Knowledge is power

2010-09-03 00:00

A FEW weeks back, one of my colleagues came to me complaining that she had been hauled over the coals at one of the Liberty franchises because she had loaded Skype onto an office computer and was using it to communicate with clients and brokers.

According to the franchise owner, Skype is not welcome within the Liberty franchise, irrespective of the fact that it enables cheaper or even free communication and creates a full history of conversations, so that you can get around the “I never got your fax” situation.

I felt it was a little lame but didn’t think too much of this until the other night, when Skype came up in a discussion I had with Liberty Life CEO Steven Braudo, who was singing its praises as a business communication tool.

When I pointed out that Skype wasn’t welcome at some of his franchises and the lower rungs of Liberty, he indicated that much of this would change as they got their heads around the appropriate use of the technology.

I get the security issues and I get the productivity issues which will crop up from time to time. But come on, surely the benefits outweigh the risks?

Maybe Liberty isn’t the best example as it is a big business with many IT security concerns, but I did want to show the disparity in thinking between top management and the troops on the ground.

For me, when you are running a small business, technology is such a leveller and it seems a bit braindead to shut out the potential use of something like Skype.

I recently read a piece titled “Technology: America’s Greatest Wealth Creation Engine” by Alex Daley and Doug Hornig, and I thought something they said is relevant to this discussion.

They pointed out that in 1980, the entire United States stock market boasted only three “mega-companies” (those with market caps in excess of $100 billion in today’s inflation-adjusted terms): Exxon, IBM and AT&T. The article went on to say that a further 21 U.S. companies, five of which are tech businesses, now fall into this category.

Every week, brilliant new technology is being brought out which changes the playing field for small businesses.

Try this trio for next to nothing

Yola, Dropbox and Survey Monkey are tools which can give your small business a competitive edge, and you can sign up for all of them online.

Yola gives you a professional website, while Dropbox provides two gigs of storage for absolutely nothing, for back-up and to synchronise a variety of different files.

Survey Monkey gives you the ability to conduct market research quickly, easily and efficiently. The bonus is that most of it costs you next to nothing.

When I look at the work of Bruce Wade from the Entrepreneur Incubator, a big chunk of it involves educating and helping entrepreneurs get to grips with the best uses of technology for their businesses. Skype, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all tools that empower small businesses and can help give you the competitive edge.

The trick is in finding time to stop running your business to investigate what technology is out there and how it can work for you.

One quite nice little tip I saw the other day is getting your staff together on a Friday, just talking to them about what technology they are actually using and brainstorming ideas to use within your business.

I am not a huge fan of Facebook for business purposes, but empowering your staff to run with a fan page or Twitter feed are all things that raise brand awareness for relatively little effort.

The tools are often staring you right in the face and small businesses need to be aware of them to stay nimble and ahead of the pack. —

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