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    27 Replies Latest reply on Aug 26, 2008 2:33 PM by SBC Team

    Event: Use technology to appear BIG

    SBC Team Guide
      Do you want to gain a competitive edge "without breaking the bank?" Learn how leveraging available technology in your small business can help you do that. With competition locally and even globally, small businesses need to put their best foot forward without spending more than they should to attract customers. Technology that was only available to large businesses a few years ago is now geared towards smaller businesses which mean acting big, even when you're not! Matt Makowicz, of Ambition Consulting is an expert and published author on the subjects of growing a small business and leveraging technology. He will answer questions such as:

      • How can technology help a one person company working from home?
      • How does my use of technology (or lack thereof) influence my potential customers?
      • Can a small business really afford the latest and best technology out there?

      About Matt:

      Matt is a Small Business Specialist for Microsoft. He is a principle at Ambition Consulting whose core focus is to help other businesses become successful by leveraging the experience of running award winning IT consulting practices that services small and medium business clients. Matt has also achieved numerous technical certifications and awards throughout his 15+ years of business experience.

      You can learn more about Matt and Microsoft Small Business Specialists at:
      http://www.ambitionmission.com/
      http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness

      The SBOC Team is taking questions in advance. Post your question here today and check back between 1:00-2:30 PM EST for the answer. You may ask a question at any point during the event. Remember, you must be a member to participate.

      Matt will be posting as SMBexpert. So what's your question?!
        • Re: Live Event August 26: Using technology to give you the edge
          Vince Adventurer
          Hi Matt,

          I think its great that Microsoft and Bank of America have partnered and given the community access to your expertise. Welcome and I can't wait to see the response on August 26th. I'm willing to bet it will be well received

          Vince
          • Re: Live Event August 26: Using technology to give you the edge
            Regency Newbie
            I am a small buisiness owner a General contractor, We are a small company geared towards commercial interiors, we look small & somtimes have trouble getting our point accross that we can manage larger scale projects (this is our goal) How do I create credibility on a larger scale & not to be known as a small scale contractor.
            • Re: Live Event @ 1PM ET: Use technology to appear BIG
              Interpreter Wayfarer
              Hi Matt,

              In regards to snail mail, do you have any recommendations/solutions for outgoing correspondences?

              Thanks for listening,
              Interpreter
                • Re: Live Event @ 1PM ET: Use technology to appear BIG
                  SMBexpert Newbie
                  Dear interpreter,

                  My recomendation is "it depends." Is the intention of the mailings for customer communication (i.e. newsletters), event promotion/demand generation, general prospecting, sales call follow ups, etc...? Given these options, a handwritten thank you note may work best, or an outsourced automated mailing house may be the best option.

                  In the case of marketing via "snail mail" while it is more expensive than its electronic counterpart, there is a definite school of thought that suggests a better response IF (and its a big IF) the mailing piece "stands out."

                  Once of the best ways to ensure this is to mail to a VERY targeted list. My suggestion would be to utilize your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software application to filter your customer/prospect database and create a super targeted list to then mail to. Focus your mailing upon a specific industry e.g. "Having trouble running your Dental office?" is better than "Having trouble running your business?"

                  Good luck!
                  1 of 1 people found this helpful
                • Re: Live Event @ 1PM ET: Use technology to appear BIG
                  SBC Team Guide
                  Matt,

                  We've heard a lot of community members looking to host their own services (i.e. buying a server or large equipment). How realistic is that for a one-person shop?

                  SBOC Team
                    • Re: Live Event @ 1PM ET: Use technology to appear BIG
                      SMBexpert Newbie
                      It depends upon the type of business and goals for the use of technology.

                      Only a few years ago, my answer would have been if your business is not large enough to invest in the infrastructure, then it is not going to be able to take advantage of all the best small business related technologies available.

                      Today, hosted services allow for micro (or very small businesses) to purchase for a monthly fee a hosted technology infrastructure that can allow them to get much of the bang without the wallop of the upfront buck.

                      When looking at hosted solutions, consider security, reliability, disaster recovery, availibility of data, ongoing maintenance and support costs, and of course monthly fees.
                    • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                      Landuse Newbie
                      Hi Matt, I run a small landscaping company. It's me and one other partner that do all the design and planning work and then we hire part time contractors for all the muscle power. Because my company is small I've found that some potential clients get really discouraged to give me the job despite my positive references. I run my business from an office in my house and am frequently working outside - overseeing the landscaping jobs. Other than forwarding the calls to my mobile which is what I do now - - what else can I do with mobile technology to help me run my business?
                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                          SMBexpert Newbie

                          Dear Lanuse,

                           


                          Mobile technology has come a long way in the last several years. I would begin with a smartphone. This is a mobile phone that will allow you to send/recieve emails, visit webpages, and even run other applications such as your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) database programs all on the handheld which you obviously have with you in the field. For best flexibility of applications that can run on your smartphone, chose one running Windows Mobile software.

