Small Business Targets Technology Investment for 2011

By Reuters

(Reuters) - Charlie Raines has resolved to become more Web savvy in the New Year in order to haul in business overseas for his fledgling Florida-based seafood company.

"I realize that being on the Internet is definitely the way to go," said Raines, 49, who began his career as a fisherman in 1986. He later ran a seafood business in Thailand before reestablishing in Tampa last year as Fresh Stonecrab. "You have to follow the market wherever it is if you want to stay in business year-round."

Raines's ecommerce site will go live in early January, well ahead of March's Boston Seafood Show, where he hopes to make a splash with potential customers. It will allow sourcing of fish from markets such as Canada and China after Florida season slows in April. Raines eventually wants to host seafood auctions online.

Raise a glass to search engine optimization, Twitter, Facebook and the myriad other online tools that let small companies, like Fresh Stonecrab, compete with bigger fish. Commitments for Internet-related improvements, simple to complex, are emerging as the focus of many owners setting New Year's resolutions for the coming year.

"I've re-launched my website and I want to make sure that I'm updating it often so that I can really optimize - and also update my social media platform," said Felicia Frazier, owner of a small business that dresses up the interiors of residential homes so they are better positioned to sell in the competitive real estate market.

Frazier, 37, launched Staging by DWELL 15 months ago after her job in technical design was eliminated by retail chain Limited Too, whose stores were folded by parent company Tween Brands. She said she recognizes the importance of building a strong Web presence to create awareness for the emerging business, which is run out of her Columbus, Ohio home.

"It's been pretty slow but my business mirrors the real estate industry," said Frazier, who remains energized at the prospect of running her own show after years in the corporate world. "Now is the time to get myself together so that in 2011 I can really be focused and go full force."

Other small companies are taking up the technology mantle in the coming year, as they once again prepare to do more with less.

Take AUM Framing & Gallery, one of the oldest custom-framing shops in Denver, Colorado. The business, which built its reputation around customer service, transferred ownership last year. As luck would have it, the buyer was a former information technology consultant with a penchant for photography.

"It was very much an operation that had grown considerably, purely through its reputation," said 54-year-old Trevor Byrne, the new owner. "The previous owners didn't do any marketing and they weren't technologically savvy."

He's changing things fast. By early next year, Byrne plans to have two websites operational, one for the AUM's retail framing operation and another for its gallery, as well as a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition, he aims to introduce informational video about the business on YouTube.

"The thing is just really getting people to know about us," said Byrne, who is also committed to training longtime staffers, many of them artistic types, to start capturing email addresses and related information from existing customers.

"It's a different environment," said Byrne, who is working to reverse flagging sales. "Our objective is to grow out customer base and therefore our revenue in 2011."

Other companies, having already seen the power a strong online presence can have on sales, are vowing to take technology to the next level.

That's the case with Dannijo, a luxury fashion jewelry retailer founded in 2008 by sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder.

The Snyders already sell much of their jewelry and accessories online at Dannijo.com, a site that was revamped only weeks ago. Next year they want to boost their presence on emerging platforms such as Tumblr, the micro blogging site, as well as Svpply, which lets users create their own collections of favorite products and recommend them to friends.

"We're really focused on building out the tech side of the company," said Danielle Snyder, 25. 

This article was originally published on 2011-01-03