Will Computers Ever Meet the Expectations Of Small Businesses?

Old School Vision of Computers

As a child of the 60’s, I grew up watching Hollywood’s vision
of the computer of the future. I use to watch in amazement as
TV character would feed a question into a computer and an
obscure answer would immediately be spit out. I remember
playing “computer” with my grade school friends in the
neighborhood. I put a cardboard box over me with a light bulb
jammed in the middle of it with a slot in the front. I would
have my friends write a question on a piece of paper and slip
it threw the slot, and as I made ‘bleeping’ and ‘zooping’
noises, I replied to their questions about the universe, the
best a grade school child could.

I eventually outgrew the Hollywood vision of computers, or at
the very least, Hollywood’s vision for the computers of the
future became a little more realistic. Although, the
reoccurring notion that computers will solve all our problems
won’t go away. As recently as five or six years ago, I
remember seeing a commercial promoting the Internet and how it
will magically solve all our woes, minus all the ‘bleeping’
and ‘zooping’ I remember from TV as a child.

Unfortunately, the promises of computers and the Internet have lagged behind our expectations of them, especially the expectations of small businesses. While large multinational corporations have been able to afford IT departments that could create specific applications to suite their needs, many small businesses were left out in the cold during the “computer revolution”. If a small business had a specific need or requirement with respects to automating their business process, their only choice was to hire a computer consultant, who could take weeks, and possible months, to write their program, and charge a cost prohibitive amount for the service.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most small businesses have been left with the same applications and programs they’ve been using for the last 10 years. Computers for the small business resemble a typewriter of the past more than Hollywood’s image of the computer of the future. At best, some small companies might have an individual on their staff that could create elaborate Spreadsheets, but more times than not, a computer was seen begrudgingly as items of unfulfilled promises.

The Second Coming of Computers

Over the last four or five years, there has been another “computer revolution”, and unlike the “computer revolution” of the mid to late 90’s, that mostly affected consumers and large businesses, this one is aimed at small businesses.

Threw the mid to late 90’s, innovators and visionary’s toted the Internet as the end-all-beat-all to everyone’s woes and problems with promises of a “new economy” and riches for all. Everyone was excited about the promise of computers, and everyone was eager to hop on the Internet dot com bandwagon. I’m sure most people know of someone that attempted to make money off the Internet, from that cousin that attempted to start a web site, to that neighbor that changed careers and went threw a technical training to learn programming or systems administration.

When the tech bust of 2000 happened, thousands of individuals that had hoped to reach their goals threw computers and the Internet, found themselves unemployed and ferociously competing for jobs. Within a matter of months, job postings that were only receiving two or three resumes were suddenly being flooded with resumes. Over the course of months it went from being an employee’s market to being an employers market.

The tragic events of 9/11 were what put the computer industry into a tailspin and ironically opened up the possibility of the second “computer revolution”. As corporations froze their budgets and killed projects, thousand more individuals found themselves unemployed. For roughly one and a half years, the computer industry seemed to die on the vine, and as individuals began to become despondent, they began to change careers again hoping to make an income that could support their families and life styles.

Fortunately, a certain percentage of individuals refused to give up on a career in the IT industry, and many programmers began to search for alternatives to being employed by large corporate IT departments. Some were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and began writing programs for industries they were familiar with from past careers. As new entrepreneurs began with limited budgets and resources, many of these programs were targeted towards smaller businesses.

Is There a Limit to the Industries Affected?

I myself use to consult with Fortune 500 companies, have moved my practice to small and mid-sized corporations. Since doing so I’ve become amazed at the evolution I’ve seen in some of the most surprising industries. The industry I’m most surprised with is the pest control industry. I have an acquaintance that has a pest control business. Basically he catches rats and mice for the food service industries.

We were talking one day about the subject of a second “computer revolution”, when he began to share his own experience with it. Apparently, he had purchased an application that utilizes a bar code reader that records the status of his mice and rat traps. As he goes from customer to customer, he scans the traps and records the status of the trap, if it was empty, had a catch or even if the trap was gone. After he is done with his route for the day, he goes back to his office and downloads the data into his application and is able to compile trends at his customer’s sites.

With the use of this database, he no longer has to rely on his memory, guessing, or digging threw paper work to figure out what is going on at his customer’s sites. He can simply use his application and have his database tell him if his customer’s site is clean, infested or if the infestation has moved. Based on these reports, he is able to sell his customers more accurate services and products based on their individual needs. He claims his business has grown approximately 12% over the last two years threw the use of this product.

