The idea is to leverage the latest social networking and Web 2.0 capabilities to provide SMB owners and operators with a portal where they can network, share best practices, and gain new business at a time and pace of their choosing.
Valerie Jones, general manager of e-commerce for Grand & Toy, says the retailer is going strongly after the SMB. Its strategy is to become a trusted advisor to SMBs, and to help them connect, learn, grow and network.
“We want to be positioned in the market as an organization that cares about the SMB,” said Jones. “We’re their advocate, here to help rather than just sell them products. We’re here to help them grow, and what better way to do that than build a Web site with resources specifically designed to fit their needs?”
According to Grand & Toy’s research, Jones says SMBs want to do a lot of networking, but they don’t have of time to attend Chamber of Commerce events. With online tools such as Empower, however, business people can connect outside of business hours, on their time table.
The Web also allows SMB owners to connect and share best practices with people in similar business areas across the country. A flower shop in Ottawa may not want to share competitive ideas with another flower shop in the city, says Jones, but connecting with a flower shop in Vancouver is another story.
“SMBs are time-strapped, and they’re seeking information in a big way,” said Jones.
The Empower Web site, which is free for SMBs to join and use, offers a library of articles, videos and podcast presentations on topics such as writing a business plan and marketing. Online seminars will provide business tips, virtual trade shows an opportunity to showcase their wares, and a job board will aid in both talent acquisition and job search.
Businesses can advertise their services and source new suppliers, and a public sector opportunity engine will provide SMBs with sales leads in the public sector, aggregating contracting opportunities across the federal and provincial governments as well as governments overseas in one central, searchable database.
“We will provide them with sales leads, allowing them to not only connect with other people but also to make money from the site,” says Jones.
For Grand & Toy, Jones says the goal of launching the portal is to learn, and begin to better understand the needs of SMBs and what’s keeping small business owners up at night. Grand & Toy’s technical advisors will be online in Empower to give SMBs advice on their technology needs, and sales people will be taking part as well.
“We’re not going to be in there doing a hard sell though,” said Jones. “SMBs don’t want to me marketed to in a heavy way. Generally speaking, the marketing in the site is SMBs marketing to other SMBs.”