So, I'm on a plane.
I may or may not be drinking French wine from a miniature bottle that could really be bigger for seven dollars, but I mean, who's really measuring?
I figure that between having never tried cigarettes, and having stuck up for the nerdy girl that one time in the 5th grade, I've earned it. I deserve this bottle of wine in all its little man syndrome glory. (I also propose that I deserve indulgent back rubs every day at noon sharp, just in case that law of attraction stuff is legit, after all.)
There's a toddler about 7 inches from my face. She's a cherub-cheeked, pig-tail laden future French mistress, cooing all sorts of French toddler babble as she looks at me, peering over the top of the seat in front of me with this wide-eyed stare, waiting for me to respond with some cooey French babble of my own.
Sorry, princess. I conquered the language of your arch enemy, the Spanish. They aren't really arch enemies at all, but who doesn't like a little extra drama for effect?
It kind of pisses me off that a toddler can speak better French than me. Don't punch the baby, Ashley. Do not punch the baby. That would likely require me to forfeit the rest of my wine, because you know that baby would punch back. It's French, for gods sake.
If you haven't figured it out by the way I've used the word “French” five annoyingly separate times over the course of three paragraphs, I'm on my way to France. As in, the place with that big stupid tower. As in, the place where the women wear lingerie while washing dishes and housecleaning on a Sunday. As in, the place where I'm going to look like a fool because every single two-year old in the entire country has better pronunciation than me.
By the way, I was just kidding about the Eiffel Tower. I haven't even had the pleasure of loudly gobbling down plates of cheese* underneath its presence yet – what do I know?
*On the official itinerary
My friend Kyle and I left Chile Monday night, and made our way to New York City by morning, at which point we spent the day pounding away at our MacBooks until boarding this flight this evening.
But before we left Chile, I had to make a quick stop at an internet cafe to print something. You'd think that as a digital entrepreneur I'd have things like, you know, printers, but they're entirely overrated. Especially when you try to fit that shit into your luggage. The only thing weirder is to have someone's ashes in your luggage. Seriously, don't try it. I speak from experience.
*chomps bite of Mounds bar and takes sip of wine while nonchalantly pretending she didn't just bring up dead people. again.*
We saunter into an internet cafe across the street from my apartment in Santiago – one that I had always passed, but never had entered.
I'm all excited to print my fancy fucking document, when all of the sudden, after the jingle from the door bells dies down, I am struck by the overwhelming scent of…cat urine.
There is a green and stained white tiled floor, paint peeling off yellow walls, and 1970's style computer stations that entirely block anyone from seeing your screen – a haven for perverts and internet porn stars to review their work.
There was even a Hello Kitty sticker plastered on the side of one.
I mean, this was a classy place. I was actually a little worried my document, once printed, was going to catch a disease.
So what's the point of me telling you all of this, besides the fact that I get to talk smack about the French who I haven't met yet, and rag on unsanitary businesses near my house?
The point is that it got me thinking.
Thinking about business. And never having sex again on public surfaces. But mostly business.
I moseyed down the street, pondering one question:
If I were to open a new local internet cafe, how would I drive business?
(It's sick how much this stuff consumes my mind – constantly assessing every business I enter, wondering how I could make it better. Kind of like a game, except I don't win anything.)
Typically, small business owners with a physical presence tend to rely on either traditional forms of marketing (yellow pages, flyers, maybe direct mailers, if they've got the budget), and some even kick it up a notch to radio ads, TV ads, sponsorships, trade shows–working on that local reach.
Or, they set up shop and maintain a “if you build it they will come” mentality, only to want to repeatedly stab themselves in the pancreas when they realize that they built it and…gee whiz...no one has come.
Maybe you're thinking that I'm about to say that I would prescribe the internet to cure their woes – Groupon! Blogs! Twitter! Conversation! SEO! Facebook ads! Oooohhhhh yeah, baby!
But that's not what I was going to say at all, you wanker, so ha.
Because here's the thing:
The internet isn't used most effectively as a tool you can use to drive your business. The internet is used most effectively as a tool that OTHERS can use to drive your business.
And here we cue: *obnoxiously loud gong sound* Word of mouth marrrrkkkeeettinnnggggggg.
