Boston Herald

Even a guru needs help with Web

Boston Herald Bizlines / by Cromwell Schubarth, Monday, March 5, 2001

Sometimes even the analyst has to spend time on the couch.

Which is what brought Rick Hendrie, restaurant marketing doctor, to Michael Katz, Internet marketing doctor. Hendrie's Cambridge consulting business, Link Inc., helps small and mid-sized restaurants become more than just a place to get a good meal. For clients ranging from Fuddruckers to the restaurant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Hendrie draws upon 25 years in the food marketing business to show how to provide total dining experiences.

But the Internet is one area of frustration he shares with many of his clients.

"Those using it don't feel comfortable with it and don't feel they are getting their money's worth out of it,'' Hendrie says. "But they still feel they need to have a presence on the Web.''

Which is where Katz, of Blue Penguin Development Inc., in Reading, comes in.  "This problem is very typical of a lot of small-business people,'' Katz says. "They are very successful and know their business inside out, but they know nothing about the Internet and that makes them nervous.''

A survey by Verizon last year showed that only about a third of small businesses had a Web site or Internet presence. The biggest reasons given for not being online were a lack of staff and a feeling that the business was too local to benefit from the World Wide Web.

While people may think of the Net as a complicated way to connect with new business, Katz prefers to focus clients on simple ways to service current customers. "The telephone connects you to the whole world, too, but having a phone number doesn't guarantee it will ring off the hook with new business,'' he says.

Katz has helped Hendrie develop a Net strategy, drawing on 12 years of marketing experience at cable company MediaOne.

"At MediaOne, we were trying to put a human face on a very large company,'' Katz says. "But for the small and medium-sized businesses I deal with, the problem is more trying to stay in touch with all your customers.''

Katz recommended a three-pronged approach for Hendrie that he says will work for many small businesses. So Hendrie is setting up a Web site, starting a newsletter and developing a customer e-mail system.

"Having a newsletter helps share some of your expertise and keeps a line of communication open to your clients,'' Katz says.

The e-mail system puts clients in three pools: an A-list of very important clients he needs to stay on top of, a B-list to contact less frequently and a C-list that he may contact once in a blue moon.

"You can't have lunch with or talk on the phone with all of your customers,'' says Katz. "But the Internet can help you stay in touch.''