Google, here’s how to help small US businesses: generate demand abroad

Google suggests developing ‘a collaborative initiative between the federal government, state governments’ and others to assist small businesses.

 Google suggests developing ‘a collaborative initiative between the federal government, state governments’ and others to assist small businesses. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

This week, Google commissioned a report that’s intended to help small businesses export more. It’s not helpful.

The researchers march out the obligatory small business (this time a bike company) that has succeeded selling overseas. Then the report shows data that tells us what we already know which is – surprise! – the overwhelmingly majority of small business owners aren’t exporting their products. We’re then reminded, in a company blogpost, that “if policymakers and the business community can help small companies overcome some of the challenges of exporting –like language barriers, customs issues and payment challenges – we could create nearly 900,000 additional jobs in the US”.

Awesome stuff. But not exactly groundbreaking. So, after spending all that money on researching a problem that everyone knows exists, what are Google’s recommendations? Prepare to be disappointed.

The tech giant suggests developing “a collaborative initiative between the federal government, state governments, the private sector and others to train and assist US small businesses in using technology for exporting”. Great idea. Hello, Congress? Can you put all that impeachment stuff on hold and get right on that?

The company also wants to “encourage innovators and technology providers to build new digital tools and broaden awareness of existing tools that address barriers facing small business exporters” as well as to “prioritize additional market-opening trade agreements that benefit small business exporters, including through high-standard rules in areas such as digital trade and the removal of non-tariff barriers that disproportionately affect small businesses”.

I mean, c’mon guys. Didn’t you go to Stanford and Yale? That’s the best you can do? This is the kind of thing I’d expect to hear from Gavin Belson at Hooli, not Google. Want a better idea for helping small businesses? Please, let this lowly Lehigh University grad chime in.

Accept that you’re taking the wrong approach.

Urging the government and tech sector to get more involved is a waste of time. If Google really wants to help small businesses export then Google – the company that monopolizes online advertising – should be focusing on doing something else more beneficial: generating overseas demand for US small businesses.

Would any business just leap into a market unknowingly? Would a small business owner – already faced with limited resources and knowledge about exporting – dive into overseas sales just because he or she “thinks” there may be opportunities? Of course not.

Sales are generated by demand. Smart business owners follow the money. Of course the small business owner who makes a special kind of duct tape wants to sell her duct tape in Chile. But how does she know that there is demand for her product in Chile? If she had at least had a foothold of customers in Chile, then she would be incentivized to sell more there.

So here’s a suggestion for you, Google: help small businesses generate demand outside of the US.

How? By offering those same small business owners incentives to target ads specifically in other, foreign markets. Very cheap ads. Perhaps free ads. Or maybe cash back for those Google Ads. Yes, you heard me: pay us.

If you want to grow your own business by helping small businesses export more – and that’s really why you had this report commissioned, right? – then don’t just commission a report that will be filed away with the other thousand useless reports people and brands are publishing every month. Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in those small businesses. Give us cash to advertise overseas. Not a tiny offer, either. A long-term, sustainable program where we can build overseas advertising campaigns. We don’t need marketing gimmicks. We need commitment.

If you help us generate the demand in other countries, then we will export our products to those customers. We will follow the money. That’s what we do. When that happens, trust me when I say that both the government and the tech sector will take notice.

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