Google seminars help KC small businesses set up websites


From Kansas City Star
By Scott Canon

Google wants your business to go online.

Whether your mom-and-pop caters to Millennials or to Mom and Pop, the search engine company argues that you're either on the Web or you're out of it.

So today and Thursday the company is running seminars in Kansas City and giving away free websites - hosted by Intuit Inc. for a year at no cost - to the more than 1,000 mostly very small businesses expected to attend its welcome-to-the-Internet clinic.

The company says that 97 percent of Americans look online for the services and stuff they buy. Yet a Google/Ipsos survey found nearly two in three U.S. businesses have no home on the Internet.

"They're digitally invisible," said Scott Levitan, Google's director of small-business engagement. "They won't show up on the map, and they will have no chance of getting that call."

He says Google's research shows that small companies don't bother with setting up websites because they think it's too hard, too costly and too time-consuming.

So Google is attacking that perception by telling businesses they probably can have decent-looking, if minimalist (three pages), websites up and running after an hour at the clinic. After the free year is over, keeping the websites alive will cost about $7 a month.

Google has similar events scheduled in September in Iowa. It already put on sessions in Vermont and Texas this summer, drawing mostly outfits with fewer than 10 employees. Those entrepreneurs, Levitan said, were generally surprised at the ease of planting their flags on the Internet.

The company has a special interest in moving this market's businesses onto the Web because it has promised to string fiber-optic lines to virtually every home and business in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., and deliver Internet speeds 10 to 100 times faster than are available to most Americans. Details about the project remain sketchy, but Google has said it will fire up the service for some customers in early 2012.

That super-fast Internet and this week's "Kansas City Get Your Business Online" seminars feed into Google's motivation to move more commerce to the Internet. After all, that's where it makes its billions.

"Ultimately, Google wants your experience with the Internet to be with one of their offerings," said Josh Olson, a technology sector analyst at Edward Jones & Co. "The more they're able to control that, the more they're able to enhance the relevance of their ad model."

Google insists it's not using the sessions to promote its online business products--the Google Apps line of Internet-based programs that range from email to word processing to electronic spreadsheets. Rather, Levitan said Google benefits from more businesses online driving more consumers online. That in turn provides more chances to expose people to Google's ads. The more businesses listed on Google Places, for instance, the more likely consumers will use the device.

Still, the sessions will include how-to programs on Google's AdWords program that produces advertising based on the words used in an Internet search. And small businesses might be especially attracted to so-called cloud services offered by Google. They allow the smallest of businesses--those with fewer than 10 employees--to get computer programs for free and larger firms to essentially rent rather than buy software applications.

"It's like outsourcing anything. You're looking to gain efficiency," said Victor Frost, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Kansas.

Such cloud applications could prove particularly useful for small businesses that can't afford information technology staff, he said, but they might also make it more difficult to shift that strategy when a company grows.

For small businesses such as Dumit Rug Cleaners in Kansas City's Waldo area, a free website could be just the thing.

Todd Dumit and Paula Tarwater run the business with their father, Dave Dumit. Dave Dumit's father, Henry Dumit, started the business in 1929. Of course, in the beginning there was no Internet. But in recent years Tarwater has felt negligent for not using a website to promote the company's specialty of cleaning area rugs.

"It was kind of intimidating," she said.

But after a Google representative visited her shop and signed her up to attend today's seminar, Tarwater said, "I'm kind of excited."

That, said Intuit product manager Megan Bhattacharyya, offers a chance to introduce small businesses to her company's online products.

"People think getting online is this really, really scary process," she said. "It doesn't have to be."

Getting online has been critical for Janay Andrews, who makes wedding dresses from sustainable materials such as organic cotton and silk hemp. Andrews now sells dresses to people around the world. She's the subject of a Google video about the powers of a website for small businesses.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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