PROTECTING SMALL BUSINESS, PROMOTING ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Small Business and “Big Tech” – A Personal Story

By at 3 March, 2021, 2:42 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

By day, I serve as chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council). By night, I live another life as a novelist.

One would not expect too much overlap between such positions, and that’s generally true. But given that I’m an economist with a small business group, and an author-publisher-entrepreneur, these two lives occasionally do intersect. That’s actually the case with various politicians in recent time being interested in imposing more severe antitrust regulation on assorted technology leaders, or as the pro-regulation forces call these businesses, “Big Tech.”

As an economist, I recently penned SBE Council analyses on the misguided assumptions upon which this pro-regulation impulse rests and the ill effects, including the disconnect between antitrust politics and sound economics; the fact that antitrust regulation effectively means that politicians are supplanting decisions made by consumers; the undermining of investment and innovation; and ignoring the benefits that companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google generate, including for small businesses.

See SBE Council pieces titled “The Treacherous Turn on Antitrust Regulation of U.S. Tech Companies,” The Tech Antitrust Sideshow vs. Small Business Realities, and Increased Antitrust Hype Overlooks Value of Tech for Small Businesses.

But beyond my work as an economist, I also can speak firsthand as to how these companies offer products that have been essential for me as an entrepreneur, that is, as the author and indie publisher of the Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries.

Big Platforms are Essential to Micro, Independent Businesses

For example, Amazon makes it easy to publish and distribute these books through its Kindle Direct Publishing service. It’s free and allows me to publish my novels as eBooks and paperbacks. The entire process is intuitive and user-friendly, including uploading the books, setting prices, and so on. And once available at Amazon.com, this author and indie publisher effectively has the same online “shelf space” as the genre’s most successful writers. And not only does Amazon handle the sales and delivery of my books ordered on Amazon.com, I am able to keep a minimal stock of paperbacks on hand in my home office for sales of signed books through my own website.

For good measure, an assortment of options are available via Amazon that creates increased sales opportunities. For example, recently I have found considerable value in the ability of readers to easily send the Kindle editions of my books to others as gifts via the “Buy for Others” button on the Kindle page at Amazon for each book.

The Power of Online Advertising

But as many failed small businesses can testify, it’s not enough to set up shop and wait for customers. One has to get the word out, that is, marketing, including advertising, is critical. In terms of my sales, the difference has been Facebook, and the ability to target or personalize advertising in a very affordable way.

Before I started using Facebook’s advertising tools, my sales were encouraging for someone who had written newspaper columns and policy papers, but never anything in terms of fiction. But once I started spending my minimal advertising dollars each month on Facebook’s targeted ads, I saw a clear jump in sales. Being able to target people with interests that lined up with my books made a huge difference. And as time passes, I have become better at creating ads and posts to boost, as well as at using Facebooks to target potential customers.

This experience, along with improved tools coming from Facebook, has resulted in further improvements in sales. Interestingly, while February is hardly a strong month for book sales, I actually had my best sales month just this past month.

Along with advertising, the Facebook page for my books, along with my personal Facebook page, serve as excellent means for staying in communication and engaged with current and potential book buyers. In this age of social media, personal communications with customers – in my case with readers – is central to any marketing effort. Plus, as a writer, Facebook has served as a great avenue for gaining feedback from readers.

And all of this needs to be compared to other marketing options. For a small business person like myself, with a limited ability to spend on marketing, not only are more traditional advertising avenues simply out of my price range, but they also are less effective due to the inability, or far less of an ability, to target potential customers with precision.

Finally, I have found that Facebook advertising dollars can be spent in more creative ways compared to other forms of online ads. For example, I have benefited from breaking an assortment of traditional marketing rules because I am working to reach book readers, who, I have found, are more willing to engage with advertising – such as boosting posts – that contain more content than traditional ads would allow.

(By the way, my experience was confirmed by SBE Council’s recent survey of small business online advertisers as highlighted in our report: “The Digital Boost to Small Business: Online Advertising Delivers BIG Benefits.”)

Competition and Opportunity are Alive and Well in the Tech Space

Having said all of this, both the daytime economist and the nighttime novelist can see many of the benefits that assorted tech market leaders offer, including to small businesses. After all, these companies became market leaders by serving customers well. And in the highly dynamic and ever-changing technology marketplace, they have to remain competitive and innovative, as they are competing against current market players, against those who are just arriving in the marketplace, and against those that will arrive in the future.

There are no monopolies in technology. As both an economist and a novelist, that market dynamism is exciting and points to greater opportunity – that is, as long as the heavy hand of government doesn’t impose limits and costs.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

 

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