Business on the Internet isn't just for Amazon and iTunes any more. With 79 percent of adults regularly using the Internet, being offline is becoming less and less of an option for all business, Winona Area Chamber of Commerce members were told Wednesday morning at the first of a series of seminars intended to assist local businesses and nonprofits in establishing their own address and identity in cyberspace.
"You can leverage bricks with clicks," said Bruce Schwartau, from the University of Minnesota Extension service.
While virtually everyone is familiar with commercial websites, having your very own dot-com is only one means of establishing a useful web presence. Schwartau demonstrated how Google gleans information from telephone and business directory websites and repurposes it through Google maps to create an instant, free and easily customized web presence for virtually every business, complete with references and a locator map. He urged all business owners and managers to Google their own enterprises to check the accuracy of the listing and showed how, with just a few mouse clicks, that information can be corrected and updated.
Sites like Google maps, which literally direct customers to a company's doorstep, are just one example of how the Web is constantly changing and becoming more and more integral to the way customers live and do business. As customers increasingly become accustomed to accessing shopping information online and via smart phones, any business that hasn't optimized its operation to make use of those technologies will find itself at a competitive disadvantage.
Chamber president Della Schmidt said that Wednesday's presentation will be the first in a series offered for free over the next 18 months to local businesses and nonprofits. The topic of future sessions will be determined by the needs and desires of those attending.
The seminars are sponsored by the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative, a coalition of the Blandin Foundation and 19 coalition partners and financed by a $4.7 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grant. Winona is one of 11 demonstration communities across the state to participate in the initiative programs.