small business BIG solutions
How low-cost online tools can
help small businesses succeed
By David Chalk
THERE IS A WORLD of inexpensive, and
often free, online services that can do wonders for your small business. Here are some
examples of how these tools have helped three
businesses to thrive.
Costco member George Moen is a huge
advocate of social media marketing for his
Vancouver, British Columbia–based franchise, Blenz Coffee (
Blenz Coffee president has about 30,000
Twitter followers at his @georgemoen and
@blenzcoffee sites and is active on Facebook,
foursquare, You Tube, Flickr and MySpace.
One key tool, though, is his own .tel website
(http://georgemoen.tel). It serves as an online
business card for his 100 outlets in Canada,
Japan, China and the United Arab Emirates.
These .tel sites aren’t widely known but are
super for small businesses. They allow users to
store and organize all their current contact
information online—including email address,
website, Google maps and more. The bonus is
that the more information you include about
yourself, the more details search engines will
pick up, driving traffic to you.
Unlike a traditional domain name, the
purpose of a .tel site is to help manage and
exchange contact information for individuals
and businesses. When you give your .tel
address to contacts, they simply add it to their
smartphone or address book and all the information goes with it. If you add more information, it’s automatically updated. What’s more,
once you give people your .tel address, you
can stay connected for life.
For small businesses, a .tel site allows you
to have an online presence without the cost
and complexity of building your own website
(although Moen has one of those too). It has
also helped Moen market his brand on the
Internet and communicate to customers and
potential franchisees without needing to
make a big advertising spend.
Velocity Five Restaurants
Former National Football League coach
Jim Speros grew up in a family restaurant business, so it was no surprise to see him trade in
his football cleats to establish Velocity Five
www.velocityfiverestaurant.com), an upscale
sports restaurant chain in Virginia.
To communicate special promotions and
customer events, the Costco member has set
up Facebook pages for each of his four locations and allows staff at each restaurant to
manage and update content.
Speros has also implemented a point-of-sale (POS) system called Restaurant Manager
that lets him do everything from identifying
customer sales trends to producing weekly
profit and loss statements, all from his laptop.
The software has improved his ability to track
; .tel is international and is managed by the
Canadian domain registrar who created .ca.
To register, visit
; Restaurant Manager’s point-of-sale software can be viewed at
Cost depends on the features used.
; Skype (
www.skype.com) offers video conferencing, which is a popular (and cheaper)
alternative to traditional phone calls.
; Costco offers a variety of business services, including web-hosting and online payroll
processing. Go to Costco.com and click on
“Services” to learn more.
food costs, determine high-value items, monitor employee shifts and cut down on accounting and inventory expenses. Speros believes
the reporting capabilities from an always
accessible POS system were well worth his
Thanks to the cost savings and a growing
fan base of more than 3,000 people on
Facebook, Velocity Five is turning sizable
profits. Speros is now in discussion with major
hotel chains to expand his franchise model.
Lewis Ltd. (
www.lewislimited.com) provides interactive online learning and training
courses. Major clients include the U.S. military, for which Lewis gives online courses in
cultural awareness to servicemen and women.
Although based in Maryland, company
president Geoff Lewis has invested in computer technology so that his employees are
able to telework from anywhere. That move
allowed him to shut down his main office and
become a totally virtual company.
Taking things a step further, Lewis uses
Internet and Skype video calls to conduct
business meetings. These online moves have
allowed Lewis to save significantly on rent
and staff travel and to transfer savings into
more competitive rates for customers.
These business visionaries provide just a
few examples of the many ways you can use
today’s online tools to differentiate your business, improve efficiency and put yourself
ahead of the competition. C
AUGUST 2012 ;e Costco Connection 25
David Chalk is an entrepreneur and technology expert. He’s on Twitter (@askdavidchalk).