                           


                          Better than forwarding calls to your cell phone, consider a VoIP (Voice over IP) telephone solution. This will allow callers to get a professional automated attendant complete with voicemail options (e.g. "press 1 for Accounting, 2 for Sales, etc...). The best part of the VoIP solution is that it can be easily configured so that the phone on your desk and in your hand ring at the same time, so the callers experience is the same regardless of where you are.

                           


                          Lastly, nothing beats immidate response to customer questions, so having access to email on the handheld is vital. If there is a form on your website that will send you an email, you'll be able to respond right away!
                          1 of 1 people found this helpful
                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                          simon07 Wayfarer
                          My wife has been selling handmade jewelry at our local fair, farmers market, and just recently trying it out on eBay. She has hopes to try and sell it to larger stores, but does not think that they would seriously consider her if they realized that she is only a one woman operation. What phone or email technologies exist so that she doesn't appear to be a one women operation?
                            • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                              SMBexpert Newbie

                              Dear Simon,

                              As I mentioned above a VoIP telephone solution would be ideal to handle to telecommunications needs. Suggest to your wife to look at Microsoft Response Point to get an idea of what she can do on that front.

                               


                              In terms of email technologies, it is even easier. The first step is to use a company domain name instead of a free email service (e.g. hotmail, yahoo, gmail, etc...). The 2nd step would be to use a email server solution such as Microsoft Exchange Server, which allows for a multitude of email addresses. This way she can receive AND send from Accounting@companyname.com and/or Sales@, CustomerService@, etc...

                              In this way, customers will send an email to (and recieve responses from) "the accounting department" as an example.

                              These are both simple ways to seem very professional even though it is only one individual running the company!
                            • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                              flex_00 Wayfarer

                              The technology industry moves awefully fast. I fear that what I buy now, will be obsolete within 3 months. How do I get over that fear? Or should I just budget out what I think I'll need and constantly buy the latest and greatest?
                                • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                  SMBexpert Newbie
                                  Dear flex,

                                  Your fear is VERY common. You are correct that technology moves very quickly. The good news that if you are not in the technology industry, your business doesn't need change the way in which it uses technology quite so quickly.

                                  The first (and most important question) is how can technology improve your business? What problems can it solve? What processes can be improved by implementing technology?

                                  At the end of the day, a business needs to be make an investment in technology that will benefit their business comfortably for the next 3 years.

                                  That said, if you are still needing (or wanting) to be on the bleeding edge of technology, then I suggested hosted services rather than buying a server/technology for your office.

                                  Hope it helps!
                                • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                  Bluesuit Adventurer
                                  Matt, I certainly like my tech gadgets, but with the economy as it is, I like to make wise decisions. When buying new technology for business or personal use (which I like to do), what are the key questions or considerations a potential buyer should ask him/herself to make sure that they are making the right choice. It's always tempting to go with the product that has the most features..but it's always the most expensive.
                                    • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                      SMBexpert Newbie
                                      Hello Bluesuit!

                                      First, you need to decide who the technology or gadget is for? For you personally? Or for your business? Talk to your accountant about write offs and tax implications, but my advice is to ensure that there is value before investing in anything, technology or otherwise.

                                      If the item or technology in question is merely to satisfy the personal WANT of having the latest toy, and you can afford it, why not?

                                      Unfortunately, most small business owners (and I admit guilt here in the past as well) blur the line between the business and the owner buying something. So, if this is for your BUSINESS, how does it help your business? To put it another way, will investing whatever amount of money in question be BEST spent by buying this gadget? What if you took that same amount and invested in a marketing event or a new VoIP phone system or a better way to communicate with customers, etc...

                                      Usually, once it is clear that it is a business purchase, and you look at it as a business, then the choice typically becomes obvious.

                                      Enjoy!
                                    • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                      SBC Team Guide
                                      Matt,

                                      To piggyback on your response to Landuse regarding mobile technologies, what can a small business owners do in the event that they left vital documents on their home office pc and need it when they're on the road/in the field.

                                      The SBOC Team
                                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                          SMBexpert Newbie
                                          The need for "high availability of data" seems to have been increasing over recent years for numerous small businesses. Here are a few relevant tips & suggestions on that front:

                                          1) even if there is no "dedicated server" at the home office, use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to store ALL valuable data. This way all machines on the network (PCs, laptops, replacement machines, etc...) can access the same data the same way.

                                          Using "Offline file synchronization" available in Windows 2000/XP/Vista, all this data can be "sync'd" in real time to each machine and changes from any PC/laptop can be propagated for all to see/use.

