Bad times? Move to Webville

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009
webville No one loves Oregon more than my buddy Bill — it’s too bad he doesn’t live here anymore.

Bill moved here about a decade ago from the East Coast, and he fell for everything that is great about our state: camping in the summer, the friendly people, how easy it is to live here. The whole enchilada.

But then came 2002. You remember 2002, right? That was the last big recession and it smacked us hard, and Bill particularly hard. After losing his job at a small computer company and then looking for work for a long time, Bill reluctantly decided to move back East where his relatives still live.

He found a good job and comes back here now and then, and when he does, what does he say? “I want to retire in Bend.”

Sadly, at least right now, that’s not the best plan, Billy Boy.

Bend has the worst unemployment rate in the state, topping 18%. Its vaunted housing boom is now a vaunted housing bust and businesses are either closing or leaving.

So what do you do if you live in Bend or Roseburg or some other once-idyllic Oregon town that’s bad for business right now, and especially bad for small business?

You go online, that’s what. While there are all sorts of great things to be said about the Internet (and plenty of bad things, too, of course), one of the great boons is that we are no longer tethered to our region insofar as business goes.

Moving or growing your business online allows you to virtually leave your bad economy and go to where the customers are, even if they aren’t here right now.

That’s what Dan Hobin of, yes, Bend realized. Hobin started his small business, G5 Search Marketing, six years ago, when Bend was still Bend. His company specializes in helping businesses, especially real estate businesses, master local online search so that they end up on that much-desired Page One search result.

Hobin’s business has grown steadily for many reasons — a great service, results, a dedicated staff — but a main reason is that it’s not dependent on the challenging local economy to find clients. By aggressively practicing what he preaches and growing the online portion of his business, Hobin now has upward of 40 employees. (See related story on page 16.)

That such a smart strategy is not used more often is surprising, especially given the economy right now. Far too many small businesses think that their business does not lend itself to an e-commerce strategy, that a billboard-type website is all they need.

Wrong.

The Internet revolution is the biggest change ever in the history of small business, and that’s not just hyperbole, my friends. For eons, small businesses have had to sell in their neighborhood, whatever the local economy.

But no longer. If you haven’t figured out how to take advantage of this historic opportunity, there has never been a more important time to do so. Plenty of other small businesspeople have.

Another Oregonian who is reaping the benefits of a robust online presence is Scott Ankeny. His website, GoingGreenToday.com, is a personalized green coaching service that shows people both how to live a greener life while saving money.

Ankeny started out a few years ago with a business plan that was going to offer clients face-to-face green counseling services, until he realized that creating an online business that provided customized green living plans offered less overhead, scalability and “a much bigger market.”

Now that’s what we’re talking about. The lesson of these Oregonians is that a viable way to keep your small business alive in this challenging economy is to boost your online presence. Do that and you will be ahead of the game.

And Bill? He’s still back East, stuck with a house declining in value, and the ultimate irony: He now works for an e-commerce company.

steve-BLOGSteve Strauss is the small business columnist for USATODAY.com and the author of The Small Business Bible. He lives in Portland and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Join the discussion on his blog at OregonBusiness.com/steve.


 

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