Today we’re proud to announce the winners of the HostGator Small Business Scholarship. Of nearly 100 applicants from colleges across the nation, three winners were chosen to receive $1,500 in scholarship funds to help pay for their education expenses such as tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board.
We launched our scholarship program in May of last year. As a leading provider of web hosting and related services for small businesses, we wanted to provide a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs and tech professionals to share their ideas for advancing the future of small business development.
The following three students were selected by HostGator staff based on their essay response to the question, “What is the biggest tech challenge facing small businesses today, and what is your proposed solution?”
- Logan Miller, an undergraduate student at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, discussed the uphill battle many local businesses face when trying to compete with large national businesses in online search results. He suggested small businesses come together to develop a mobile app that would enable business owners to network with each other and make it easier for consumers to shop local.
- Chelsea Sumner, an undergraduate student at Wagner College’s Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing, recounted the steep online marketing learning curve she faced when founding her small business. Her solutions included rate-based advertising determined by business tenure and more educational programs for small business owners surrounding online search marketing and business negotiations.
- Raquel Solares, graduate student at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, also highlighted the disadvantages small businesses face when it comes to budgeting for Search Engine Optimization and paid Google advertising. She proposed a new section on the right-hand side of Google search results that would be dedicated exclusively to small business listings.
Read the winning submissions below. Congratulations to Logan, Chelsea, and Raquel!
HostGator Small Business Scholarship Winning Essays
What is the biggest tech challenge facing small businesses today, and what is your proposed solution?
School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
In this rapidly evolving world of tech and social media, small businesses find themselves out of place. No longer are traditional forms of advertising such as TV and radio ads effective. Even a well-designed, money-intensive website proves to be lackluster when it comes to attracting new customers, especially younger generations. In today’s economy, word is spread via social media. Whether that is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, the world sees trends through these outlets. Rather than focusing on promoting links on Google or ceaselessly renovating their webpages, small businesses should turn to private partnership networking apps.
The value of private partnerships can be seen in many places. For example, in Tucson, Arizona, several downtown businesses collaborated after the Great Recession to revitalize the downtown area. In promoting and networking with each other, businesses such as the Rialto Theatre and Club Congress brought in new customers and helped spur economic recovery in a hurting economy.
Now, the first step in promoting these private partnerships, wherein small, local businesses promote each other, is to display these partnerships and the services or goods these businesses offer in a clear and concise way. This can be done simply through an app! Imagine you’re traveling to a new city, and you want to find a local bookstore. You go into your phone, download said app, enter the locality you’re visiting and voila! A listing of local businesses in the region pops up. What’s even better is that the stores themselves offer up suggestions for other businesses customers might enjoy or need.
One possible downfall for this plan is the cost of developing the app. Many small businesses are already strapped for the cash and manpower needed for a project such as this. However, there is a rather simple and innovative solution. Who is spearheading new development in tech while writing the rules of social media? The youth.
In partnering with local schools, small businesses would be able to capitalize on the technological prowess of the youth. Many schools already have Career and Technical Education programs in place to provide students with real world job experience. Auto repair and biotechnology are taught in schools, and since the technological sector is one of the fastest growing, most profitable industries in the world it would make perfect sense to provide students hands-on, real world experience in that job market.
The development of this networking app will serve several purposes. It will provide local businesses for an easily-accessible display for their businesses, attracting customers through the conveniency of their phones. Secondly, it will provide local students hands-on, readily applicable job experience while possibly opening them up to internships or job opportunities with the businesses they are working with. Furthermore, the app’s creation will spur connectivity between local businesses, helping them to organize together to prevent large-scale, national chains from out-competing them. Finally, by partnering with local schools, local businesses will help spread their names throughout the community in which they reside. Word of mouth is still important today, especially in the age of social media. By integrating themselves with the students designing the app, their parents, and the teachers, the businesses will greatly expand their customer base.
Wagner College, Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing
A year ago, if someone were to ask me if I wanted to go to a room escape, my first question would be: What’s that? To which this person would respond something to the extent of: It’s a room where you and a group have sixty minutes to try and escape — At this point in the conversation, if you were to slice my brain in half you would probably only find words like escape and stuck and panic nestled within every sulci. I am sure that many would share these sentiments that I once had. Before doing my first room escape, the prospect of being locked in a room did not sound like an ideal Friday night.
