Every year I look forward to March, and it's not just because I'm tired of Northeast winters. Along with warmer temperatures, March heralds the Small Business Summit, a day-long event where small business owners learn from and network with a variety of small business experts, entrepreneurs and technology vendors.
Created and produced by Ramon Ray, editor of SmallBizTechnology.com, and Marian Banker, president of Prime Strategies, the Small Business Summit (now in its 6th year) provides tools and information to help SMBs grow their business. "Our mission is to provide small business owners with information that is inspiring and relevant, said Ray.
This year's speakers included Chris McCann, president of 1‐800‐Flowers.com; Jim Fowler, CEO and co-founder of Jigsaw, Mark Gambill of Dell, ecommerce exert John Lawson of ColderICE, Matthew Weiss of 888‐Redlight, Andy Steuer of Deluxe, Ken Weyel of Microsofts Bing, Pamela OHara of Batch Blue, Jeff Cram of ISITE Design, Angela Jia Kim of Om Aroma, Grant Wickes of Wasp Barcode, Kirk Averett of Rackspace and Ellen Pack of Elance.
A lively crowd of nearly 600 small business owners heard the various speakers and panelists discuss a range of topics, including how to grow your business online and off; how to use SEO, search and marketing to build your brand; how to protect your online reputation and ways to integrate the latest technologies into your business.
Here's a quick taste of just some of what went down at the Small Business Summit.
Hot Tech Topics at the Small Business Summit
Outsourcing is not a four-letter word
Even though starting a business today is more affordable than at any time in history, thanks in large part to cloud computing and managed services, it's become more complicated. More entrepreneurs and small business owners are taking advantage of Web-based services and tapping in to an online workforce, such as Elance.com, the leading platform for online employment.
"Starting a business is a daunting prospect because there's just so much to do," said Ellen Pack, vice president at Elance. "You need a mobile app, social media strategy, online marketing, SEO it just goes on." And while small business CEOs decide which initiatives take priority, Pack said the good news is that they dont have to know how to do it all -- or bear the cost of increased headcount to get the job done. They can hire e-lancers on an as-needed basis saving them money while yielding professional results.
Look for a new program called Startup Elance due out in a few weeks. Pack called it an "onramp resource for someone just starting a business. It's designed to be a community, a place where one, two or three person shops can learn lessons from other small business owners whove already done it.
Online marketing tips from a traffic ticket lawyer?
Relying on a lawyer for legal advice makes sense, but online marketing advice? Matthew Weiss, a New York City lawyer whose firm specializes in fighting traffic tickets, knows a little bit about how to build a successful online presence and brand. He uses SEO and PPC strategies to great effect on his site NYTrafficTicket.com.
Weiss also advised that it takes more than effective SEO and PPC to achieve online success -- you have to add value. His site's tagline -- Traffic ticket? Its no big deal -- is meant to offer an emotional connection that resonates and offers hope to anyone stressed out about facing fines and increased car insurance premiums.
Weiss then asked how many SMB owners in attendance sent out email newsletters, and nearly every hand in the room shot up. "Take a close look at your newsletter." Weiss said. "Is it filled with me, me, me, or does it add value? Your customers and clients dont care about you. They care about what you can do for them. So make it about them."
Dell talks mobile and cloud computing and virtualization
I sat down with Mark Gambill, Dell's vice president of marketing of consumer/small business and Warren Brown, owner and founder of CakeLove, to talk about issues facing small business owners who want to integrate technology into their business.
Small Business Computing (SBC): What do you see as the biggest challenge facing small business owners in terms of adopting technologies like virtualization, cloud computing and mobility into their business?
Mark Gambill (MG): I think the term I'd use is the intensity and velocity of change. We're finding that people "get" the general idea of cloud computing and mobility architecture. However, alarm bells start ringing in terms of how to apply these processes for their businesses. How are customers supposed to keep up with all of this and make the right decisions for their company? Due to this intensity and velocity of change, people need help.
Warren Brown (WB): I couldnt agree more. I had trouble with the wireless servers at my café, and if I dont offer free Wi-Fi, I immediately see a drop in sales. I felt like I was being held hostage to IT services. I took matters into my own hands and figured it out. But I dont have the time to worry about these things, and I wouldnt want to even if I did.
SBC: What's Dell's approach to mobile for small business? How will it differentiate itself?
MG: Well, first you have to be vendor agnostic. Dell offers a variety of form factors to suit different tastes and need. Its an open-business ecosystem, and we can play with anyone. A closed system doesnt really fly in the business world. And if you create a closed system, youd better be comfortable and powerful enough to deal with the ramifications.
SBC: What small business areas are you looking at now? Whats coming?
MG: We really need to get good at understanding particular needs for individual industries, such as healthcare. That industry needs better data management, and we're looking at how tablets play a role in that market. We need to be able to look at different industries and create the right messages, services and tools that address their needs.
SBC: Virtualization is huge. But I think theres an education barrier. Providers hammer away at the benefit, but not necessarily how to do it. What's your take?
MG: If you can translate an offering into cost-benefit terms for your customer, thats huge.
WB: I think about the time, money, and quality equation. Cost isnt always the driving factor. Time and productivity, are big considerations. The learning curve is important. Plus, I want one person to interface with. I need consistency. Another point is that I'm not necessarily the one who needs to understand the technology; the people who work for me need to understand it and how to use it. No one is a dictator in business; you need to work with your staff.
Small Business Summit Awards
Winner of the 2011 Small Business Strategy Award for developing and executing a strategy that led to growth or marketshare: ath Power Consulting, a leading financial services market research and strategy firm. Runners up: Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care and Great Bear Auto and Body Shop.Winner of the 2011 HotTech Demo Award: Twisplays -- display Twitter streams from larger LED screens.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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