Maine entrepreneurs take a lesson from Google
PORTLAND — C.H. Becksvoort, a maker of fine furniture in New Gloucester, is on the Web, but not enough potential customers are finding their way to the site.
So Peg Becksvoort spent Friday morning with some experts in search engine optimization and website development — and she went right to the top, learning from tech gurus from Google and Intuit.
A free Friday session in Portland was geared at getting Maine small businesses online, sponsored by Google and arranged by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who had visited the tech giant’s headquarters last year.
Becksvoort said she picked up a variety of tips on how to make her husband’s business more accessible to folks who may want to buy his finely crafted furniture, including more keywords in website and blog links, for example.
“He’s got content,” she said, “but he needs to make it more … out there.”
Snowe was on-hand Friday for the workshops, talking with owners of small businesses. According to Scott Levitan, director of marketing at Google, 59 percent of Maine businesses don’t have any website. That’s close to the national average, he said, with 53 percent of businesses in the nation without a website. And, according to Google, 97 percent of consumers look online for local products and services. Asked about businesses that may have Facebook pages but no website, he said that 1 in 4 businesses in the country are “completely invisible” on the Web — no presence at all.
On Friday, tech experts from Google and Intuit led Maine entrepreneurs through Intuit’s site-building website, explaining the various templates and the sort of information to include to ensure higher search engine ratings. They talked about the importance of social media — such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more — and explained how to connect their new sites with their social media accounts. About 50 people were in a morning class, with another 50 signed up for an afternoon session.
“I know it is going to make a profound difference in your own business, and in the state and country,” said Snowe. “You are the job generators.”
Snowe said that Maine is a small business state, with more than 99 percent of the state’s businesses falling under the federal definition of a “small business.” Many people carve out a niche in the state with their own enterprise, finding a way to make a living here. Having a website helps that business grow, she said, and opens up new markets.
“It expands their horizons exponentially. People from all around the world will see their websites,” she said. “It’s where you have to be today, frankly.”
The Internet has erased old geographic boundaries, Levitan said.
“You don’t have to be in the biggest cities in the world to be in the center of the world anymore,” he said.
But, said Snowe, many owners of small businesses are too busy to embrace a new technology and really learn how to get online. That’s why the offering from Google and Intuit was so valuable, she said — it lowered the barrier to getting on the Web.
Milton Webber, owner of The House Next Door, a bed and breakfast in Pittsfield, told Snowe he hoped to not only grow his business with a website, but also bring more traffic to the town.
“The whole conference with Google was a tremendous opportunity for me, and everyone else,” he said.
Webber said he hoped to also draw more attention to Pittsfield and its offerings, such as the Bossov Ballet Theatre.
“This is why I want to plug in; I can see all this being international,” he said.
Levitan said the business owners participating get a free website and hosting for a year. After a year, the cost through Intuit for the domain and hosting is $6 a month, he said. He also said on Friday a new Web-based service for small businesses was launched — www.getmaineonline.com — which helps entrepreneurs build websites.