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There has never been a better time to be a small business. Courtesy of the Internet, new low-cost business infrastructures such as free web-based email and telephone services are allowing smaller firms to create products, compete in markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past.

Google has partnered with The Globe and Mail to help small business owners develop a web presence and use the Internet to get new customers. The Web Strategy page will bring together Google's knowledge of business online with The Globe and Mail's insight into strategy and economic issues.

The Internet has evolved to a point where it is suited to the entrepreneur. Tools available from Google and other companies can help Canadian small businesses participate in innovation and wealth creation within every sector of Canada's economy, and enter new markets worldwide.

Canada cannot have a strong economy without a healthy and vibrant small business sector. According to Statistics Canada¹, fully 98 percent of businesses in Canada are considered small and they employ close to half the country's private sector workforce.

There are many simple steps companies can take to grow their customer base. For almost all of these businesses, for example, it's good sense to use local online listing services to get started. Today customers are online and search for almost everything. Local listings give the company a higher profile in the community.

Building a Web site is an easy and affordable way to let potential customers know a business exists. If you are a small business and don't already have your own site, we will show you how to do this at little cost, and how to build pages that are easy and simple to navigate. Your Web site acts as a virtual storefront and can showcase the services or products you sell. But it can also do much more. You can use your site to give your customers practical information and build good will by producing original content specific to your products or industry. If you're a butcher, for example, you could use YouTube to embed a video on your site showing the keys for success in barbequing a steak.

The next step is to measure and track how your customers interact with your Web site. There are many tools available to do this. Google provides a free one called Analytics. It shows you where visitors to your site came from, which keywords they searched for, how long they stayed on your site and which pages they viewed. You can use these numbers to determine how you can improve your site and increase traffic.

In the spirit of today's more flexible Internet, make your site interactive. Ask your customers how you can help them learn more about you and what you offer. It often makes good marketing sense to let customers connect with one another and share their experiences with your product. In many cases this can be done at very little cost or for free.

Today's Internet can also help you run your small business more efficiently. Applications like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs can help slash your IT costs and enable employees to collaborate more effectively. As web-based applications, Google Apps require no additional hardware or software. Applications in the cloud can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer or digital device such as smart phones, so employees can be productive on the go. And Google's network is designed, from the ground up, with security in mind.

In the coming weeks we'll explore aspects of how the Internet can transform the ways you reach new customers and how you operate your business. If you have suggestions or questions, we would love to hear them. Click here to use Google Moderator to let us know what you'd like to learn about next.

By Brett Willms, Google Canada

¹ Industry Canada,; Key Small Business Statistics - July 2010

This is a non-paid placement.

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