I am not old enough to remember party lines (I am not sure they were ever used in the densely populated New York Metropolitan area) but I do remember phone books. Now a relic ignored by all and probably threat to the environment, phone books were at one time revolutionary.
Before the invention of the telegraph and later the telephone people were not very connected. You knew your relatives and neighbors for sure, and you probably knew some classmates, fellow Elks Lodge members and churchgoers. Not a lot of people, probably less than 100.
The household telephone changed all that, and what made it really grow was the phone book, because it gave everyone The Power to be Found.
At the time people were less concerned about their privacy than they were about being found, connecting. Practically no middle class people paid to keep their telephone number private. As Seth Godin says, “People like us do things like this.”
The Yellow Pages became the platform for business as we know it today. If you sold legal services, cars, pizza or gym memberships (joking – they didn’t exist!) your reach went from your neighborhood to a whole county. Okay, that doesn’t sound like much, but it was probably a 100 fold increase in potential customers.
With the internet our reach is now almost infinite. We can be tempted to sell to everybody.
But our customers are not everybody. We are not Coca Cola or McDonald’s or CVS or Ford. It costs too much and it is a waste of time.
To be successful in small business we need to decide who we are and who wants what we sell. We need to play with the kids in the neighborhood we create.