The online economy is far from finished. Computers and Internet access have become ubiquitous in business and, despite the volatility of the industry and its respective stocks, technology continues to drive the economy and create a more level playing field for minority entrepreneurs.
Technology includes much more than the Internet. Computer hardware and software, cellular phones, pagers, networks, PDAs, and the like all play an important role in business development. The reason that the Internet has taken center stage above and beyond other emerging technologies is because of the myriad opportunities it affords entrepreneurs. Locating new suppliers and accessing new markets, getting quicker access to government and corporate contract opportunities, performing business-related research, streamlining data transfer, and offering clients additional communication methods are all simplified by Internet-based technologies.
The smart entrepreneur recognizes that information technology (IT) is a tool for addressing needs rather than an end in and of itself. It is a path, not a destination. Using information technology, we can learn to increase and manage knowledge so that the digital divide does not become an ever-increasing “knowledge divide.”
Successful entrepreneurship involves vision, creativity, and long-term planning. In the new economy, entrepreneurs must use information and technology to take relationships to a new level. Not only do they have to strategically integrate technology developments into their businesses, they must now focus on swiftly and effectively managing high volumes of information and globally connected employees, clients, and vendors.
E-business has little to do with being a dotcom and everything to do with utilizing information and technology to be more competitive, to enhance customer relationships and form strategic alliances, to improve communication, and to streamline business processes for efficiency (see sidebar “Defining e-Business,” this article). All businesses should strive to become e-businesses, whether they’re architectural firms, manufacturers, advertising agencies, farms, or home-based Web businesses. By identifying their businesses on this larger scale, African American business owners and managers can propel their companies beyond previous limitations such as lack of access to capital, inadequate communication methods, unskilled labor, and lack of information about contract opportunities.
Succeeding in e-business involves being committed to customer retention. Most of us realize that it costs more to get a new client than it costs to maintain a current client relationship. In virtual space, it is even easier to lose clients than it is in the traditional business arena. The ongoing Internet euphoria of the past 10 years has begun to wane for those entrepreneurs who realized—the hard way—that the limitless online opportunities available to them are also available to all of their international competitors, thus requiring a greater effort to maintain customer loyalty.
The Internet demands a much greater respect from entrepreneurs who initially planned to gain so much by investing so little. Managing an e-business involves smart marketing, superior customer service, and regular performance analysis. It requires having a clear understanding of your customers’ needs; protecting their interests; and investing your time, energy, and money into solidifying those relationships. A successful e-business manager realizes that growing the company’s Website beyond