The Small Business Technology Tour, hosted by the energetic and engaging Ramon Ray came to Boston this week, and SMB Research had an opportunity to sit in to hear what the experts and small businesses are talking about. This Boston event was the 3rd of 5 stops for the 2011 tour, and, like the agendas in the other tour stops (with some minor variations) the Small Business Technology Tour focuses on addressing how small businesses can strategically use technology to grow their businesses. There are technology references and insights mixed in, but the primary focus is on strategies and best practices in the establishing an on-site presence, and then leveraging that with the right marketing, sales and content strategies. Ramon Ray and Laura Leites of Smallbiztechnology.com brought an engaging mix of speakers who in general provided some valuable insights to the enthusiastic audience.
The small business, and small-to-medium business (SMB) sectors present significant challenges for an event like the Small Business Technology Tour. As SMB Research pointed out in our seminal piece, “Sizing up Small-to-Medium Business (SMB)“, start-ups are not SOHOs (small office / home office), which are not small businesses, which are not small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), etc. Bringing these small business segments into one room for one agenda, therefore, is not a venture for the faint-hearted. The challenge goes beyond the obvious definitional issue to differences between the segments in their business strategies, business and growth plans – and their technology maturities, among other things. (Talking to one of the attendees, an apparent solo-practitioner, during the lunch break, they asked me ‘What’s an SMB’?)
The technology footprint for small business is, after quite broad. The topical areas identified by SMB Research as relevant for the SMB segment specifically includes 25+ different areas. So while the “Technology Tour’ nomenclature may imply that there will be some broad inclusion of the software and technology segments that are relevant to small business, this event really focuses on a select few technologies that can be incorporated into marketing and sales strategies for “regular” small business owners [who] are not technically savvy”.
Some take-aways from the event:
Technology therapy Group‘s Jennifer Shaheen started the day off delivering the message “If you haven’t already, this is the year to invest in your website.” With the proliferation of companies offering website templates, the growth of mobile platforms, and the use of smart phones, and the coming of Html5, Jennifer Shaheen offered some key insights around the importance of using a template that allows for multiple layouts, and for testing your website for the various mobile platforms and browsers.
SMB Research recommends for SMBs:
- SMB Research believes that a website, and blog, are essential these days for most companies. Your customers and prospects, service providers, competitors, and industry influencers are likely to be using blogs and other social media. That being the case, your choice is to either participate – or wish you were participating. Companies who have mastered the appropriate way to use a website, blog and other social media, and integrate these technologies, are way ahead of the game.
- But: Companies who are under the delusion (as too many companies are) that they can use social channels to execute a carpet-bombing marketing strategy are likely to be marginalized.
- Make sure that visitors to your website can quickly find your company address and phone number, names of your leadership / management team, and, most importantly, names and contact info for your first points of contact. This information should be discoverable within the first 15-20 seconds of looking at your website.
- A visitor should be able to look at your website and immediately see who your company is (“We are an X company. We [deliver or produce or provide] X.”) A great example: Coler & Colantonio: “Coler and Colantonio provides engineering and scientific consulting services to the Energy, Land Development, and Government Market Sectors.“
- For further reading, we recommend “10 Best Practices For a Better Website” on the SMB Research Blog.
Verizon‘s Lisa Kelly, Mosec‘s David Pham, and D50 Media‘s Steve Fisher talked about mobility, and how the SMB can leverage the technology and manage the impacts of mobility on their business. In talking about tools for the road warrior in each of us, Lisa made specific references to tools in the areas of mobile payments, mobile conferencing, and remote connectivity:
- For Mobile payments: CHARGE Anywhere, Intuit Go Payment, Square
- Mobile conferencing: Skype, Qik, Tango, Fring
- Remote connectivity: MiFi
For the technologically-unsavvy, perhaps Lisa’s most useful reference may have been to Verizon‘s Wireless Workshops as a useful resource for small businesses and SMBs alike.
Mosec’s David Pham provided some interesting technology references in 3 principal areas
- Keeping track of what matters: Revenizer, Geckoboard (business status board), Batchbook (social CRM),
- Acting Upon What You Tracked: Basecamp (online project collaboration)
- Communicating With Your team: Skype, Campfire (online collaboration with real-time chat)
D50 Media‘s Steve Fisher closed out the mobility slot with some key ideas for the “new and improved mobile worker” and the identification of key mobility trends:
- Build your own Html5 or downloadable app
- NFC – Near Field communication
- Consumer-led mobile health for monitoring / diagnosis / wellness
- Augmented reality
- Rapid enterprise adoption of tablets
- Cloud tipping point
- Leverage SoLoMo – Social / Local / Mobile convergence
SMB Research recommends for SMBs: There is obviously a wave of innovation that is delivering ever greater capability to mobile devices, even as tablets and mobile devices are proliferating. SMBs and small businesses need to harness the tremendous opportunity both within the enterprise as well as as platform for goods and services, and a platform for social engagement. The time has come, however, to think beyond “Content‘ to focus more on the User Experience that can be created and enhanced using mobility both as an enabler and the delivery platform. A Recommended Read: “5 Mobile App Development Tips For SMBs“, from InformationWeek‘s Kevin Casey.
Cloud Strategies‘ Patrick Keating provided a very thorough presentation on the cloud, cloud computing strategies, SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, and what this means for SMBs. Given how important and impactful this technology model is, it is important for small businesses to understand what the cloud is. The interesting thing is – some small businesses do not even understand that they are already using cloud technologies. Well into the presentation, one member of the audience interrupted to ask “What is the Cloud?” with no apparent rhetorical intent. So this topic seemed to us to be both the useful and perhaps the most challenging for the audience.
SMB Research recommends for SMBs:
- SMB Research recommends that small businesses and SMBs focus more on the technologies and strategies that make sense, rather than trying to necessarily playing catch-up with all of the buzz and hype (much of it unnecessarily confusing) around “the cloud”. “The Cloud” is not the technology you are going to use – it is an enabler. Focus first on the technologies that make sense for you. Then ask a trusted advisor to explain that the cloud means for you.
Marketing and Content
With Manta’s Kristy Campbell stating that the biggest fear of the small business owner is that they are not marketing effectively, Overdrive Interactive’s Ja-Naé Duane, Infusionsoft’s Tyler Garns, Kristy Campbell, Batchbook‘s Pamela O’Hara, and Perkett PR‘s Heather Mosley offered their insights at the end of the day on how to leverage on-line marketing and content strategies, which are of course a constant focus and concern for small businesses.
SMB Research recommends:
- Use video where it is appropriate. As Overdrive Interactive’s Ja-Naé Duane pointed out, the primary sense for more than half of the people on earth is vision. We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, and, particularly, if you are a company with capabilities that are easier to show than to explain, then video may be the way to go. Videos, however videos need to be engaging, and if not done well, even a relatively short video scan seem too long. Jennifer Shaheen suggested YouTube’s ‘Create Videos’ page as a great resource for small businesses.
SMB Research would welcome the opportunity to talk with you on these or other technology areas of interest to you. Give us a call, and let’s start the conversation.