Digital big tech drives small business success
So many investigations, complaints, concerns, and media stories focus on America’s largest online platforms and marketplaces. They revolutionized global commerce, but too often in Washington, the signal is lost in the noise. Big tech is getting all the attention while the quiet stories of small-town successes are drowned out.
That is why the House Small Business Committee hearing “A Fair Playing Field? Investigating Big Tech’s Impact on Small Business” is so important. Hopefully, this is the beginning of small business participation in the process and will encourage small business champions to speak up amidst the clamor — and isn’t just a hollow gesture.
Digital platforms, tools, and marketplaces help small businesses start, grow, and succeed. Digital advertising and online marketing help small companies find new customers — cost-efficiently. The digital cloud helps small businesses reduce paperwork, reduce their environmental footprint, and be more flexible in where and how they work. Digital marketplaces help small businesses sell more products in the next county, a neighboring state, and around the world.
It seems policymakers only talk about Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon, but there are many digital platforms that support small businesses. QuickBooks, Pinterest, Houzz, and Etsy, or less well-known tech platforms like John Deere, whose Precision Agriculture solutions work wonders for small farmers. All of these companies collect, aggregate, and analyze vast quantities of data — safely, securely, and inexpensively. They deliver the power of data science to small businesses that could not do this any other way.
It is indisputable that large digital platforms, services, and marketplaces provide small businesses with affordable, scalable, and secure business solutions. They have opened up new markets and allowed small businesses to compete globally and in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago.
What is not understood is that these solutions are affordable, scalable, and secure because of the platforms’ relative size.
Big is not always bad and in this instance, big is essential.
It is the size and scale of platforms and marketplaces that enable them to invest in new tools and provide the price flexibility that gives small businesses a pathway to viability, growth, and success. Small businesses stand on the shoulders of large companies to reach higher, faster.
The fierce competition between large digital companies to reach and serve small businesses also continues to drive down prices, spur innovation, and improve service. Some small businesses prefer to advertise with Facebook and Instagram; others think Google is a better ad partner, and still others focus on Amazon or Pinterest.
We refer to the suite of digital tools and services small businesses use as the Small Stack. Like the IT systems of much larger companies, a Small Stack needs to provide small businesses with scale, security, and flexibility at the right price. The market is meeting that demand and small businesses are benefiting. Any changes to this delicate ecosystem, let alone breaking up the largest companies, would result in fewer free or low-cost tools and services available. It will be small businesses that pay the price.
The challenge of every small business is unique, but their stories are universal. Unleashing the potential of American small business now requires access to affordable, secure, and scalable broadband and digital tools. It also requires policymakers to understand that the digital economy is interconnected and interdependent.
We cannot afford to lose the forest through the trees, focusing our attention on only the largest and more prominent companies and issues. The investment of global platforms has direct, tangible local benefits, and small businesses measure the value of access to digital tools in new employees and increased financial security.
Now is not the time, and this is not the forum for political opportunism or gamesmanship. The stakes are too high; the issue is too important and requires serious conversations with stakeholders large and small.
The partnership between big tech and small businesses is built on mutual benefit. Discussions about balancing that benefit are warranted and welcome. On the other hand, undue criticism, overheated rhetoric, and hearings for the sake of making news are detrimental to America’s small businesses, American consumers, and the American economy.
Jake Ward is President of the Connected Commerce Council (@ConnectedCoun), a small business membership organization representing the interests of digitally empowered small businesses. Follow him on Twitter @Jacobmward
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