Introducing Cash For Clunkers: The Website Edition

By now we've all heard about the U.S. government's "cash for clunkers" program for automobiles. Today I'd like to propose a similar program for small business websites.

Allen Stern, Contributor

August 15, 2009

3 Min Read

By now we've all heard about the U.S. government's "cash for clunkers" program for automobiles. Today I'd like to propose a similar program for small business websites.The cash for clunkers auto industry bailout program (official name CARS) allows people with certain models of car to trade them in for a new car and receive up to $4,500 off the price of the new car. Over $3 billion in government funds have been allocated for the program. The idea of the program is to get old gas guzzler cars off the road.

Over at my startup, we process business cards and I've looked at tens of thousands of websites and have started thinking about a similar program to cash for clunkers. How many sales are small businesses losing because their websites haven't been touched in years? What about the small businesses who have no website at all? Some of the websites I've visited are dated before 2000 and have so much rust that they barely function.

Blogger Robert Scoble has talked about the "2010 web" for a while now with the idea of getting small businesses to properly take advantage of what being online can offer a business. My proposed "cash for clunker websites" program would help move the overall web forward and closer to a more modern experience.

I am not suggesting that we should get every small business in America on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social networks. Let's start the program with just refreshing the websites into current standards and technology. Basic search engine and local optimization would be part of the plan. Here are a few very basic examples:

  • allowing customers to find a pizzeria and to order online along with the ability to post reviews on Yelp and other review services

  • creating simple home tours for real estate agents so customers can get a look at a home or apartment before viewing in person

  • offering the ability to purchase items online from independent retail stores

  • displaying a contractor's schedule online and booking time online

I'd like to see $200-300 million allocated for this program in the same fashion as the CARS program is. An administrative team would be setup to make sure the program runs smoothly and to provide audits of all completed work. My initial thinking for program qualification is:

  • small businesses with no website as of the date the program goes live

  • small businesses with a website that hasn't been updated in at least four years

Many small businesses I've spoken with over the past 15 years believe that the Internet won't provide their business with any real benefits. With this program, the business would have a chance to see if there was real value and when they see the true value, they will invest even more into building a Web presence.

Naturally vendors would need to be screened - my goal would be that businesses work with qualified vendors in their local area. By keeping the work local, the local economy benefits and would get even more people back to work.

The program would help the local economy even more because the updated websites for each small business would drive additional revenue to the business which could then be reinvested into the economy either by hiring more employees or by expanding their offerings.

My post today is just the beginning of the concept. I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts about the concept to see if it's worth flushing out. From my scratchpad accounting, the money invested in this program would provide greater economic benefits than the CARS program will with a much smaller investment.

Technology is what will get the U.S. out of the current economic state we are in and the idea presented above can shove businesses into using technology for the benefit of the overall economy.

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