Technology Community Helps SMBs Focus on Their Core Business

If you're starting your own business or currently work for a start-up, you wear a lot of hats. Any disruption in your business can eat up hours of your time and kill your productivity. Many start-ups are so focused on getting their business off the ground, that they overlook technology considerations that can help increase their productivity and enhance their efficiency. Unlike mid to large corporations that have dedicated IT personnel, start-ups typically do not have in-house IT resources to evaluate and deploy new technologies to pre-empt unforeseen issues, such as virus attacks, and streamline processes to increase efficiency gains. This is due partly to time and partly due to budgetary constraints. Small businesses want to focus on the next sale, not the next purchase. Largely for this reason, many small to medium businesses (SMBs) are categorized as laggers on the technology spectrum -- classified as conservative IT buyers and slow adopters of new technologies. This profile make it seems as if SMBs are risk adverse, when in actuality, SMBs are more risk takers than corporate employees ? after all, they've started their own business or are part of a start-up where the P&L is felt throughout the company.

So why are so many SMBs behind on the technology spectrum? As mentioned, without dedicated IT personnel making system recommendations, SMBs are on their own in terms of finding out the latest and greatest products. They need small business solutions that are affordable and scalable, and most importantly, do not disrupt business operations. Without the luxury of having dedicated IT resources, SMBs do not have time or the desire to seek out the latest gadgets or attend tradeshows featuring next-gen products.

This begs the question: how do SMBs stay on top of new technologies that can help them run their business more effectively? The technologies have to come to them: bring the new products to the SMB community.

The big trend with major hi-tech vendors in the past 2-3 years has been building marketing initiatives to tap into the SMB market. To many companies, the SMB space is still a gray cloud: how do SMBs behave and what are their demographics? Each company has its own definition of an SMB: ranging from less than 100 employees to less than 1000 employees. Many hi-tech manufacturers have beta programs, usability tests and focus groups to collect feedback on how SMBs react and behave. Many of these programs offer very attractive incentives such as free product, cash, corporate branded giveaways "tchotchkes" in exchange for some form of market validation: user feedback, quotes for a press release, or customer references to serve as real world proof points. These exchange opportunities are always available ? one just has to know where to look.

Here's a testament to the kind of exchange opportunities that are available all around us: in the July 2005 edition of Runner's World, there is an ad from Factory Outlets (http://www.factoryoutlets.com/) promoting its pre-launch site. Factory Outlets needs traffic to test its ordering, fulfillment and customer service systems and is giving away $350 worth of free merchandise in exchange for time. If you don't believe it, pick up a copy of Runner's World to get an authorization code into the site ? and shop your heart out (the merchandise is limited, but it's free).

Manufacturers invest millions of dollars into marketing to the SMBs and yet there has not been a centralized place where SMBs can get an aggregated listing of exchange opportunities offered by manufacturers. Until now.

SMBxchange, Inc. is a new technology community geared to providing exchange opportunities to SMBs, including useful tools and resources to help them run their business. By this, we don't mean resources on how to get a loan, where to get legal advice, etc. There are plenty of small business portals that do the job. The tools, resources and exchange opportunities featured on www.smbxchange.com are around useful technologies that can improve the way SMBs work -- perhaps even introduce products that people never knew existed. SMBxchange is a relatively new community and exchange opportunities are in the near horizon. Types of "exchange opportunities" will include: focus groups, beta programs, whitepaper campaigns ? where there would be some type of incentive (free product, cash, etc.) in exchange for user feedback.

Membership into SMBxchange is free and there is no obligation or commitment. By joining, members get access to SMBxchange newsletters and a secure members-only site where there will be a listing of opportunities that match the member's product interests. Members only participate in programs for products they're interested in. SMBxchange is the first community that bridges these two audiences (SMB and manufacturer) into a symbiotic environment. This is a community that brings the technology to the SMB, and aggregates opportunities and offers tailored to the SMB's product interests.

To join SMBxchange, complete the online form at www.smbxchange.com

Betty Liang, spent most of her professional career in various marketing management positions with companies such as Ricoh, Cisco, and Oracle. She is now focused on her own small business helping other small and medium businesses advance their technology capabilities through exchange opportunities.

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