With only about 12 hours of year 2009 left to spend, I guess this would be a good time to wrap up. Since my latest trend was to change this blog’s focus from smaller, more often posts to larger posts made more seldom and random. Hopefully by next year I will find a balance between the two, as I get a lot of things I want to share but not that much time to do it.

2009 was a good year in terms of learning from our own successes and failures. A lot of things got tested, some of them got broke and we saw what needs work, what has to be done to improve ourselves and things around us. We got our priorities right, we got our work laid out in front of us and as the old Soviet saying goes: “Goals have been set, tasks have been determined – get to work, comrades!” So, we are at work to make 2010 better, improve on our success and make our failures affecting us less. 2009 clearly showed that our existing approach to work with clients is definitely a success, since even in these harsh economic times we got our old clients as well as new ones come to us with more work than ever before.

2009 was also a good year to assess our own strengths and abilities. Like any business doing their regular SWOT analysis, we did ours and realized there is a lot of potential, there is a lot more that we can offer our existing clients as well as new ones. So one of the goals we set for 2010 is to refresh our strategy and our competitive offering. More things coming through the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Have a happy New Year!


Mobile In The Cloud Is Too Hot To Handle For Small Biz

Mobile To Cloud - Too Hot To Handle For A Biz The topic of mobile computing in the cloud seems to occupy every tech blogger’s mind on the planet. The idea of storing all your data on the cloud (in the clouds?) is so fascinating that anyone who dares to say otherwise is considered almost a Luddite. Well, let me play a little bit of devil’s advocate here.

When we are talking about mobile in the cloud we essentially talking about two different things. One – being on the go and storing your data on some network storage so that such data is accessible from any computer. As long as you are able to log in to that storage – you’re good to go.

Second thing – is having all of the above at our fingertips on our smartphone or mobile internet device (iPhone, iTouch and so on). For some reason, still mostly invisible to me, most tech bloggers have decided that by the end of 2010 it will be hot to have all your data in the cloud and accessible from your smart phone.

I did a little experiment recently. I purchased plenty of space on Google’s Picasa and uploaded every single photo I have since I bought my first digital camera. That includes raw images and edited images, so there was approximately 30% overhead. Still, the overall volume hit 110 Gigabyte. Nothing much in terms of current disk space. It took me a week to realize that I don’t want to wait any longer for all these pictures to be uploaded, so I canceled the process. Of course, if I had a dedicated channel it would not have taken so long, but I don’t. My nightly backups have to run. I have work to do. VPN connections eat up a lot as well. So my personal photo collection failed to upload completely.

What about small business use? Will small business owner upload all his documents, data (whatever that may be) or images if it will take away his time? I don’t think so. A few Word documents are fine, but once you start talking hundreds of megabytes, anywhere outside of the corporate networks that might be a problem. Just recently as we have finalized one of the projects, we needed to upload about 100 Megs of files – already compressed – to the client’s representative. It took other party in South Carolina full 15 minutes from receiving a download link to getting a complete download. Sure, storing on the cloud sounds like fun, but until whatever you have stored is half an hour away from you – it’s not a working solution, it’s a storage room out of town.

Next stop – mobile phone use. I know people who live and breath their Blackberry, but I also know people who don’t. And I know more people who don’t want to exhaust their eyes reading things on Blackberry screen than those that would. iPhone is a great entertainment device, but I can’t – for the life of me – type anything long there. Same is with BlackJack, Tilt or Droid. I just don’t see a particular reason to do it, if I can always get back to my X61s which at least has a decent size keyboard. Another issue with doing some kinds of work on a smart phone is the limited screen real estate. I am yet to see one client who can grasp an idea of a regular web site mock up, a desktop software GUI draft or even an income statement from the cell phone screen. Of course, a CPA with 20 years of experience under his belt might pull this off with income statement, but not a regular small business owner.

Overall, having your data available both on the cloud and off is a great idea. However, until we will be able to use a real high-speed connection to that data, nothing major is going to happen. Storage rooms are a great business, but having storage room doesn’t mean your car gets to move faster.


Small Business Issues – 7 Areas To Expect Most of The Trouble

While my fascination with Google Wave is settling I want to go back to what this blog is all about – small business. It’s no secret that most of small businesses concentrate on surviving and becoming profitable. News are full of glamorous stories about glorious start-ups. In real life there are thousands of less known ventures and businesses that are alive and kicking – every day. Success of a small business is, indeed, in moving from failure to failure. As long as each failure results in small business owner learning valuable lesson.

We have recently completed a company analysis for $1.5M business. Scratch that. Recently we have completed an analysis of 10-year old successful company that had just found out they are worth well over a million dollars. They though their worth was around $200K and they treated their business as such. Problems we have uncovered and presented to the owners are not uncommon. Even more so, I would dare to say that most small business’ problems are falling under one of seven main categories:

1. Business owner/Leadership issues. Business owner may lack vision, being stuck in a day to day routine. Business owner may, on the other hand, have too broad a vision, trying to compete in all areas at once. Either way business looses.

2. Human Resources issues. Speaking of small business owners it is always hard for the owner to find a person they can trust. Money are tight, there’s never enough time so the owner is convinced that any new person will not be a good fit for the company. Maybe some time later. Being able to delegate solving secondary problems is a virtue not many small business owners possess.

3. Innovation issues. Most of the businesses are shy of innovation because they shy of money. Or so they think and so they say. In some cases it might be true. However in most cases innovation (not necessarily technological – it could be just a different approach to sales) is the ultimate source of  company’s strategic growth. Just because it was working before – doesn’t mean it will work the same in the future. But even if it will – would you rather make the same money or double that?

4. Marketing and sales issues. Most people create their business because they know how to do something, not how to sell it. They think once they start offering their services people will come. People will, indeed, come – to those who can sell to them. Not knowing how to market themselves, small business owners fail to capture their strategic share of market. Around 75 to 80% of business owners cannot price their services or goods properly.

5. Operations and logistics issues. This area is so broad that I would probably have to create another post just for that. Most small businesses fail to understand the importance of the fine-tuned operations. Maybe you spend too much time going to suppliers when for little extra money you can have them deliver to you – while you be making much more money rather than putting your business on hold. Or maybe your people are doing the double work by filing documents in both paper and electronic forms. Or maybe there is something else. Time is the most scarce resource that you have, and operations issues are the biggest time waster.

6. Legal issues. This is a can of worms of its own. Do you have all the licenses you need to run your business? Are you covered in all states and counties you operate? Do you have insurance that will cover you in case something happens? Have you filed all your tax reports on time? You may be surprised at how tricky these things can be.

7. Financial issues. This is the item most of business owners would have put first, so I am deliberately putting it last. You think you have money problem? You might be right. The reason for that is that you are having some of the issues from the list above on your hands. Either way you are not collecting enough sales, or your expenses are too high, or both. Unless, of course, your business model is flawed, but that’s whole another story.

So what is the outcome of the analysis that any small business should do? Identify the most flawed areas and fix them – one by one. Don’t wait, don’t put major things off – the larger the company the harder is it to change things there. So start early, move fast. Today is a good day for change.