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.

  • First, there is the list of small business advocacy issues of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).
  • Or compare the advocacy issues of the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE).
  • Or, you could look at the advocacy priorities of the National Small Business Association (NSBA).
  • Or even look at the advocacy efforts of the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), a 17,000 member small business organization that I work with here in Ohio.

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.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

17 Reactions
  1. Interesting article Anita.

    Perhaps Google in the US read where in Australia the Government says it will build a high speed broadband network at the low cost of over $40 billion I think. The only problem is that many small businesses in regional areas will miss out and it is likely to cost higher for internet access.

    Perhaps there is an opportunity for Google to engage in talks with the small business groups you mentioned to ensure the initiatives are desired by small business and have the support of the groups. Or perhaps they already do.

  2. Wow. What an interesting article. This kind of article keeps me awake and read it from top to bottom. LOL.

    Anyway, Anita I agree with you. Since it is a so-called — Small Business Network, then Google should really double check on the issues they are giving their attention too. Perhaps, they should have made a quick survey on a group of small businesses, refer to other advocacy programs and see to it that they cater to most important issues that small business owners are taking care of. I hope Google would have time and will be able to read this so they also learn. 😉

  3. Franchise Information

    I agree, lets give google a round of applause for their generosity towards Small Business Owners, and this will be more constructive for them to propel all of us forward.

  4. As I read the article and thought about it — isn’t Google doing what just about every business does when it comes up with initiatives? They come at it from THEIR point of view and THEIR perspective instead of going out to their constituencies and asking.

    I’m not surprised that they chose broadband — it makes sense for them to push an issue that will expose more people to their product. Google is NOT in the tax business, they are not it the immigration business, they are in the business of getting as many eyes on their pages as they can get, so that we will buy more adwords.

    I understand that small business has issues and that perhaps broadband isn’t in the top 20, but I don’t know if I think it’s Google’s job to fix THOSE particular issues. It’s our job as small business owners to get involved with those agencies that you listed and work toward the things that matter most to us.

  5. OH wait – and did I say that this is an AMAZING article, Anita?

    This is the kind of article that keeps us in the loop about what’s going on. I had NO IDEA Google had created this space.

    Thank you for ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS pulling together interesting, newsworthy and informative articles that we can actually understand and that will help us put small business issues in perspective.

    Love how you make me think.

  6. I heartily agree that “the choice of issues so far are not ones that small business owners lie awake at night worrying about.”

    As a former Obama campaign staffer and still a fan I think the administration + Congress are missing the mark as well – so far – in legislative and regulatory actions.

    There are no major D.C-originated initiatives that address our top needs and opportunities as small business owners – either to help us thrive or to involve us in enabling the economy to grow again to help all Americans.

    My conclusion? It’s time for you Anita, to spark that initiative, taking, say 3 top actions that those in Washington could do to support small business, then call on google to add them to “our” site that google has launched.

  7. Anita Campbell

    Hi Ivana,

    You raise a good point. True, it may not be Google’s business to focus on small business tax issues.

    If Google is not going to be interested in taxes or healthcare access/costs for small businesses, then I would ask the question: why cloak this under the auspices of “small business”? Why assume that a 4-person business bringing in $750,000 a year in sales should care about broadband to the same degree as multi-billion-dollar Google does?

    In that case, perhaps it would be better to rename this the “Google Advocacy Network” and not try to position it as specifically helping small businesses.

    Just saying, you know. 🙂

    — Anita

  8. You are spot on, Anita!

    Google is one of the companies that is liberating small businesses right now, providing the applications and functions that level the playing field between small and big biz. I am frankly suprised at this mis-step given how strong Google’s offering is for small business.

    I have not run across a single small business who is looking at the stimulus with an eye towards a hand-out, especially for broadband. Many are still becoming educated on how to leverage the web as more than a place to post a static web page. Most small business owners I know automatically reach to protect their wallets when the word “stimulus” is discussed.

  9. Terrific conversation going here. I learn a lot from the people who contribute.

    I have to agree with you Anita. I don’t bolt upright from a dead sleep worrying about broadband… If I sleep at all, that is, in this economy. 🙂

    Google is one of my favorite companies and one that I appreciate. They seem to be dropping the ball lately on taking care of their small business customers (of which they have many). I’d like to see them do something more robust, but then again, I’ve yet to see them much in the way of community, in a savvy social networking sort of way. Besides enabling the technology, of course, by acquiring various companies that do it.

  10. Anita,
    I feel that the name “network” is a little misleading.

    Of course a different “name” would mean a different meaning.

    Google has some serious power.

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  11. Anita Campbell

    Hi Susan Barr,

    “Most small business owners I know automatically reach to protect their wallets when the word ‘stimulus’ is discussed.”

    So true. That’s another disconnect with this initiative.

    Small business owners tend to make a more direct connection between government spending and higher tax bills (because we have to write checks to the government for taxes 4 times a year, so we tend to be more aware of the connection than those who have money deducted from their paychecks and don’t actually write big checks).

    Therefore, asking a question like “how should stimulus money be used” rings alarm bells with many business owners. It is not a positive association.

    — Anita

  12. Agree. Who cares?

  13. It is understandable that Google is pushing the broadband issue. They want people to be able to search in quick way, without slowing down the net. They bet on that we will continue to increase our “consumption” on video content, e.g., movies, YouTube videos, etc. The thing is that it is not Google that should decide the development of this, let the market players come up with a solution. Here in Sweden we are “spoiled” by high speed access because the old phone monopoly had control over the phone lines and could continue to invest in the infrastructure. The good thing was that the competitors started to get into the game. I think that the mobile internet access usage will growth very much in the near future. The problem is to establish a universal mobile standard for the future.

    Kare Anderson: I appreciate your frank statement, more power to you!

    “There are no major D.C-originated initiatives that address our top needs and opportunities as small business owners – either to help us thrive or to involve us in enabling the economy to grow again to help all Americans.”

    Personally, I have found a new true champion for the small business owners. It is time to go back to the ideals of the Founding Fathers and go from there by applying sound ideas on the realm of business. For more information, please read my post, Voices for Reason, by clicking on “Martin Lindeskog” Says:

  14. Martin
    Great post!

  15. I totally agree. I was actually kinda shocked to see that the Google Small Business Network chose those two issues to advocate. Seems very self-serving to me. As a green advocate, however, I was hoping to see sustainability on the list; actually any list. NFIB is actually hostile to sustainability advocacy and NSBA has just now started to take baby steps toward addressing energy issues in their national advocacy. NASE doesn’t even mention it. I’d love to see a small business group focus on sustainability advocacy. I guess not this time.