Just got back from Small Business Summit 2009—an awesome event put on by Ramon Ray (www.smallbiztechnology.com) and Marian Banker (www.primestrategies.com ) at the Digital Sandbox in New York City. Turn out for the Summit was terrific, and attendees were treated to a great, interactive agenda including speakers, experts, sessions and networking—hosted by Ramon, who is a terrific at working a room.
On the train ride back up to New Hampshire’s frozen tundra, I started writing a blog about the hot topics that jumped out at me during the event. A feeling of déjà vu quickly came over me as I realized I was getting a great read on the trends I had blogged about in my last post, 2009 Small Business Trends: No Longer Business as Usual (just scroll down to the next post for this one). Based on the interactions I had with small business people and vendors at the Small Business Summit, I think these trends are gaining momentum even more quickly and forcefully than I’d anticipated just last week. So in this post, I’m revisiting these trends with new, fresh evidence from the Small Business Summit that underscores how quickly they are taking shape.
1. Catch the social networking wave. Social networking took center stage at the Summit. Keynote speaker Bob Pearson, chief social media guru for Dell, kicked off the event with his presentation and set the tone for the rest of the day. Bob explained why social networking is so important, and provided down to earth recommendations that your grandma could understand about how small companies can get in the game. He encouraged people to “just get in and do some science experiments” and learn as they go (check out this link for Dell’s primer on social media: https://www.facebook.com/dellsocialmedia). Attendees couldn’t get enough information, asking lots of questions about where and how to set up blogs, how often to post, how long their posts should be, what does Twitter work best for? A few people said that they were going to start blogging right away, and the tweet volume rose through the roof! Furthermore, the vendors at the show are walking the walk themselves, creating, monitoring and responding across the social media spectrum.
2. Demand solutions that do more for less. Well duh! Of course this is big. Gene Marks, Marks Group PC, emphasized that now is the time to re-negotiate everything, high tech or low, from insurance and rent to IT vendors and consultants. Ramon’s discussion of how to get free publicity through media coverage was spot on, of course. Panelists and speakers representing a diverse group of vendors and solutions highlighted the abundance of free and low cost solutions available, designed especially for small businesses. For example, on demand and software-as-a-service vendors were well represented, with the likes of Microsoft Office Live, Google, Campaigner and InfusionSoft on hand. Intuit was promoting its free QuickBooks SimpleStart, and free six-month trial for Intuit Payroll Online.
3. Find fresh technology alternatives more appealing. The audience at this event knows that they will have to work smarter, not just harder, to survive and thrive through this downturn, and come out ahead of the competition when things turn up again. Elance presenter Brad Porteus made a compelling case for using online freelancers for all those pesky jobs you need to do—but don’t have time for. This generated a lot of buzz—one of the attendees piped up that she was going to get an Elancer to track her brand across the Web. Attendees also asked a lot of questions about how they could use technology to become more relevant and create more value for their brands and businesses. They wanted to know things such as how and when to use videos, podcasts and polls, and how to use collaboration tools to foster improved communication and project management build the group dynamics they’ll need to rise above the competition.
4. Favor software-as-service (SaaS) over packaged software that they have to buy, install and manage. As I noted above, many of the vendors at the show were featuring SaaS solutions. What I didn’t hear were many attendees voicing concern about SaaS security or data ownership issues. What I did hear were many conversations between attendees and vendors, with attendees trying to figure out if a particular on demand solution would work to satisfy a specific business requirement. A clear signal that that the issue of on demand versus on premise is becoming a moot point. Campaigner, which offers on demand email marketing, was a hot spot. Email marketing—like most application areas—is still very underpenetrated in terms of small business adoption. But economic conditions are sending these companies a loud wake up call to take action. They’ll look for an easy, fast on ramp to try, buy and get results—and find SaaS solutions fit the bill.
5. Increasingly turn to non-Microsoft desktops and servers. Ok, this wasn’t a topic that came up at all during the event, so this is all based on my very casual observations. It just seems that everywhere I go, and at this show as well, there are more and more people pulling out MacBooks instead of Windows notebooks. I think that many of the new solo entrepreneurs that will emerge from the layoffs will opt for Macs. Sure, Macs cost more than Windows PCs, but many people suffered a lot of problems with Windows PCs. When they have to spend their own hard earned money, I think these newbies will turn to Apple in greater numbers.
6. Innovate beyond what we can anticipate. What can I say, other than spending a day with small business people and vendors who are committed to the success of small businesses is inspiring! Small businesses didn’t get us into this mess, but they will pull us out. Many of the vendors had great examples of their small business customers using their solutions to innovate. I could see the gears spinning as people thought about ways they could apply a couple of the tricks they learned when they got back to their office–or just as likely, their home office. Their drive, energy and creativity will lead to new business models, products, services and solutions that will revitalize the economy.
I’m already looking forward to the 2010 Small Business Summit to see how fast these businesses will run with some of these things, and will be very interested to see where they’re at next year. In the meantime, if you are part of a small business, let me know what’s at the top of list to help your business in 2009.