If I were a local business owner with a physical presence, I'd do one simple thing to get started: I'd go hell or high water to make people talk about me.
When you do something to make people talk about you, that's where the internet derives its real power; in the past, people could talk about you to their neighbors, their friends, their families, and their French mistress, but the range was highly limited. So word of mouth marketing wasn't nearly as powerful. Now, however, one person has the ability to tell the whole. entire. world.
You're probably thinking, “Yeah, but, what does it matter if one person tells the whole entire world, when my business isn't located across the whole entire world…it's located in Santiago, Chile, dammit, and I need people from Santiago, Chile! Ayyyy, matey!”
Because a few things happen when people across the world talk about you online:
- Your ass instantly looks better in a pair of jeans. Fact.
- Your Google rankings go up. That means that anytime anyone Googles “internet cafe, Santiago, Chile, the more people you have talking about you online, the higher you'll rank for the search term. And since everyone Googles things these days (seriously, the Yellow Pages are a thing of the past), your ranking could mean the difference between a $20,000 year and a $100,000 year.
- You will become “the favorite.” Let's say you perform a search for family doctors in Santiago, Chile. Two results pop up. One guy who is listed with an address an telephone number, but no other information, and another guy who is listed, and has 10 articles on the front page of people talking about him. Which one are you going to pick?
And the kicker?
These are all benefits that small business owners receive without even having set up their own web presence. Instead, they're leveraging the web presences of others. But in order to do that, they've got to do something that makes others want to talk about them.
This is only common sense, right? If you're average, you'll get an average reaction. If you're above average–in any sense of the world–you'll get an above average reaction.
So then why do most small business owners–especially those with a physical presence–play follow the leader, and copy others in their industry to a T?
Mostly this happens because the logic goes something like this: Well, if they're doing it this way, and it's always been done this way, then this must be the way its done.
They don't want to hedge their bets that by going in a different direction, they'll succeed. Rather than take a risk and potentially achieve huge success (or potentially fail), they'd rather play it safe and have confidence that they'll achieve mediocre success.
As a result, this is why the one business that does even just one thing that's above and beyond, gets talked about. And this is why their business is flourishing, because being talked about is a powerful form of social proof–and we humans just love it when we can go or do something that's all the rage.
That's why we don't like going to restaurants that are empty.
And that's why we fly to Paris–ahem–instead of Budapest.
So, if I were opening a new local internet cafe? I'd be busting out my creativity left and right, looking for ways to encourage word of mouth. For example, here's some ways I'd personally get started:
- Offering free coffee….and free wine. How much would you love that? My girlfriends and I once went to a Chinese restaurant in NYC that offers absolutely free red wine – and not only did we go back time and time again, but we couldn't stop talking about it.
- Incorporate elements of a cafe – offer small, snackey things, like soft pretzels, or hummus and pitas, or pizza.
- I'd ensure that the internet was the fastest in town
- I'd have two sections – one that's a quiet section, and another that's a regular section where people can work together and talk
- I'd offer complementary black and white printing
- I'd have an area with two Nintendo Wii's set up, so folks that are logging long days can take a break and do something fun, which would also encourage interaction with other patrons and a community feel. I might even go for some pool tables.
- I'd offer complementary service to anyone who came in with a funny hat on. I might even have a collection of funny hats hanging from the ceiling.
- I would even consider niching my internet cafe out – for example, it's the internet cafe for surfers. Or the internet cafe for 20's something chicks. And then decorate accordingly – and market accordingly.
In general, I really like applying the “You know what would be cool?” test to new businesses. Anytime you think of an idea that makes you say, “You know what would be cool?” you should absolutely give it a go. Because chances are that other people would think so, too. And chances are, other people would talk about it, too.
What types of things would you do if you ran an internet cafe? How can these concepts be applied to other local businesses? And even more so, how can these concepts be applied to your online business? Oooo la la.
I promise never to call you a wanker ever again. Unless I end up having a British lover at some point, in which case, all bets are off.
And now, back to my wine.
Big thanks to Tablet Hotels, hand-picked boutique and luxury hotels from around the world, for sponsoring our stay in Paris!