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Google Misses Mark with Small Business Network

Google recently sent around emails inviting people to its “Small Business Network.” Seeing the words “small business” I was all excited and, of course, more than curious.

Too bad it did not live up to expectations.

What is the Google Small Business Network?

The Google Small Business Network is an advocacy initiative.  It’s an effort to coalesce support of small business people, to work for change in Washington and at the state government level.

Google has set up a small website for it.  The two advocacy initiatives mentioned on the site are:

(1) use Federal stimulus money for increased broadband access
(2) support Net Neutrality

You go on the site and you find some information about the importance of broadband, and how there is $7.2 Billion in Federal Stimulus money available to improve broadband access. There’s also a form letter supporting broadband access that you can send directly from the site, to your representatives in Congress.

Less prominent is a tip feature (using Google Moderator) where you can leave tips about what you think  Federal Stimulus money should be used for.

Google Small Business Network

My reaction? “Meh.”

Theoretically, getting Google’s market power behind small business advocacy issues is a great idea. It’s just  that the choice of issues so far are not ones that small business owners lie awake at night worrying about.

Let’s Give Google Its Due

Don’t get me wrong — let’s give Google its due. Google has done untold good for small businesses. For one thing, Google has liberated small businesses from high overhead costs. The free tools it provides, such as GMail and free sites and other tools, are relied upon by millions (my estimate) of small businesses. A decade ago we would have had to pay big money for all kinds of software and services that Google now supplies for free or very low cost.  Other companies soon followed Google’s lead, so that we now have many choices of free or nearly free products and services.

Not only that, but Google irrevocably changed marketing for the better for small businesses, first with its revolutionary Google search engine, and then later, the introduction of its Google AdWords program. Both leveled the playing field.  Those two things positioned small businesses to compete with larger organizations online, in ways that were difficult for small businesses to do in the offline world before that.

And let’s not forget the many entrepreneurs who make money on the other side of the Google ads.  They place AdSense ad units on their websites and blogs, and earn cash from delivering ads that readers click through.

Google definitely hit the mark for small businesses with those initiatives.

Broadband Access Not Keeping Small Business Owners Awake at Night

But — broadband and net neutrality?

Listen, if I listed all the concerns in my small business that I’d love lawmakers to tackle, broadband and net neutrality would not even make the top 20.

Compare the advocacy efforts of other small business groups.

What’s on these organizations’ advocacy agendas? Taxes. Health care. Immigration. Retirement. Energy. Government contracting. Workers compensation.

Now THOSE are issues small business owners care about.  Reason: those issues impact your business bottom line.  They impact the health and safety of you and your employees.  Those are issues that matter.

Could some small businesses benefit from wider broadband access?  Sure, some could.  But broadband is simply not the kind of make-or-break-your-business issue that a wide number of small business owners worry about.

My advice to Google: quickly expand the list of initiatives you are advocating.  Give priority to those issues small business owners lie awake at night worrying about.  Then you can truly call this a small business network.  And you’ll be doing a great service for America’s 27 million small businesses — one that we will applaud you for.