Bridge The Gap

From online to off, and the other way around. Why both worlds still matter.

More than 40% of small businesses in the U.S have no online presence whatsoever. This stat baffles me. Do they think consumers still pick up the yellow pages when we need to find a service or product? But the opposite happens often too. I know plenty of web based companies that believe there’s no such thing as the physical world. To me it’s a matter of building better bridges.

Let them eat URLs

If you are handing someone a printed surface of any kind and there’s no website address attached to it, what are you thinking? Your coffee shop napkins could be pointing me towards your new loyalty program. Your incredible book abut business secret shad better be pointing me toward websites at every turn. Put URLs on everything you offer, and use them as a way to engage your customers or potential customers, such as sign-ups for email newsletters or other offers to extend their experience.

The art of the physical world

We’re going through a redesign at Human Business Works. My creative director, Josh Fisher, and I are talking about business cards, note cards and something you might not have thought about; paper renditions of our presentations. I don’t mean we are going to run over to the laser jet and print off a few PowerPoint decks. I mean we are going to design visual accessories in a nice portfolio case with a piece of heavy string and a button to wrap it around that will portray our presentation in a very physical way.  We’ll print a few hundred of this at a time and hand them out at select events as solid product, suitable at hanging at one’s cubicle.

Why? Because web based entrepreneurs have to remember that the physical world exists, and that there are times when we have to bridge out to that world. So yes, make printed materials. Consider opening a physical pop-up store for a month or two, adding more than screens to promote your interest. In October 2010, Blurb, a print on demand book publisher headquartered in San Francisco, built a pop-up store in Manhattan’s Soho district. They used the space to demonstrate that their products weren’t scrapbooks or flimsy crafts, but actual self-published books. Even smarter, they held workshops for getting the process started. Taking an online experience and bringing it offline is very important to the cause.

Bridges matter

Whether you’re an offline business that thinks figuring out the online world is tricky or you’re an online business that thinks all your customers are just a tweet and a Facebook ad away from buying, you’ve some bridges to create. The benefit of figuring out how to move people back and forth across those bridges is more business from untapped areas. The risk? The only one I see is in not considering a strategy for bridging both worlds. With a healthy movement between online and off, your business can find people where they are, not just where you’re most comfortable.

By Chris Brogan
(CEO of Human Business Works, A company that provides business systemsfor small businesses)