After I moved my practice to small and mid-sized business, I stumbled across a small application that I have since recommended to many of my customers in the Service Industry. I had a customer that is in the Chimney Sweep industry, and for their industry, the business is considered quite large with 9 trucks and approximately 30 employees. They had been experiencing many problems with issues like inventory, dispatching/scheduling, and invoicing they wished to correct threw the use of a customized application.

In an attempt to make the business more productive and profitable, they had contacted me with the desire my company write a program that would fulfill all their needs. Upon assessing their requirements I quickly analyzed that that it would be a more cost effective solution to identify an existing product that could fulfill all their needs. After a few days of searching I discovered an Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) for small Service-oriented industries.

The application was written by a group of three programmers who found their jobs outsourced to India in 2002. One of them had experience in the HVAC industry prior to changing his career in the mid 90’s, after discovering himself unemployed but still with hopes of staying in the IT industry, he wrote the application with two of his former co-workers.

After discovering the software vendor, I worked with them to identify their products full potential and eventually established it was flexible enough to be a good match for my customer’s requirements. With a good deal of hindsight, the programmers developed their product on Open Source technology, which allows parts of programs to be distributed for free, allowing it to be created for a fraction of the cost their counter parts of the 90’s.

My customer is now able to manage invoicing, purchase orders, inventory, scheduling/dispatch, and Marketing with two – three office employees verses the four – five they need a few years ago. The application, which the multi-user version costs approximately $2,500 and the single-user version costs approximately $650, is very cost effective.

For a smaller business to have an application of this versatility and functionality would have been unfathomable prior to 2001. I have since installed this application into several customers, all of which have become dependent upon it for the smooth operation of their companies.

The Promise has Finally Arrived

For smaller companies wishing to experience the promises of computers the time is finally here. More and more small computer vendors are springing up, producing complex and cost effective applications and products for most conceivable industries.

For small businesses to reap the benefits of present technology, they need to:

1. Know exactly what business process you wish to affect with the introduction of software.

2. Do your homework on the Internet, there are many small software vendors out there, if you do a through search, a vendor can be found with the solutions you need.

3. If you wish to use a consultant to identify a solution, don’t assume they are familiar with your industries needs and requirements. Ask what experience and solutions they’ve had with your specific industry.

4. Get references, an established firm should be able to produce previous customers that can vouch for their quality of work.

5. Get a break down of the costs involved with the installation of the product. Get it in writing if there is any training or tech support.

6. A consulting firm should be attentive to you and your needs. There are good consulting firms out there and there are bad consulting firms out there, the difference should be evident in the amount of effort and energy they spend to identify the correct solution for you and your company.

While we are definitely in the beginning of the second computer revolution, unfortunately, if you are expecting to magically obtain the benefits of it, chances are you’ll be let down. Expect to do some work when trying to find the right solution for you and your business. The more energy you spend in trying to find the right solution will directly equate out to the amount of increased productivity and profitability your company will experience after the solution is installed.

While computer solutions may never reach the point where an individual will simply input a question or problem and suddenly receive an answer, small businesses are much further ahead of where they were five years ago.

Quality of Concern for the Opportunity of Connecting to a Patronizer of Your Service or Business

***Quality of concern for the contact opportunity of connecting to a client or patron of your service or business.

What makes the quality of your service individual and distinguishable when compared to another vendor of the same category? In whatever industry you choose to subscribe, understand that it can expand your financial status. Entertain a business prospect with grace to the degree of the highest quality. Enhance the thing that you do the best in the utmost excellence of your ability. Do it for yourself first, and please be apprised that as patrons ourselves, we all know that we have many opportunities to entertain when shopping or engaging a service industry selection. Competition is tight nowadays and the one main factor that can make or break a sale is usually the factor that is taken for granted the most: Customer service..

Consumers and patrons, as you and I, are fellow, emotionally driven souls, aspiring to feel appreciated, recognized or understood appropriately or relish the opportunity to be heard. You would think that after so many years of technology and immediacy that society would be less emotional and more logical. It appears, for the most part, at least from my perspective, society has not advanced emotionally as fast as we have technologically…

This poses a unique opportunity for you and me, we can comprehend ourselves and another by utilizing our compassion and empathy. *** WE must learn to respect the true understanding of an opportunity to network, clarify or to fix a problem.

Most employees are hired to complete a task or to fix problems, once this is understood, communicating with discernment begins. There are many forms of language to be utilized in our communication style. Set a higher bar of understanding for both parties involved, you will gladly glean an opportunity. Gain to please, be apprised of you communication style and read the body tone and language of your patron. By being understanding and graceful, in your voice modulation, verbiage and body language you gain the confidence of another soul. Whether on the telephone, or in person, a smile can be perceived even without applying your sense of sight.

