04 Nov Ramon Ray of SmartHustle gives the low-down on Smallbiz & Tech
The following is from an interview we conducted with Ramon Ray of SmartHustle Magazine. Ramon has been an expert on Small Businesses and their use of technology since the late 1990s. An entrepreneur himself, he offers us crucial insights into technology’s effect on SMBs and what really makes the difference in incorporating them.
Q: What inspired you to start writing on and become an expert in small business’ use of technology?
I had no “inspiration” to become an expert – if I have any expertise I’ve sort of happened upon it over time. Early on I had a consulting company, started sending newsletters through the US Postal Service, then discovered the Internet and started sending newsletters via email. Eventually I started blogging and took on more and more of these marketing capabilities, and this ultimately turned to writing about some of the issues that affect small business and technology.
Q: You started SmallBizTechnology in 1999, at the height of the dotcom boom. Since then do you think our expectations of technology’s effect on business have become less or more extreme?
Well people had what seemed like wild expectations for digital technology in the run-up to the dotcom boom, but now we seem to expect even more from technology and have less doubt about those expectations, in part because we’ve seen everything that can be accomplished with it. However, I think now what we expect out of technology is faster, smaller and smarter compared to what people might have thought was going to happen – we can imagine it incorporated in many more types of ways into everyday life.
Q: Overall IT spending has declined, while most SMBs intend to spend more on technology. To what would you credit this? Are larger businesses becoming more leery of technology, or are smaller and more flexible businesses getting better at incorporating it?
Hmm… this may be better answered by professional analysts since there’s so many variables at play. However, I would say that Microsoft, Google and others have had rising profits, so somebody’s surely buying something. Tech has grown cheaper and more flexible, while many small business owners see the benefits and that the benefits of certain technologies can be realized faster and faster, pushing small businesses to increase their spending.
Q: Data shows that in the United States, starting new businesses has been on the decline since the financial crisis, while entrepreneurship seems more discussed and celebrated in recent years. Do you think entrepreneurs are declining in quantity but improving in quality? Do you think economic conditions deter people from entrepreneurship they would otherwise practice?
This is also a more research-intensive question, but on its face, I think entrepreneurship is growing more favorable and it’s easier to start a business than ever before, so more will start and and even more will fail as a result. In net number, there will be more businesses that succeed as the tools needed are cheaper and easier to use, while access to information is continuing to expand tremendously and it becomes easier to market and communicate about businesses.
Economic conditions might propel people to start their own businesses, however it’s not necessarily playing a direct role in the vision people have for the businesses they start. For instance, Uber is just one example of people doing a “side hustle” when the opportunity is there – now obviously that’s not full-blown entrepreneurship, but it follows very much the same principles that people have when they start a business.
Q: Social networks and index sites like Yelp have brought local businesses closer to their customers. Do you think these account for Small Business’ increasingly trying to incorporate technology? What about companies emerging to target small business? Do you think they are better enabled by these new and progressing forms of communication?
Yes. Absolutely. These social networks and index sites show businesses just how much demand there is for information on local businesses, and the fact that customers consume it mostly through mobile makes the demand even bigger. This subsequently pushes a greater desire for products and services that help small business, and particularly in the areas where consumers demand more information. 3-inch screens and local search – that’s the name of the game today.
Q: Do you think Information Technology is starting to turn the tables in favour of small business? In particular, do you agree that mobile devices are making more people interact and purchase locally?
Starting? It’s definitely been doing that for years. It may be faster, cheaper, smarter and quicker to market today, but the tables have been turning for some time now – the more information that gets out there, the better the chance a little guy has to compete with a big one.
Q: How do you think Online Scheduling will impact local business in the next 5 years?
I’m not sure online scheduling alone is going to be an earth shattering revolution – I think it’s one component of what will be a critical toolkit for retail and service-based businesses. Social, mobile and ecommerce are the dominating forces for sure, but within those waves tools like online scheduling will make a difference for many businesses. It’s definitely a must for small shops, at the very least I think most people would probably want to avoid a phone call whenever they can.
Q: Often CRMs can be considered too large and exaggerated for a lot of small businesses. What do you think is the best way to build or evaluate a CRM for small business?
I think small businesses evaluating a CRM should take a few things into consideration:
- What’s your goal?
- What stage business are you in?
- Do you need a way to manage customer information; nurture leads to a sale and automate these processes?
If your goal is to grow and your business has reached a stage where it needs more sophisticated technical tools to do it, or where you want to bring on a larger workforce, then a CRM is a good choice. If you need to manage customer information and nurture leads more efficiently then there’s no other option than a CRM – early on, these are the types of choices a business may not need to make, but every entrepreneur should be prepared for it when the time comes.
Q: What do you think is the most important lesson or principle (that you’ve adopted) which small businesses can incorporate in using technology for everyday business?
It’s important for small businesses to not be afraid of tech, but instead embrace it. Also, since there’s more information out there now than ever before, don’t hesitate to reach out and get expert help. Small businesses aren’t alone in this, they don’t have to try to do it all themselves!
We at Agendize want to thank Ramon for taking the time to talk to us, and look forward to seeing even more from him in the future. Be sure to read up at SmartHustle Magazine and follow Ramon on Twitter (@ramonray).