In just one example of this, Stone World has made a focused effort on updating its Web site - www.stoneworld.com - with timely content that complements the material covered in the printed magazine. “Web-only” features range from product reviews - offering an early glimpse of stone products unveiled at trade shows around the world - to the latest breaking news and developments in our industry.
Moreover, our Stone World Fabricator E-News specifically targets stone fabricators and offers technical advice, fabricator case studies, project spotlights and industry happenings - among other content.
Of course, the Stone World Web site and the E-Newsletter are just two examples of how stone industry members can obtain specific targeted information electronically. There are countless other examples of stone industry information and data that can be obtained using your computer. But to thrive in this environment, it is critical to strategically manage how and when you receive information.
1. Go online for training and certification
Online training has come of age and keeps getting better. Early attempts at Webcasts and Webinars were clunky, strained affairs. Fuzzy images and lost connections were the norm. Today, high-speed connections, in-house projection, enhanced software, improved two-way communication and experienced providers make Web-based training an engaging experience.
Got a question? Most Webinars allow you to submit questions and answer them during a Q&A period.
Want a video clip or additional information on the Webinar? Providers often include video links, which can be entertaining, and related Web sites so you can dig deeper.
Need proof of participation to qualify for CEUs? You might need to take a short quiz, but many Webinars provide a link allowing you to print a course completion certificate. Specific to the stone industry, architects can receive continuing education certification at www.aecdaily.com/sponsor/veronafiere. This stone-specific course for architects was developed by VeronaFiere, organizer of the Marmomacc trade fair in Verona, Italy, and Stone World served as a consultant during its development.
Takeaway: Challenge your staff to use Webcasts instead of costly travel, and you’ll improve training.
2. Use online community to obtain real-time, real-life answers
Perhaps you’ve avoided places like You Tube, bulletin boards and blogs. Aren’t those for newbies, techies or people without lives? In some cases, that’s true. But for a growing number, online community is now an essential source of their business success.
A huge benefit of an online community is free access to people just like you who have already tackled your challenges. Whether you are fixing a broken part, launching an initiative or revolutionizing your company, someone is waiting to tell you how they succeeded at that task, or, equally valuable, which pitfalls to avoid. Many sites also offer video that shows you how to do it.
In terms of stone fabrication, one of the most respected online communities can be found at www.StoneAdvice.com. At this site, stone fabricators offer useful, practical advice for their fellow stone fabricators - often with photos to illustrate their points. It is also an invaluable site for other industry members - distributors of stone materials, tooling, etc. - to gain a pulse of what is happening in the stone fabrication sector.
For participants in these online communities, another benefit is the ability to build your reputation. Community participants don’t want a sales pitch, but they respect you for providing useful information and solving problems. Respect translates into trust, and trust translates into opportunities for your company.
Takeaway: Find trustworthy bulletin boards, blogs and communal spaces that focus on your industry. You’ll benefit by engaging with sharp-minded, impassioned participants.
3. Find information with lightning speed
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a geeky way of saying “fast answers.” If you are even a bit Web savvy, chances are you’ve “Googled” something. But Google can be overwhelming when you pull up 101,234 results.
A better option is vertical search - using the search functions of industry-specific Web sites. Niched sites are more targeted and eliminate fluff. Some, including BNP Media’s sites such as www.stoneworld.com, license Google technology for speed, but they limit the search to a highly defined universe of data, making your search vastly more efficient.
Takeaway: Visit the top Web sites in your field and bookmark those providing the best search results. You’ll save a ton of time.
4. Locate products quickly with online directories
Finding products poses a problem when you need specific items to complete a project. Online directories are a great solution. Most allow you to enter a company name, product category or a brand and then provide a defined list.
OK, you love your print directories. Why use an online directory? Print directories remain excellent resources, but they are updated annually, whereas online directories can be updated daily. Online directories also include links to supplier Web sites, spec sheets and even product videos.
Stone World’s online directory can be found at www.stoneworld.com, and it includes stone suppliers, fabricating machinery and accessories, and installation and maintenance products. Users can search using categories such as product type and supplier location, and multiple categories can be entered (i.e. slabs of granite available in Ohio) for optimal results.
Takeaway: Keep your print directories handy, but visit their online versions for even more updated and comprehensive information.
5. Read breaking news
Whether you’re a leader in your company or headed up the ladder, staying informed has never been easier.
Web sites - Some sites are updated daily, while others languish for weeks. Limit your visits to sites that are updated frequently and offer professional coverage.
E-newsletters - Electronic newsletters offer a big advantage because they come directly to you. E-newsletters have proliferated, so focus on those that provide truly useful industry information.
RSS feeds - Real Simple Syndication (RSS) is a way to assure you are alerted whenever certain news breaks on the Web. RSS requires you to sign up for a reader and select the topics you want. Those articles collect until you access them.
Takeaway: Avoid news overload. Focus on Web sites, E-News and RSS feeds that best meet your needs and unsubscribe to the rest.
6. Study in-depth content for personal development and strategic planning
While the Web is fantastic for immediacy, it is equally strong in providing content that will help you obtain comprehensive knowledge, perspective and leadership skills.
Archived articles stored on industry Web sites allow concentrated study of a topic or in-depth analysis of an expert’s opinions.
White papers allow you to read thoughtful analysis on new products and procedures, often complete with statistics and projections.
Syndicated research can help you maintain a high level of expertise on a topic or industry, and provides incite for strategic planning.
Takeaway: Search Web sites for meaty data and expertise. If required, register to gain access to highly valuable information that others may miss.
7. Conduct business online
E-commerce is more than a buzzword. Many companies now offer online purchase orders, applications, designs, specifications, bids, change-orders, credit checks and payments. A recent survey conducted among subscribers to BNP Media publications showed that while almost all had company Web sites, only 30% allowed customers to place orders online.
In the stone industry, more and more suppliers of stoneworking accessories and consumables such as diamond blades, polishing wheels, hand tools, etc. are allowing their customers to purchase these items online. Stone suppliers are also showcasing their inventory online in real time, even allowing customers to accurately view specific slabs online. Stone fabricators are also becoming more savvy with their Web sites - showing high-quality images of finished projects, explaining basics of stone specification for homeowners and even offering rough estimates of countertop projects.
Takeaway: Embrace this trend by becoming E-commerce savvy. Promote your company as Web-friendly, making sure your Web site is customer-driven, and you will be rewarded.
8. Buy the right technology
Your staff may be clamoring for I-Phones, Blackberries, Windows Vista or other technology. While these products can enhance your company’s ability to receive and relay information, new technology produces a strain on resources. Your IT staff may require significant ramp-up time, and your users will need training.
Takeaway: A good solution is to skip one or two generations of tech products, but commit fully when you do jump in. Having everyone using the same version of the same product enhances company-wide efficiency.