Fast-forward to just a few months ago and I can be found painting blue and orange fluorescent paint on dozens of fake flowers to use as decoration for an awesome new escape room. When I was helping create the room, I had no idea how difficult and expensive online advertising would be. As a small business with a new brand and no followers, we had to take on the task that all new small businesses have to tackle: finding customers.
Although I am a nursing student, I never considered myself illiterate in the world of business –At least not until I became part of a team that started a small business. My great-grandfather emigrated to the United States from Armenia and started his own business. Watching my mother and her entire family be involved in a business made me feel prepared to take on my own. I quickly learned that starting a new business was a task I did not know anything about. In 2016 online advertising is a huge tech challenge that small businesses have to face because it is absolutely necessary for success. Virtually every industry relies on some sort of online advertising or online presence and many small businesses are quick to get their name out there in any way possible.
Naively, I presumed that online advertisement would simply consist of social media venues, a website for the business, coupon sites and business rating sites. I quickly learned that this was a huge tech challenge for our new business. Since every business is essentially different, there is no “how to” guide when it comes to online marketing. The first task was to create a website and learning about keywords. That is, trying to get your site to pop up when a Google user searches anything remotely related to your business.
The second task was much more daunting than we had ever expected. With one popular site, we signed a deal that would charge us two dollars every time someone clicked our advertisement. Unfortunately we did not read the fine print and the price said that it was “subject to change”, and of course we saw a steady increase before cancelling the deal. We were so excited, and somewhat desperate, to get started in online advertisement that we were not cautious. In this case, it was our fault for not reading the small print and it was a lesson well learned. In our next advertisement deal, we negotiated percentages with the site and actually ended up with a better deal. Through trial and error, we were able to work through this tech challenge.
A proposed solution to this tech challenge could be creating online advertising tools and deals specifically priced at the age of the business. For example, a business that has been opened only one month could be quoted differently than a business that has been open for two years. This gives new small businesses a chance to get on their feet before paying a fortune in advertising. A less costly and more reasonable solution would be to educate small business owners on how to negotiate in online advertising and how to use keywords so potential customers are able to find the business on search engines.
Arizona State University, Thunderbird School of Global Management
It seems as though local small businesses are being replaced by standardized chain businesses at a rapid rate. Even worse, finding an organic search on a search engine for small businesses can be difficult or next to impossible. This is worrisome for those small business owners looking to expand their clientele. Small businesses are important to our economy and they need to be a priority when considering new methods of advertising, especially with the current US consumers’ reliance on technology.
Small businesses have shown to be important for driving economic growth. According to The Washington Post, during the US economic downfall of 2009, entrepreneurship decreased, however, it has yet to recover to post 2009 rates. Even more alarming is, since 2008, more businesses are exiting than entering business. Studies have shown that young businesses are important for creating net new jobs in the US. This job creation feeds the economy through job recipients becoming consumers, returning money to businesses and continuing the economic cycle.
Due to paid advertisements, larger businesses can afford to promote their businesses more effectively. Larger business can afford to pay for more time for SEO experts to work on their sites and make sure organic searches remain at the top level. All the while, small business owners may have to compete with less desirable search terms when receiving work done by SEO experts, due to pricing and inability to penetrate typical searches effectively.
While working at a hosting company, I frequently experienced customers wanting a higher ranking on Google. After discussing their type of business, the investment in SEO, the cost, and the lengthy amount of time it would take to increase the ranking, the small business owners usually felt discouraged. For some business owners, it is financially impossible to compete on the online platform with the big players in their industry. (Due to differences in industry, some businesses must pay substantially more because of higher competition)
Redesigning a search platform (preferably Google) to include small businesses as a priority ranking will help the economy grow. It will give local small businesses a new platform to compete on rather than fighting a losing battle against chain businesses. Currently after a search is done in Google, the right side of the browser screen is completely blank which leaves plenty of space for a local small business section. With growing reliance on organic searches, small business owners need a platform where they have the ability to compete appropriately.
We’ll be announcing our next scholarship in early 2017. Subscribe to our blog to be the first to know!
Amelia Willson is a freelance writer and content strategist who helps businesses succeed online. She covers the latest in ecommerce, marketing technology, and health and wellness. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her walking her dog Rockefeller in sunny southern California or blogging about Disneyland. Connect with her on LinkedIn.