Who Moved My Client Base?

Editor’s Note:  Laurel Delaney of GlobeTrade.com joins us once again with a “story” — a story about a business owner who was faced with a slowing small business. This story profiles how he used social media to turn things around and grow his business by tapping into a global client base.

By Laurel Delaney

Once upon a time, there lived a business owner named Melvin who ran a small retail and online design shop in Davenport, Iowa. For more than a decade, Melvin prospered in his local community through independent contract work he 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 he was honored with the Davenport Designer of the Year Award, which recognized his talent within the community and acknowledged him as their small business star. Everybody in Davenport knew and liked Melvin, or Mel as they liked to call him. He was the go-to person on anything to do with design.

Melvin managed to secure at least two key client assignments a month — enough to live a good life that included taking care of his wife and two kids and vacationing once a year. But lately, business was slowing down and Melvin began to lie awake most nights fretting about how he was going to pay his bills or what he could do to turn his business around. It became harder and harder for him to obtain repeat business, and no new businesses had been established in his neighborhood for quite some time. Cash flow had started to dwindle.

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

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

How could Mel, with a small operation and no real following outside of Davenport, do that? Easy. Let’s take a look.

The first thing he did was conduct a Google search on the Internet population and arrived at Internet World Stats. He learned that there are more than a billion people using the Internet — a whole heck of a lot more potential customers for his design business than in Davenport.

Next he asked himself, ‘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 Melvin decided to stake his claim on a big piece of it. Here’s what he did to make sure customers worldwide know he exists.

He set aside a couple of weeks to learn everything he 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, he designed profiles about his business on every single new media outlet that he thought mattered — anything that appeared to be a growing global trend.

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

Video sites:

  • YouTube: 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.
  • French start-up Dailymotion also lets you share your videos. They plan to compete against Google’s YouTube. When Mel spotted all this, he did some further thinking and planning. Shortly thereafter he created a knockout video talking about what makes a great brand and great design.

Social networking sites:

  • MySpace: Meet people from your part of the country and keep in touch. Includes blogs, forums, e-mail, groups, games, and events. Facebook 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. Melvin set up profiles on both sites to ensure he builds his global audience and makes new friends and business contacts outside of Davenport.
  • Second Life: A three-dimensional, virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents (called avatars). Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown to more than 9 million residents. Melvin created a design environment showing 3-D clips of his best client work, allowing visitors anywhere in the world to view the content and to spend as much time as they want with it.
  • Bebo: Operating in six countries, this social networking Web site is designed to allow friends to communicate in various ways. Melvin created his Bebo space to generate more global buzz and additional business contacts.
  • Xanga: An online community for friends, where you can easily start your own free blog, share photos and videos, and meet new people. Melvin launched a blog reflecting his design expertise, which he updates frequently.
  • Zooped: A business, music, and personal blogging social network. Here, Melvin developed a small area showing how music influences design and design influences music — a marriage made in heaven.
  • Mashable: 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. Melvin established himself as the best little designer on the planet by mixing and matching all his new world media.
  • Twitter: 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. Melvin created an account and sends a weekly update via cell phone to all his friends and colleagues, offering the latest new design tip and explaining where to find him if they need design help.
  • Pecha Kucha Night: Young designers meet, network, and show their work in public. It’s social media at its best, very global, and may soon make PowerPoint presentations obsolete. Melvin developed a presentation highlighting how less is more when it comes to design.

Photo sharing sites:

  • Piczo: 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.
  • Picnik 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. Its users are based largely outside the United States. Melvin features a handful of his best photography, which made his work on client Web sites and brochures sing.

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

The lesson Melvin 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 Davenport, to get ahead of new media trends, and to thrive in the global marketplace.

* * * * *

Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com. She is also the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter and The Global Small Business Blog, both of which are well known for covering global small business.


Laurel Delaney Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com (a Global TradeSource, Ltd. company). She also is the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage. You can reach Delaney at ldelaney@globetrade.com.

