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Going Global in a Web 2.0 World: A Punch List for Small Business

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Once upon a time, there lived a business owner named Sidney who ran a small retail and online design shop in Detroit, Michigan. For more than a decade, Sidney prospered in her local community through independent contract work she performed for clients, from creating a new logo for the clothes cleaners down the street to managing a complete redesign of a Web site for a Chinese takeout restaurant just around the corner.

A couple of years ago she was honored with the Detroit Designer of the Year Award, which recognized her talent within the community and acknowledged her as their small business star. Everybody in Detroit knew and liked Sidney, or Sid as they liked to call her. She was the go-to person on anything to do with design.

Sidney managed to secure at least two key client assignments a month—enough to live a good life that included taking care of her two kids as a single parent and vacationing once a year. But lately business was slowing down and Sidney began to lie awake most nights fretting about how she was going to pay her bills or what she could do to turn her business around.

It became harder and harder for her to obtain repeat business, and no new businesses had been established in her neighborhood for quite some time. Cash flow had started to dwindle.

When the environment got tougher, she contemplated closing up shop and going to work for someone else. But that notion terrified her. Losing her creative and independent spirit in exchange for secure employment at a company outside of her own seemed like a high price to pay for not coming up with a solution to her business problem. But if she didn't make a change soon, her business would dry up—job or no job lined up—putting her and her family at risk both financially and emotionally.


After many sleepless nights and much thought, she set out to take a leap of faith and make a big change. That change, she realized, involved doing business not only with the guy or gal down the street but also with the world.

How could Sid, with a small operation and no real following outside of Detroit, do that? Easy. Let's take a look.

The first thing she did was conduct a Google search on the Internet population and arrived at Internet World Stats (internetworldstats.com). She learned that there are more than a billion people using the Internet—a whole heck of a lot more potential customers for her design business than in Detroit. Next she asked herself, How will they find me?

In a world that is now fully connected, people and businesses are putting their opinions, observations, insights, thoughts, and capabilities online for all to see. This is a trend that is growing globally by the nanosecond, and Sidney decided to stake her claim on a big piece of it. Here's what she did to make sure customers worldwide know she exists.

She set aside a couple of weeks to learn everything she could about Web 2.0 and the new media world, including visits to MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Second Life, and Twitter, among others. The following month, she designed profiles about her business on every single new media outlet that she thought mattered—anything that appeared to be a growing global trend.

Here's a punch list on what she covered—whether video, social or photo sharing—along with notes about how she used the medium:

Video sites

1. YouTube (youtube.com): Broadcast yourself and your business. A good example is Blendtec, a 186-employee company in Orem, Utah, that built brand awareness with its "Will it Blend?" series. Watch Chief Executive Tom Dickson blend up an iPhone: (youtube.com/watch?v=qg1ckCkm8YI).

French startup Dailymotion (dailymotion.com/fr, or, in the United States, dailymotion/us) also lets you share your videos. It plans to compete against Google's YouTube. When Sid spotted all this, she did some further thinking and planning. Shortly thereafter she created a knockout video talking about what makes a great brand and great design.

Social-networking sites

2. MySpace (myspace.com): Meet people from your part of the country and keep in touch. Includes blogs, forums, email, groups, games, and events.

Facebook (facebook.com) is another social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study, and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends and to create new business opportunities.

Sidney set up profiles on both sites to ensure that she builds her global audience and makes new friends and business contacts outside of Detroit.

3. Second Life (secondlife.com): A three-dimensional, virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents (avatars). Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown to more than 9 million residents.

Sidney created a design environment showing 3-D clips of her best client work, allowing visitors anywhere in the world to view the content and to spend as much time as they want with it.

4. Bebo (bebo.com): Operating in six countries, this social-networking site is designed to allow friends to communicate in various ways. Sidney created her Bebo space to generate more global buzz and additional business contacts.

5. Xanga (xanga.com): An online community for friends, where you can easily start your own free blog, share photos and videos, and meet new people. Sidney launched a blog reflecting her design expertise; she updates it frequently.

6. Zooped (zooped.com): A business, music, and personal blogging social network. Here, Sidney developed a small area showing how music influences design and design influences music—a marriage made in heaven.

7. Mashable (mashable.com): A social-networking and social-software site that operates in different countries and in different languages. The site combines tools or data from one or more online sources into a new, integrated whole. Sidney established herself as the best little designer on the planet by mixing and matching all her new world media.

8. Twitter (twitter.com): A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? It is a social-networking and microblogging service utilizing instant messages on your phone or right on the Web. Sidney created an account and sends a weekly update via cell phone to all her friends and colleagues, offering the latest new design tip and explaining where to find her if they need design help.

9. Pecha Kucha Night (pecha-kucha.org): Young designers meet, network, and show their work in public. It's social media at its best, very global, and will soon make PowerPoint presentations obsolete. Sidney developed a presentation highlighting how less is more when it comes to design.

Photo-sharing sites

10. Piczo (piczo.com): An online photo-Web-site builder and community. People can sign up for free and make their own advertising-supported Web sites. Choose from photos, glitter, video, and shouts to stay in touch. Flickr (flickr.com) is already old hat. And Picnik (picnik.com) provides useful photo editing tools (autofix, rotate, crop, resize, exposure, colors, sharpen, red-eye removal, and more) in a Flash interface. There's also a Brazil-based newcomer in the online photo-sharing space, Fotolog (fotolog.com). Its users are based largely outside the United States.

Sidney features a handful of her best photography, which made her work on client Web sites and brochures sing.

* * *

After putting all these new media to work for her business, Sidney has become a true global player. Her global small business is booming and she has developed what is called a global online sphere, encompassing all things relating to herself and her business. She has added to her team five new staff people who, together, speak seven different languages, and she finds herself out on the speaker circuit talking about what she did to boost her global presence. (At present, she is a nominee for the New Media Global Designer of the Year Award.)

The lesson Sidney learned? Immerse yourself in every imaginable online global marketing medium, have a big voice, and use it to influence the people you come in contact with.

That is the only way to move outward from Detroit, to get ahead of new media trends, and to thrive in the global marketplace.


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Laurel Delaney (LaurelDelaney.com) is the founder of GlobeTrade.com and the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.

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