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The Digital Era Introduces a New Challenge That the Majority of Businesses Aren't Prepared For As an entrepreneur, you have to embrace the role of content publisher and creator in order to remain competitive in a rapidly changing era.

By Frank Wazeter

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Imagine doing business 25 years ago. For most businesses, the only people who would hear about you would be locals. If you wanted to even have a chance at being known anywhere outside of your area, your only option would be to buy enormously expensive radio, TV or newspaper ads. Even making a phone call to the neighboring zip code often led to long-distance charges.

Today, all businesses have such incredible access to people at such a cheap price that if you told someone in 1995 about it, they'd laugh you out of the room for being crazy. And the only thing you need to tap into this incredible power? A website, social media profiles and content.

"Publish or perish" has always been synonymous with professors, but now it applies to every business owner in all industries and market sizes. If you don't publish content, you simply can't reach people in a world where 70 million blog posts are made a month — and that's just websites.

Related: This Is What the Small Business Model of the Future Looks Like

With the power of unlimited reach comes an entirely new set of challenges

Before the digital age, there was one distinct advantage: As a local business, you could operate in your own bubble. There wasn't an expectation to produce a bunch of content, and competition was limited to a handful of people around you. Most of the time, as long as you had a listing in the local phone book, you'd at least get phone calls and have a shot at getting a customer.

Now it's not just your immediate competitors you have to worry about. You've also got to contend with the expectations set by all other industries. It happens because other unrelated businesses are forced to step up their digital content game in order to be competitive. Customers get used to certain conveniences, and research and buying decisions are made based on what all other industries do.

If I'm used to being able to look up information about topics and gaining easy access to critical information without ever talking to someone, that becomes how I judge the quality of any business by default. For example, let's say you run a restaurant but your menu isn't easy to find or access. My first impression is to be incredibly frustrated and wonder why you can't even afford to provide the most basic feature on your website.

Here's the deal: You aren't only judged by the expectations set by how your competitors do business. You're judged by the digital expectations and experiences that all other industries set as being "the normal way."

Ignoring that means the result is simple: You lose out on a huge chunk of your potential customers for causes you can't even properly identify because it's not immediately related to your actual product or service quality.

Related: World Has Evolved for Young Entrepreneurs Due To the Power of Internet: Kavin Bharti Mittal

Ignoring the importance of content leaves your business incredibly vulnerable

There are two major risk factors at play:

  1. Bigger tech-based companies (such as Grubhub and HomeAdvisor)
  2. New, direct competitors who prioritize digital communication.

In the first scenario, what happens is the tech-based company is basically a marketing and lead gen company with a different label. Often they'll "partner" with local businesses by offering a more convenient way to get customers on a result-based payment plan. Because these companies are solely dependent on their ability to deliver customers to companies, they have to take digital marketing incredibly seriously — potentially dedicating hundreds of staff members to content production and promotion.

When they enter a market, what happens is all of their promotional efforts totally displace your business. You lose exposure you would have potentially gotten before naturally. This then creates a dependency on this source of clients for your company and often ends up costing you up to 30% of your sales price.

If you weren't already prioritizing the digital experience and your own content, your chances of having the client just "use you directly" becomes increasingly difficult (And most of the time if the provider discovers you doing this, they just ban you from the platform, cutting off the source of customers.)

The other scenario is the new competitor, who must be digital-first in order to get established in the market because they don't have the advantage of an established reputation. Their only choice is to be incredibly proactive with content production and digital marketing. This is scary because most of the time you won't even notice they exist at all until they've already taken over the market.

This is exactly what happened when we helped a local roofing company adopt a digital-first approach to marketing. When they competed "traditionally" they had no chance of competing with established market leaders. But when they competed digitally, acted as content publishers and made online their top priority, they more than quadrupled in size (from $300k to $1.4 million) at the end of their first year. In year two they opened locations in three new markets.

What's more, this disruption was all caused by a new company that only had two employees and less than $30,000 in cash flow available. That's the incredibly terrifying power of internet- and content-based marketing approaches.

Related: How to Make Your Website Your Best Salesperson, and Not Your Worst Money Pit

Business owners must now have the skill of both publishers and operators

Our modern digital world introduces a new problem that businesses just aren't prepared for: You have to be a media publisher, planner and creator. Skills like writing, speaking and entertaining are suddenly incredibly critical must-haves. Those who hone those skills gain an undeniable advantage over those who don't.

Problem is, there's no formal business education or training that addresses this in a traditional sense. As a result, most entrepreneurs are simply unaware of how critical it is to their success.

It's convenient to think of this as something that "applies to other businesses" or as an "optional" way of growing a business because its impact is still under-emphasized by traditional thinking. But, waiting until it becomes conventional wisdom to take it seriously will only result in disaster.

The first step in solving the problem is knowing what the actual cause of the problem is. We're in a new age with massive disruption happening at every scale of how business is traditionally conducted. The most valuable skill you can develop to take advantage of the digital era is translating your expertise into value-driven content and learning how to maximize the internet's power.

World-changing paradigm shifts are never convenient. There's no shortcut. It's a skill set that takes a lot of time and practice to get good at and master, with all the normal frustrations of learning a new skill. You can always spot someone who doesn't take the time to learn the skill because they'll have already given up after not getting immediate results. They'll say some version of "Well, it might work for other businesses, but it doesn't work for mine."

If you're the person saying that, you need to radically shift your thinking because that group is living on borrowed time. Instead, take on the mindset of diligently learning the craft of publishing and content creation. It'll pay massive dividends in the future.

Related: 6 Essential Digital Marketing Trends for Small Businesses

Frank Wazeter

Columnist, Web Designer & Developer

Frank Wazeter is a web developer, digital designer and columnist. He's the founder of WazFactor, a digital design studio that creates world class websites & digital designs. His designs have innovated billion dollar industries, been cited by the US Chamber of Commerce & taught in college courses.

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