14 Reactions
  1. derrick sorles-web 2.0 consultant

    I LOVE THIS STORY! We have been telling clients this for 2 years now – it’s finally starting to sink in! They are getting it!

  2. This is a wonderful run down of the new technology and how it can be used to expand marketing. Thank you- I’ve shared it with our marketing/communication team and appreciate how it lays out not just what the technology can do but how a small business can use it.

    My next question is: how does a small business (small nonprofit in this case) which seeks to serve a specific geographic area fully utilize these resources. Rather than simply bring in more customers, how do we use Web 2.0 to deepen our relationships with current customers while expanding the client base in a limited physical area.

    I suspect some of these tools are even more effective for these type of interaction allowing for instant customer feedback and interaction.

  3. I need to start using a few of those to promote my blog.

  4. Many thanks … and Suzy, you should be able to use the Web 2.0 media mediums exactly the same way but with the purpose of enlarging your local base and deepening existing customer relationships. And it’s not always so much about the content, it’s more about the connection (as in the case of Twitter, for example) and the consistency and sincerity of that connection.

  5. It is indeed a nice story. Infact we are following the same strategy to get the business. Internet has become mightier than ever before with the advent of these social networking sites.

    Learn, share and keep learning

  6. @David:

    A lot of those resources will be really useful for promoting your blog.

    I’m just starting out promoting my blog, but I have done what Melvin did. I spent a long time finding out how to make my little blog into something bigger. And I am still learning…

  7. Laurel, in the old days, business schools used to make the economic argument that marketing expense > 2% of sales could not be justified on a return on investment basis. I would be very interested in your thoughts as it pertains to market share acquisition and elasticity of sales.

    Great article. I enjoyed it very much.


  8. Great comments, thanks. And Neal, not sure where you came up with the greater than two percent theory (it sounds low as a baseline) and how it applies to Mel’s story. Help us out here!

    But you might be interested in knowing that McKinsey & Company just completed a survey, “How companies are marketing online: A McKinsey Global Survey,” which indicates the following:

    “Companies use the Web to reach customers throughout the decision-making process. In 2010 respondents expect a majority of their customers to discover new products or services online and a third to purchase goods there. A majority of the respondents also expect their companies to be getting 10 percent or more of their sales from online channels in 2010—twice as many companies as have hit that mark today. These expectations appear to be driving plans for future spending, at least in some areas.

    In addition to established online tools such as e-mail, information-rich Web sites, and display advertising, survey respondents show a lot of interest in the interactive and collaborative technologies collectively known as Web 2.0 for advertising, product development, and customer service.”

    The survey also highlights the following:

    Current usage versus spending:

    Which, if any, of the following digital-advertising vehicles does your company use:
    Percents of respondents whose companies use given digital tool/technique(1)

    How is your company’s current spending on digital-advertising vehicles allocated?
    Average of responses, % of digital-ad spending(2)

    E-mail — 83%(1) — 31%(2)
    Display ads — 73%(1) — 33%(2)
    Paid keyword search — 63% — 30%
    Branded sponsorship — 48% — 25%
    Referrals — 39% — 18%
    Video ads — 33% — 16%
    Podcasts — 25% — 12%
    Emerging vehicles* — 12% — 14%

    *Includes many of Mel’s initiatives:

    Blogs (32%)
    Social Networks (22%)
    Wikis (15%)
    Widgets (15%)
    Virtual Worlds such as Second Life (13%)
    Online games (12%)

    The timing could not be better on McKinsey’s survey. It arrived in my mailbox this weekend. You can find it here but you must register first:

    Neal, take a look at the “Adoption barriers” section on Page 5. It covers “Insufficient metrics to measure impact” which definitely will be of interest to you.

    Hope this helps and glad you enjoyed the story.

  9. For some reason the link to the McKinsey & Company survey did not show when I placed it in brackets. Sorry about that. Will try again.


  10. Who Moved My Customers?