Working with Wisconsin Businesses Online
Consider these stories of real, rural Wisconsin businesses and their internet use:
- A local retail store began in 1988 with a single truck, delivering to a regional outlet. They have since expanded their sales network to a variety of wholesalers throughout the Midwest. The internet has been essential to their expansion, and to what they do as a business.
- A rural custom manufacturing business reports that the internet has been very beneficial for marketing—as long as the owners can get a high speed internet connection.
- A “Main Street” craft store faces a dwindling customer base and has to close the store. The owner’s not ready to retire, but can’t invest in a new brick and mortar store. Developing an online presence means she can build a website, Facebook page and an Etsy storefront and continue sales of her product without the heavy overhead.
- A main street retail business sells outdoor recreational equipment. Their business was steady enough, but not growing. Using online marketing and local online networking, they were able to build sales off the online promotion of the area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to sell equipment for destination tourists.
Having even a basic business website today is the equivalent of being listed in the phone book years ago. Unfortunately, many Wisconsin businesses are lagging behind national trends when it comes to basic (and advanced) online presence, which means they are missing opportunities for customer acquisition, growing their bottom line, and net savings that can come with using online tools to run their business.
There are many reasons for this lag (beyond immediate access to internet), including trepidation about using online tools, lack of time, and even not having a full understanding of the advantages that an online presence for business can have in either boosting revenue or cost savings.
The team at the UW-Extension Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center has been working with businesses in rural Wisconsin since 2014 hosting training programs designed specifically for small- and mid-sized businesses that need to build or enhance their online presence. To-date we have worked with 144 students in the course of three pilots which served: Ashland, Bayfield, Vilas, Oneida, Wood, Clark, Vernon and Crawford counties.
As a Center, we work with communities around broadband-related issues and to us that means three things:
- Physical ACCESS to the internet (can you get internet you need where you are? Do you have a device to use it?);
- ADOPTION of the internet (are you using the internet you’re able to get?); and
- UTILIZATION of the internet (are you using your internet well enough so that it’s a good return on your investment?).
We work with small business utilization because we, and our funders and partners, know that developing small business internet skills is a critical 21st Century economic and community development component. Our trainings are sponsored by the Public Service Commission and run in partnership with local UW-Extension Community Educators and private partners including Solarus and Vernon Communications Cooperative.
The most recent training for small and mid-sized businesses was held in Vernon and Crawford counties in Wisconsin. Forty-nine attendees took classes to learn how to use online tools like websites, social media, or online marketing to build their business or support business’ bottom line.
These workshops were designed to help business get going on popular platforms including: Wix and WordPress websites, advertising on Facebook, and building a customer base through email marketing (MailChimp platform) within a relatively short period of time. This round of training also covered using LinkedIN, and Search Engine Optimization basics.
Working hands-on with attendees, our trainers walked participants through the process of selecting, setting up and using tools, through measurement and analytics to test whether the tool is working for their business.