In my last column I wrote about things like "e-tailing," websites and the Internet for marketing your business. Several of you wrote with questions regarding some of the terminology I used and how to go about utilizing these tools. From that correspondence and conversations I had, it is clear that there are many folks who are not as computer savvy as I assumed, and we all know what happens when we assume right?
Computers, the Internet
It really isn't all that surprising that many contractors are not computer literate, or as computer literate as they need to be in this era. After all, they are out trying to make a buck in a crummy economy with no real light at the end of this particularly dark tunnel. If they are not up to speed on computers now, the thought of spending the time to learn how to use them effectively is not a high priority. The people I spoke to, and corresponded with, fall into three very broad categories:
1. Those that have computers and used them for various office functions such as payroll, inventory or bookkeeping. This group would also include using the computer for e-mailing correspondence.
2. Those that use the computer for e-mailing, news, movies and social networking, but do not utilize it for purely business functions.
3. Those that think of computers as a tool of Satan and stay as far away from them as they possibly could.
The computer age has really only been with us for 30 years or so, yet the degree to which we have become dependent on them is astonishing. Still, many in the industry think that using computers, and the Internet that they have birthed, are a mystery better left undiscovered. Why? There is a vast, untapped landscape in cyberspace that has the potential to level the marketing playing field and bring even the smallest contractor a new source of revenue for a very modest investment. All that is necessary is to take a little time to learn a few basics.
If you are not Internet fluent, it is helpful to understand a few of the basic terms (listed below) of that language:
Cyberspace: An imagined world where electronic information is exchanged or resides. In other words, not here.
Internet: A global computer network; the World Wide Web (the ubiquitous "www").
URL: An Internet address identifying the location of a file on the Internet, consisting of the protocol (a form of language that computers and machines use to communicate with one another), the computer (or server, as it is sometimes called) on which the file is located, and the file's location on that computer.
Domain name: An identification label that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control in the web or Internet.
Web: A complex network or design, in this instance, occurring in cyberspace.
Website: A group of related web pages.
Website building: Creating a series of related pages that contain data (text, photos, videos, etc.) for use and access on the Internet.
There are many more words, phrases and abbreviations that this brave new world has spawned and one can learn them as needed. Knowing these basics, any and all manner of information is available at the tap of a few key strokes or the click of a mouse.
The thing is that the Internet is a virtually unlimited resource for expanding your business. The return on investment dollar expended is very high in almost every instance. Can you afford to leave it out of your business plan? You can be sure that your competition won’t. All it takes is a willingness to learn a new thing and setting aside the time (instead of, say, watching "Dancing with the Stars" or something) to do it.
If you are one of those people who are timid about getting into Internet marketing, remember that you cannot swim unless you get into the water. With a few exceptions (loss of personal data being the most dangerous outcome), working in "cyberspace" is unlikely to cause any physical damage. After all, you are only moving electrons around. If you try something and it doesn't work the way you want it to, start again. Modify your efforts. Change the parameters. Do anything and everything that you want to do and then put it out there to see if it brings the response you want. If it doesn't work, do it again a different way.
If all this still seems to daunting a task, and the "do-it-yourself" strategy scares you, there are plenty of people who design and maintain websites and their costs range from the very reasonable to the very expensive depending on your taste and budget. Type in "website builders" or "website designers" on any search engine (that's Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. for those not up to speed yet) and you'll get tens if not hundreds of places to shop. To steal another advertising slogan, "Just Do It!"
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at http://[email protected].