                                          2) consider an offsite backup solution in case of a disaster or failure

                                          3) Look for web interfaces & mobile device interfaces for your business applications to ensure that data can be accessed from anywhere.
                                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                          SBC Team Guide
                                          Matt,

                                          Great responses!

                                          We have another 45 minutes left in the event. Get those questions in while there's time.

                                          The SBOC Team
                                          • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                            Howard Adventurer
                                            I hate to admit this but with my convenience store we still use a lot of pen and paper to manage our business. Although I am very comfortable exploring and using the internet, thanks to kids, I am less comfortable with excel, and other types of computer applications. My kids are always hounding me to run and record our business information on the computer. Can you recommend any record keeping, invoicing or inventory technologies - that are simple and easy?
                                              • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                SMBexpert Newbie

                                                Dear Howard,

                                                Don't feel bad. Sometimes, it makes the most sense for the business to go with a low tech solution. There is no benefit in implementing technology for the sake of itself.

                                                In your situation, however, I agree with your kids. Electronic record keeping, etc.. can have a profound positive impact on your business operations, growth and yes, even business valuation (for when you wish to sell).

                                                If you are already familiar with Microsoft Office applications, then an easy step would be to look at Microsoft Office Accounting software which can do all the tasks you indicated you're looking for.

                                                You may also want to integrate a POS (Point of Sale) solution to more accurately track sold items, reorder status, etc.. .

                                                 


                                                Just be sure to continue to focus upon what has likely made your business successful to this point. Don't allow the technology to "get in the way" of customer interaction or service. Technology is (and should be used as) a tool to improve your business.
                                              • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                Bernoulli Newbie
                                                Hi,

                                                I am a small business owner and engineering consultant. Our company's computing needs can vary dramatically from project to project. Can you recommend options for obtaining temporary computing power for when our needs are high. We would like to avoid spending a ton of money on computers only to have them sit idle for many projects.

                                                Thanks!
                                                  • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                    SMBexpert Newbie
                                                    Dear Bernoulli,

                                                    I have a good news/bad news answer for you. First, consider that all technology solutions have 3 main components - hardware, software, & services.

                                                    From a hardware perspective the options best available to your firm would be machine rental which can get pricey if done too often or for extended periods, or financing/leasing to spread costs over a longer period of time.

                                                    that's the bad news.

                                                    The good news is that with software and services, you have the option as a small business of paying for what you need, when you need it. For example, One of the Microsoft licensing programs is called SPLA (Service Provider License Agreement). This agreement allows an IT provider to pay for and thus charge you for the amount of licenses currently in use and can be adjusted on a monthly basis.

                                                    The better news is that such a provider will also likely offer a similar fluctuation option for their support and maintenance related services.

                                                    While, your firm will have to incur some sunken or recurring costs for the broader organization, alleviating extra software licensing and/or services costs can be the "magic ticket" you are looking for!
                                                  • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                    SBC Team Guide
                                                    Community,

                                                    Remember to refresh your browsers often to view Matt's latest responses.

                                                    The SBOC Team
                                                    • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                      SBC Team Guide
                                                      Matt,

                                                      Once a small business owner purchases software, there are concerns around ongoing costs such as servicing and maintenancing. What's reasonable to expect?

                                                      The SBOC Team
                                                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                          SMBexpert Newbie
                                                          Let's use the ever so popular "car analogy."

                                                          Small business owners sometimes feel that when they invest in technology (which in their minds is hardware and software only) that once it is set up, they're done. They point to thier cars and say, "I could spend $20,000 or $50,000 on a car and my maintenance cost is only a few hundred dollars a year BECUASE it is a good car."

                                                          Unfortunately, technology doesn't work that way. There are too many "moving parts" and the world is a more technology active place that it was in years past. Maintenance on a technology infrastructure is NOT akin to getting an oil change on a car - it is like putting gas in the car! Sooner or later, it will stop working without it...

                                                          Seek out a provider who understands this and is willing to offer a simple or flat fee for the maintenance of technology. Better still, seek out a provider who offers maintenance AND support as a flat fee. That is the best way to ensure both proper maintenance AND continuity of the technology and of course your business!
                                                        • Re: Live Event Now: Use technology to appear BIG
                                                          SBC Team Guide
                                                          Matt,

                                                          On behalf of the SBOC Team and the members of the Small Business Online Community, we wanted to say we truly appreciated your time today and your professional responses to user questions.

                                                          Community members, while our session with Matt has now concluded, please feel free to discuss today's session and the questions answered. Again, if you'd like more information about Matt and Microsoft Small Business Specialist, visit:

                                                          http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness

                                                          Thanks again,

                                                          The SBOC Team