business owner inside coffee shop
Last October, Yahoo Small Business launched a program to make it easier for businesses to get online, features of which it began offering for free in light of COVID-19. — Getty Images/kate_sept2004

Yahoo Small Business advisers have been trying to convince local stores and small business owners for the past 20 years that they need websites and an online presence. Before March, many of those business owners still weren’t convinced.

“They would say they’re not tech savvy enough to do it. Or they don’t want one more thing to deal with,” Maria Melo, a senior account manager with Yahoo Small Business who has worked with stores and small businesses for 22 years, told CO—.

The pandemic changed that overnight.

“A lot of them are realizing, ‘This may go on a long time, and I need to figure this out,’” Melo said.

Last October, five months before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency, Yahoo Small Business launched a program to bolster its small business offerings and make it easier to start a small business and for existing businesses to get online.

The program, called Business Maker, is part of an ongoing effort to reposition Yahoo Small Business that began when parent company Yahoo was acquired by Verizon in 2017.

They feel so overwhelmed, and they shouldn’t because it doesn’t mean you have to go out and build this 1,000-page website right away.

Maria Melo, senior account manager, Yahoo Small Business

Targeting the small business market

The Verizon acquisition helps both companies strengthen ties to small business customers at a time when tech giants like Google, with Google My Business, and Facebook, which launched Facebook Shops in May, are wooing the small business market.

The Business Maker program pulled together Yahoo’s existing small business tools and added new ones, to create what Yahoo describes as a “one-stop-shop” for small business. The platform combines domain name registration, email, and website hosting with a point-of-sale mobile app with inventory management features, legal and business plan advice. It also includes Yahoo’s Localworks tool, which monitors and updates businesses’ directory listings on more than 70 sites and search engines, such as Google, Yelp and Facebook.

In April, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Yahoo Small Business began offering some of those services for free to small businesses. The “Get Online” package provides a free initial consultation with an adviser, 12 months of free domain registration and website hosting, plus five business emails and a Localworks listings scan, to businesses that sign up for the offer by June 30.

After the free period expires, the cost for the website and domain hosting and five emails is approximately $120 annually, a Yahoo Small Business spokesperson said.

Other website hosting and tech firms also are offering free online tools for small businesses.

Google updated its online listings service to allow businesses to sell gift cards or accept donations and to book appointments. Website host company GoDaddy launched an initiative called #OpenWeStand, which offers entrepreneurs resources and solutions for adapting to COVID-19.

Small businesses without a pre-existing e-commerce presence were twice as likely to have to temporarily shut down during the pandemic compared to those who were already selling goods or services online, according to a survey sponsored by the Connected Commerce Council, in partnership with Google.

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Updated business directories a crucial need

The Localworks business listings service has become more crucial for business owners since the pandemic, Melo said.

“There are so many directories out there, that for a small business to have to update all of them at one time becomes overwhelming.” Business owners often are surprised, she said, when they run a Localworks directory scan and discover inaccurate information.

“Sometimes the address is wrong. The pictures are incorrect or the business hours are incorrect. It was important to know that prior to Covid, but it is even more important now when your hours are changing fairly often,” Melo said.

With Localworks, businesses can automatically update their information on all of the directories at once, and include news about COVID-19 safety precautions.

“You can tell people, ‘If you’re coming to our store, here’s how we’re going to engage with you, here’s what we’re doing as far as our cleaning practices,” she said.

 maria melo headshot
Maria Melo, senior account manager, Yahoo Small Business. — Yahoo

‘Looking for website solutions’

Brandon McCown, owner of Beach Side Home Solutions, a six-month-old beach rental home maintenance and repair business in Jacksonville, N.C., took advantage of Yahoo’s offer to create a website for his company.

“I was looking for some website solutions and I stumbled across Yahoo,” McCown told CO—. “I was researching a whole bunch of providers,” he said, but decided the Yahoo website builder was easier to use, with more features to create a customized, attractive website.

“It was so simple to make everything look how it should,” he said.

When the pandemic began “I had a lot of down time, and that’s when I made the website,” McCown said. By May, demand had returned to normal and he was busy.

Daniel Reyes, owner of Kenmore Kleaning Service in Chicago, also used the Yahoo offer to create a website for the first time. Previously the business has relied on word of mouth to draw customers.

The website lets customers book appointment times, and he’s tracked an increase in business since it launched in April.

“We’ve been picking up more orders than normal,” thanks to the website, Reyes told CO—.

Melo has spent many hours over the last 22 years guiding mom and pop business owners as they created websites and began connecting with their customers online.

“They feel so overwhelmed, and they shouldn’t because it doesn’t mean you have to go out and build this 1,000-page website right away,” she said.

Her advice to overwhelmed owners is, “let’s figure this out, let’s start slow and at least get you online.” And for those nervous about making that leap, Melo reminds them that she, and Yahoo Small Business, have been doing this for 20-plus years. “Helping someone get online isn’t new to us,” she said.

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Published June 15, 2020