Once upon a time, here is how things worked: Let’s use the example of Johnny Homeowner.
It was the 1980s. Johnny wanted to close in his garage for use as a game room, and he needed a drywall contractor to help. He couldn’t just pull up a site on the internet and search: drywall contractors near me. The internet didn’t exist.
The Phone Book
Instead, he reached for something called the Yellow Pages. It was part of a set of two books that the telephone company delivered to each of its customers. The Yellow Pages listed businesses and the White Pages listed residents. Johnny flipped through the D’s: data analysts, dental insurance companies, dentists, department stores, doctors… ah, here we are, drywall contractors. They’re listed alphabetically and, since the contractor is going to come to him, Johnny doesn’t really care what their physical address is.
But if he was looking for, say, a dentist, he would certainly note the addresses. You might wonder how he’d know which ones were close to him without the location-based search we use on the internet today. One way might be to look at the zip codes. However, before we all walked around with a GPS in our pockets, people had to know a lot more about the addresses in their city. Johnny would have been able to recognize many of the street names and would have been able to tell that way which dentists were located near him. If he had any doubts, he could have looked at a paper map.
Then Johnny would have called and started asking questions. Back to the example of a contractor, he would ask about quotes. The listings in the Yellow Pages were different from the listings in the White Pages; the Yellow Page listings were like ads, and some companies had large ads that listed services and deals. The White Pages simply listed last the names alphabetically by last name. Maybe the first few contractors Johnny would call would be ones advertising “Free consultation” or “Same day quotes.” He would have to ask more questions than we might need to do today because there was no website to examine first. For that reason, the people who answered the phones for businesses in the 1980s were often hired specifically for answering the phone.
Does that sound interesting to you, or does it make you happy that you live in the time of the world wide web? Now when you search for a dentist or a contractor, the search engines will usually return you the names of businesses that are closest to you geographically. Phone books still exist, but do you know anyone who uses them on a regular basis?
And this is why the internet is so important for small businesses. One might even go so far as to say that this is why the location of your business is so important. If you want to show up in location-based search results, it’s helpful if your company is located close to where your customers are. The larger your geographic customer-base, the less likely this is to matter, except in the case of image. If you’re a fashion boutique, for example, it might make more sense to be located in the heart of your town’s fashion district rather than on the outskirts of town. But if you’re a plumber and you want to service homes in a certain area, you might do well to locate your business in that area.
How does all of this translate to the modern business owner? Your online presence is as important as was your listing in the Yellow Pages all those years ago. Don’t treat it like it doesn’t really matter. Build it up so that you are where your customers are searching.