Using Tech to Make More Businesses Non-Tech
This is my site Written by Alora on January 22, 2010 – 10:30 am

I grew up in a family-owned business.  I remember, back in the early 1980’s, when my mother (the bookkeeper) got her first computer for the business: it was a Data General and it was bigger than our dishwasher.  It had five-and-a-quarter floppy disks; it had virtually no RAM to speak of; and it came with the classic DOS-based single color screen.  It was cutting edge in 1982.

I actually recount that memory quite frequently when I speak with entrepreneurs and technologists.  I love that story, because it illustrates how far technology advances have brought small business capabilities.  Thanks to solutions like WorkingPoint, Google Apps, Basecamp and WordPress, the world of small business is capable of competing in a global economy in ways that my parents could have never envisioned back in the early Reagan Administration.

This is the subject of Ross Dawson‘s post yesterday on My Venture Pad.  Ross highlights six specific ways in which technology is revolutionizing small business:
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  1. Findability
  2. Customer communication
  3. Productivity
  4. Collaboration
  5. Outsourcing
  6. Online revenue

Ross’ points are all central elements, and ones that I discuss frequently when working with entrepreneurs, but there are three additional technology-enabled advancements that I routinely see making a huge difference to small businesses and their ability to be as competitive as possible.

Metrics
This one is one of my favorites: the democratization of data in the Information Age has amazing implications to small business.  Once upon a time, it was only the largest companies who had the ability to really dig into any metrics — whether they were numbers about their customers, their sales or their employees, information was expensive, and most small businesses had to do without.

The advertising industry is a great example: how do you calculate whether or not a television commercial or a print ad is worth the money it cost to produce?  That is complicated math that is based on a lot of assumptions (many of which are so baked-in that they are rarely questioned).  On the web, there is no question: if you serve someone an ad that compels them enough to click on it, you know.  Immediately.

Whether it is Google making data findable (as per Ross’ first point) or whether it is new startups like InfoChimps making a business out of building a marketplace for the buying and selling of data, the world now revolves around the flow of information, and that includes figuring out what to measure and how.  And then how to use that data.

Commoditization of Technology
When I first got online, it was 1993.  It was my college’s BBS system.  The vast majority of students could only access it when physically on campus, using a school computer lab.  And it was anything but user-friendly.  While the limitation in functionality was not insignificant, what was a bigger deal was the perception that you had to be super technical to figure out how to use it. People who didn’t view themselves that way couldn’t be coaxed near it.

Those days are gone.  Thanks to the proliferation of user-friendly, web-based technology, it is now possible for entrepreneurs to focus on the business of their business, rather than the technology of their business.  This opens the door to possibilities that, even as little as five years ago, were still too intimidating for the vast majority of non-tech entrepreneurs.

Mobility
Whether it is a satelite wireless card, a laptop or an iPhone, the expectation of mobility is now commonplace.  More and more, businesses that do not leverage the mobile capabilities and expectations of both employees and customers are not only missing opportunities, but are fast falling behind their competition.

In a world where your employees can Skype into a conference call from a coffee shop half a continent away, or where your customers are finding your office on their cell phone using Google Maps, mobility is central to how we both consume and disseminate information, both inside and outside of our businesses.

This is an exciting time for entrepreneuers for all of the reasons listed above — both Ross’ list, as well as my additions.  Never before has it been so easy for small businesses to access the types of goods and services that used to be exclusive to large corporations.  These types of changes make small business ownership possible for more people than ever before.  What could be more exciting than that?