So many industries and institutions are in a state of fluctuation and financial correction. Realize that this has no bearing on the quality of service that you and me desire to receive or have the responsibility to give to our patrons and employers.

Everyone has his own constitution and conscience, keep yours focused on a standard of excellence and you shall reap the same seeds that you sow. Caring is an attitude that comes from within; the inside out- not the outside in…

The cost of caring and customer service has no price tag, nor can a corporation quantify, outsource or attempt to manufacture, manipulate or calculate the cost to personalize business transactions. Business transactions done correctly, include a warm smile, an understanding gaze or a patient empathetic connection. An authentic warm encounter is a genuine transaction from one person to another,cannot be duplicated in any country, province or state.

There is no price tag on caring and demonstrating quality service. The price would be unattainable for even the very wealthiest of corporations. They would be unable to pay for something that is easily shared, an emotional novelty and should be free. There is a very high cost for those that are unaware or oblivious to this much-coveted and appreciated fashion of service conduct. It is a form of understanding effective business culture, that can also be included in the employer/employee conduct contract too!

Caring about individual and collective quality is much like a metaphor of an electrical volt that can keep its current for an eternity with a reliable power source: you and me!

Decide to impact your environment regardless of what you see transpiring around you. It is indeed your choice. I am only here to offer a voice to your higher consciousness.

Design an enigmatic way about yourself that is demonstrated by your character, reactions,or controlled emotional responses. Make the time to decompress. Stop! Think; wait up to 10 minutes before you premeditate an angry opinion or give an angry, unnecessary insult. Don’t release unnecessary and oftentimes damaging gossip from your subconscious mind, it won’t help anyone, not even you!

Once critically released words leave your lips the action cannot be erased, eradicated or dismissed; the only one to suffer the consequences is you or me.

If either one of us loses control and gossips, we cannot save the face of our company, employer, or ourselves. Be careful with the words that come out of your mouth. Spoken words can cause a lot of undue damage. Hostile or insulting words spoken out loud for witnesses and for other gossipermongers to spread is not a good way to conduct yourself or good for your business transactions. ***There are gossipmongers everywhere who gladly enjoy redeeming information that is none of their business in the first place…

Many times people(s) have a few bad moments or a bad few days, though this will not last long. Please offer them the same grace period as you would have them offer you if you were presented with the same or a similar situation. Do not personalize a bad reaction. Gain empowerment by immediate discernment, instead, fix your composure and throw back an arrow of kindness. When an arrow of rudeness is aimed at you, you can dodge the arrow. Remember that emotions are oftentimes a symptom of other situations that have nothing to do with your patronage, your customer or with you and me directly.

Patron positive service providers and allow them an opportunity to work along in concert with you or to expand your profit potential. Magnify your moment in the advertising spotlight, or patronage. React as if you are both in a large, coliseum with a well-coiffed audience witnessing the experience on a grand forum or stage. In reality, we are all being guided by our inner thoughts to rise above the fray of drama, discomfort and disease. Cultivate a life of peace harmony, understanding and respect for the Universal energy that guides us one and all.

***I enjoy learning from you and from others offering me knowledge continuously!~

Three Points to Consider Before Launching Your Home Based Service Business

When I began my home-based resume writing business three years ago, I had an idea of what was involved. Some years back I ran a small boutique: I sold beads, tiny little glass and metal, plastic and wooden, beads. I worked in my store six days a week, and then spent at least an hour every Sunday placing orders to replenish stock. That experience did away with foolish notions of “more time to myself,” and I knew that I had the wherewithal to commit to self-employment when I began my home-based resume service.

If you are tossing this idea around, here are some of the aspects of running a home-based business that you should take into account.

1. Get ready for bad hair days: you must wear many hats. I am the decision maker and receptionist, and am accountable for landing sales and for tracking accounts payable and receivable. I develop new handouts, reports, samples, articles, and update these regularly with new information; cold call prospective industry contacts and “schmooze” even though I am a dedicated introvert; deal with customer concerns, and their joy and thanks! The only task I don’t handle is computer glitches (I leave those for my I.T. guy, my husband!).

