chinese will.
Bush himself is proving to be not just an ideologue, but a Luddite as well. He told Reuters he has sworn off e-mail for the duration , thereby setting a great example for every other idiot under him. It does make me wonder why the Bush Administration is in such a snit with China - they have so much in common.
My point isn't just to bash the Usurper. It's to build an opposition based on Internet issues. We can start with a well-timed offensive, an impeachment move against Republican judges who, like Jack Tanner, act like despots.
Clued-in is Matt Mickiewicz of Sitepoint. He has an amazing wealth of resources, a willingness to share them, and a low cost structure that enables him to make a profit even in this environment.
Clueless is the head of Cerner Corp., who got angry when his threatening e-mails were revealed in the media . So many workers have been sacked for stupid e-mails it's refreshing to see a boss get his.