As we become increasingly dependent on the technology infiltrating every aspect of our lives, we’re also gaining a heavier dependence on specialists – people who can supply and maintain our equipment, and also those who help us find our way through the bewildering array of choices so that we can make the most of new developments.
A new way of doing business
“The home office is now a staple of business life,” says Nick Roche, national director of Computer Troubleshooters. “Broadband combined with laptops and wireless technology is delivering flexibility in how many people work on a daily basis. Many business people are also using this flexibility either to stay at home one day a week or miss peak traffic times by doing transferable personal interactive tasks from home, such as email and banking.”
A lifestyle we could only imagine even a few years ago is now both possible and affordable. A flexible wireless network for multiple computers now costs less than $200 to set up at home. Once it’s in place, a business person using a laptop can easily transfer work from the office to home and continue to access email and the Internet while the rest of the family is online. The price of laptops has also fallen dramatically, so that many are now cheaper than traditional desk tops, and 3G wireless card access has dropped by as much as 300 per cent over the past year. Many laptops now have built-in WiFi access and longer battery life, so there are fewer constraints on where or when you can work – it’s hardly surprising that the laptop is the preferred business tool for a growing number of business owners and managers, or that we’re seeing an associated decline in so-called POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).
According to Damian Kay, managing director and co-founder of telcoinabox, the demand for mobile and wireless broadband is currently growing at more than 64 per cent each year in Australia – and he’s confident that rapid growth is likely to continue for some time.
Using the Internet to grow
As business-owners grow more familiar with the online environment, they’re becoming increasingly aware of the Internet as a powerful tool to help them grow their business.
“They are now starting to demand much higher standards from their internet partners,” says James Greig, managing director of Bloomtools. “They know that they need more than the basic online brochure they’re likely to get from their cousin’s neighbour’s son or a small local developer and they might have been mucked around and ripped off by small developers in the past. So now they’re going to bigger website companies with specialist teams of designers, developers and marketers, a variety of solid products and a good reputation.”
Nick Roche is seeing the same trend.
“When we first set up Computer Troubleshooters in Australia 11 years ago we were virtually the only branded alternative for small business and home IT support,” he says. “Since then the penetration of computers and the reliance of business on their performance have grown exponentially – and customers’ demand for reliability and knowledge has grown along with them. Customers now seek a branded solution for their IT needs to ensure the quality of service and continuity of relationship that many small independent operators are unable to provide. IT is now an area where customers do not want to take risks. They understand that the loss of your IT data is the modern equivalent of a house fire.”
Does this mean it’s impossible for a small business to survive and thrive?
“The answer to this is both yes and no,” says Jaan Elturan of MLN West Melbourne. “It is obvious that only good businesses will survive in the long run. You have to be able to offer more than your competition regardless of your size and, in some cases, smaller businesses have their own particular strengths compared with larger counterparts. For instance, we are flexible and can adapt to new trends more quickly. We move our products faster, and in the computer industry that’s key – ours are always the latest available. We also have far lower operating costs.
“It is difficult for small companies but not impossible. We have a clear vision and unique business model that have worked well for us – for instance, last year our sales were up 120 per cent up on the previous year at a time when most other retailers’ sales were falling.”
Damian Kay has never considered size to be an issue.
“It’s a matter of just getting out there and doing, with no excuses,” he says. “It’s easy to use external factors as an excuse for why a company cannot make it in a particular marketplace. But, if a business is focused, has a clear purpose, is adaptable and willing to constantly run their business on the edge of chaos – with low levels of constant change and adaptation to change – as well as having a no-excuses mentality, then they will make their mark. For small businesses in particular it is important to learn from your losses and mistakes, and celebrate your wins.”
Technology for franchisees
As developing technology opens up new opportunities for franchisees, it is also helping them to run their business more effectively.
“There’s no doubt about it – the franchise market has been revolutionised by the internet,” says Bloomtools’ James Greig. “It has changed the way franchisors promote themselves and attract and keep both customers and franchisees. It has also allowed them to put all their systems and processes online to create unique value for their franchisees.”
In all sectors, the most forward-thinking franchisors are using the Internet to streamline their systems and make it easier for franchisees to succeed.
“Blackberries and wireless internet have definitely been helpful in giving business people access to the Internet anywhere, but it’s things like online business systems that are really helping franchisees make more money,” says Greig. “They allow them to concentrate on their core business rather than being bogged down in paperwork and long-winded internal business processes. For instance, our franchisees can run their entire business from their online control centre, quickly and simply – from quoting, ordering, project managing, invoicing, marketing, KPI reporting to managing their clients. Everything they need can be accessed 24×7 from any location, so they don’t need to be chained to a desk.” n