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Salvador Valenzuela is thinking big, even if his focus is small.

The 30-year old internet entrepreneur has launched a directory for Canadian small business owners. SmallBizPages.ca won't rival Yellow Pages any time soon, but Mr. Valenzuela will give it a try one listing at a time.

Mr. Valenzuela is part of a new generation of web-savvy business owners who are shunning traditional directories like the Yellow Pages to market their companies and reach new clients. Raised on search engines and discussion forums, Mr. Valenzuela has unflinching faith in the Internet's abilities to deliver him customers. He represents an ever-increasing portion of small business owners that have established themselves without relying on paper directories for information, contacts or marketing.

"Established directories are too expensive for me, there's no flexibility and no control. My business gets noticed more on the Internet," said Mr. Valenzuela.

There's a technology gap between paper directories and the internet that he intends to take advantage of.

"Search engines are the main preferred tools of the 'now' generation," he said. "They don't touch newspaper, magazines, and Yellow Pages to search for product and services."

Jim Carroll, author, speaker and expert on future trends and innovation, agrees that many small business owners are following Mr. Valenzuela's thinking.

Advertising dollars are moving increasingly to the Internet. It reflects a new underlying reality, Carroll says. And that is, that young people conduct their businesses in a new way, with new tools and new motivations.

"There are two things that drive my business," said Mr. Carroll. "The position of my web site on Google. And the web site itself, which then gives me credibility.

"I get a call from the Yellow Pages every year. As a small business owner, the Yellow Pages is not a viable option for me. I look at Google," he said. "They have 1,000 Phds working for them. How are you going to beat that? This is the tool that has helped me build my business."

The Toronto-based Carroll says he would use the Yellow Pages "for a Mississauga-Toronto thing.

"But I am in a market called the 'world.' There's no geographic relevance to what I do."

Mr. Carroll travels North America to deliver seminars and is in constant demand. "And I don't advertise, it's Google."

Larger search engines like Yahoo are boosting their local search capabilities. Mr. Carroll says it's only a matter of time before these search engines make inroads into local markets and start competing directly with the established directories.

Valenzuela's directory allows a small business owner to link their web site, plus provide some personal data and contact information. For a fee, he'll host more involved listings with graphics and other perks. The is intentionally flexible and inexpensive.

Yellow Pages hasn't ignored the Internet. It has taken many steps to boost its on-line business through the www.yellowpages.ca and www.canada411.ca web sites.

As part of its effort to expand its Internet presence, YPG recently launched a new service called WebNumber. The service resulted in the immediate creation of over one million business Web pages, one for every company in Canada with a business phone number.

The service allows for consumers to access pages by typing a company's phone number, followed by yellowpages.ca or yp.ca. Of course, if the searcher goes to Google or Yahoo first in order to acquire the number, the Yellow Pages' fight becomes all the more difficult.

Yellow Pages has expanded its reach into the non-Internet directory market with its recent acquisition of Telus' SuperPages. The $2.55-billion transaction that makes Yellow Pages the undeniable leader in paper directories in Canada.

"I myself have a shoe-string budget when it comes to marketing. By having SmallBizPages, it also helps CyFocus.com [his web-hosting company] to market its own product and services. If for example they don't have a web site yet, they can have a complete web sites solutions and they'll have a free paid advertising listing to SmallBizPages. SmallBizPages and CyFocus works hand in hand," Mr. Valenzuela said.

He hopes his approach catches the imagination of small business owners.

"I find that directories are either too broad like Yellow Pages, too specific demographically like Redto.com or too industry-specific like autotrader.ca. Some of them are not easy too use with a lot of pop ups and ads in it. Some of them are expensive. SmallBizPages is simple, easy to use, affordable, but powerful," he explained.

© The Globe and Mail

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