State Rep. Mark Baisley’s Feb. 7 Colorado Sun op-ed, “It’s time to rein in Big Tech,” misses a fundamental fact — that large digital companies are extraordinarily important to small businesses.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, YouTube and many other digital platforms offer free and low-cost small business tools that are critically important, particularly during the pandemic. Rep. Baisley’s desire to tear down Big Tech would damage these companies in ways that will significantly harm small businesses.
Like most small business owners, I started with an idea. I had just prematurely retired due to injury, so I needed to find new work. I was planning to shave my itchy beard so I wasn’t always scratching it during job interviews, but my son told me not to shave it and instead use beard balms to help with the itch.
I ordered some but they all smelled the same, and I wanted something unique. So I researched online about fragrances and concocted my own. My bearded buddies liked what I was making, so instead of getting a new job I started a new business.
Starting the company was easy. Getting people to buy my products was much harder.
With no income and limited savings, I could not afford television or radio ads, or even late-night infomercials. But I could afford Facebook and Instagram, especially starting with basic free services. Their digital advertising platforms helped me market to the right audiences — men with beards and women who love them.
Soon I was driving traffic to the website and had real customers. It was remarkably easy, and I’m no youngster!
I also use social media to get the word out. Twitter and YouTube have been invaluable for promoting our products and getting folks to our website. I use Google Analytics to understand website traffic and see which ads perform the best, and Xero is my digital accounting platform.
My company is successful because of e-commerce tools. During COVID-19, these tools are a digital safety net that enable small businesses like mine to survive despite lockdowns and quarantines. If these tools didn’t exist, and if this old dog hadn’t learned new digital tricks, we would be wiped out.
Thousands of Colorado businesses are in the same position, facing bankruptcy or closing altogether if we lose access to digital tools or if prices increase substantially.
That is why government attacks on Big Tech and cheerleading by Rep. Baisley is so maddening. Lawmakers don’t realize that their attacks on big business are actually hurting small business.
One example is a lawsuit led by our own attorney general, Phil Weiser, that goes after Google’s search engine. Google drives a remarkable number of people to our website and does the same for millions of small businesses. But the lawsuit could force Google to send customers to middle-man websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp instead of directly to small businesses.
I don’t want my prospective customers pushed to a massive review-based website and then I have to hope they eventually get to us. This might level the playing field between Google and Yelp, two billionaire companies, but it leaves us flat on our back.
It’s also important that lawmakers recognize market reality — that the size of some companies is what allows them to price small business services affordably. If Google and Facebook are broken up by the courts, small-business tools and services may no longer be a priority and small businesses will be stuck with fewer marketing options.
Large tech companies deserve government scrutiny, but overreach will cause unnecessary damage to hardworking small businesses like mine.
At age 61, I’m thankful to be part of the small business economic engine, and I don’t want to see any more pandemic damage inflicted on good people. Rep. Baisley and his colleagues must be very careful not to place Colorado small businesses at even greater risk during the worst economy in decades.
Jim Dorkins is the owner of Doc Goodbeard in Denver, a beard-care company, and a member of the Connected Commerce Council, a group that promotes small businesses’ access to digital technology and tools.
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