2. Forget about goofing off just ’cause you need a break. A micro business is highly dependent on reputation for quality and service. For the first few years, you will be spending time augmenting your skills with on-line courses and self-study to ensure that your reputation for quality grows, and you will spend lots of time researching, developing and implementing customer service measures and strategies that help you stand out from the crowd. You will get the odd half-day here and there, and grab it while you can, but don’t count on quarterly trips to warmer climes as you’ll have neither the time nor the revenues.

3. Hold off on that new pair of shoes: all your funds go into the business. Guys, I’ve no idea what you spend your money on, but girls tend to love new shoes! As your business earns a few extra dollars, you will need to reinvest in courses, reference books, technologies (Creating a website, video, teleconferencing…), memberships, conference attendance and so on. Those business pundits who say you won’t turn much of a profit for the first few years are absolutely right.

One of my outreach initiatives is to speak to local private college students, and I recall one fellow sharing that he decided to take the I.T. Network course so that he could enjoy better working hours. I had to hold onto my words of wisdom. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are smarter than the rest.

Some may think “I will organize my time better and will make sure that I can take time off.” And although I encourage all to take those gifts of time when no client has called for days and you’ve no one booked, to go to the farmers’ market, take a drive in the country, and go visit dear old mom. But I know from experience that the discomfort (fear and panic!) you feel when the phone isn’t ringing will have you scrambling to create new alliances, research and implement new marketing ideas, and build your business.

It is time-consuming to play every role, perplexing to figure out how to reach new clients, difficult to absorb unknown skills like marketing and sales, and every working minute demands your focused attention… so why do we become entrepreneurs? Because there is something about holding the power to evaluate the alternatives, make each decision, change it mid-stream if you so wish, and mold and direct your own business that is intoxicatingly, breathtakingly exhilarating!

If you have self-discipline and talent, are passionate for the work you will be doing, and have a vision to deliver your services from a home-base, by all means, join the ranks of the service-industry entrepreneur!

Choosing Between Online Business Travel and Operating a Store

Probably unknown to many Internet users, the assertion on which is a better earning opportunity between travel agencies and online stores is an enduring debate in the business industry. People are having difficulty deciding if they will engage in the industry of online business travel or if they will put up their own ventures. You may be among those who are in limbo at the moment so you are questioning which online business opportunity is right for you. Then, you may want to check the advantages and disadvantages of each field before you decide.

On one hand, if you choose to run an online store, an advantage is that you get to select what kind of product you will sell. For example, if you are more knowledgeable in selling clothes and accessories, then you can focus on fashion pieces. Or if you are more interested in gadgets, you can engage in selling such items. Meaning, you can just about choose whatever line of products or services you will be offering based on what you know or are interested in.

Consequently, you will also have an advantage in terms of making decisions for the business. If you are already knowledgeable in the type of products or services you offer, you will be able to connect better with your target market. Also, you would easily identify with the changing trends within the industry. This will enable you to equip your business enough for the competition you will be facing from the other online stores offering the same line of products as you do.

However, online stores are not always reliable in the aspect of sustainability. Everything is dependent on the availability of supplies, rate of consumer demand, and level of industrial competition. If you put up an online store, you really have to research well on the feasibility of your product. This will let you know how long your business can stay operational and under what kind of economy. But you have to be prepared because whatever store you put up may be subject to the changing of economic times. Worse, if your business will not be able to hold against adversaries, you risk closing down whether or not you have fully regained your investment.

On the other hand, if you opt to get into the online business travel industry, you will be facing several other choices. You can put up your own travel agency or you can franchise from an already operational business. This means that if you have a tight budget and would not be able to afford the expenses that starting a business from scratch entails, then you still will have another option. While the same can be said about online stores, travel agencies are known to be more affordable in terms of start-up costs because they have less operational requirements.

Aside from that, travel agencies are now included among the list of recession-proof businesses on account of the fact that people always find a reason to go on a trip. Countries are opening up their territories to foreign travellers so they can be more globally competitive. Hence, putting up a travel agency or franchising one will enable you to operate on a longer span of time. The target market is also fairly larger than the usual so you can be sure to find your niche in the vast travel industry.

However, you must be sure that you are knowledgeable in the process of travel arrangements. You should remember that these arrangements have legal implications because of the immigration laws that you have to follow per country. Therefore, you have to be extra careful in providing services to your clients so they will not be faced with unnecessary trouble.

Choosing whether to get into the online business travel industry or to become an owner of your own store can indeed be difficult. There are several pros and cons to each option. You have to really assess yourself, as well as your available resources, to know which of the two will make a good business venture for you. Of course, you have to make sure that you are choosing the right opportunity unless you want your investment to yield nothing. Hence, always research well and ask the right questions before deciding.