Small business owners face a unique set of needs and challenges in building a successful and profitable company. But they have a number of advantages over ‘the big boys’, such as the ability to respond quickly to new developments in the marketplace.

One way to develop those advantages is through professional networking, and sharing business experiences among like-minded owners and entrepreneurs.

That’s why news of the launch of a new small business focused networking and professional peer group is so exciting – it’s the first such group in Canada, and it is a unique forum for those who want to implement a model for success in their own small businesses through collaboration on best technology industry practices. For more information see  HTG Peer Group – a First in Canada. Attendees and participants will hear that, in many ways, a big corporation is like an ocean liner; small businesses are more like speed boats.

For example, the rapid pace of change in information technology means that small businesses can often respond more adeptly, more economically, than large corporations with large investments in fixed IT infrastructures.

So, using technology effectively and efficiently can be a small business advantage.

The smaller business operator can also adapt to changes in customer wants and needs more quickly and responsively than the larger enterprise, and so utilize emerging communications tools like mobile technology and Web 2.0 networking to greater advantage.

So, providing great customer satisfaction, or CSAT, can be another small business advantage.

Combine those two together, and small business can leave the competition in its wake – like a speedboat would an ocean liner.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) in Practice

That’s the operating philosophy behind ITMatters, a Calgary, Alberta-based business and IT consulting company, dedicated to having a positive and significant impact on small business owners and operators across the country.

A small business itself, ITMatters knows full well how small and medium sized business (SMB) owners have different needs. As such, it is well-positioned to provide solutions that best fit individual small business challenges and opportunities.

The company is also well positioned to provide value service and insight to other small business, as it is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, and has one of the first service providers in its area to receive the Small Business Specialist Community designation from Microsoft.

So, ITMatters can tap into the comprehensive Microsoft ecosystem, gaining operational support, technical leverage, knowledgeable speakers and customizable applications as required, all in support of its small business clientele.

Stuart Crawford, the Director of Business Development for ITMatters (and one of its three original founding partners), has a simple but insightful recipe for success that he often uses to describe his approach to IT consulting:

High CSAT = Profit and Revenue
Low CSAT = Broke

Rather than becoming preoccupied with profit and revenue, Crawford says, small business should be keeping its eye “on the only key performance indicator that is crucial to business success: complete customer satisfaction.”

Crawford fervently believes that “All the other stuff (profits, cash flow and anything else) will automatically fall into place…when we are focused on taking care of our client’s best interest and ensure that we are delivering the most effective level of service [and], innovative solutions that bring value to our client base.”

“When we achieve total client satisfaction,” Crawford continues, “we have happy clients who enjoy transacting with us, we have clients that pay their invoices on time, our clients easily refer business to our companies, the clients we are working with continue to invest in solutions that our companies recommend and maybe the most important reason why it important for our business to have a very high client satisfaction score: we will have employees that enjoying taking care of the clients that they are assigned, this will increase staff retention, creating a bond between our teams and our client base and we have a bunch of happy people who enjoy coming to work and transacting with our corporations.”

Happy customers, happy employees. Profitable businesses.

Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) and Microsoft Partner Program

As one of some 7,000 small business industry partners worldwide, ITMatters has benefited from its SBSC Small Business Specialist Community status, a competency-like designation available to members of the Microsoft Partner Program.

The program is designed to help partners win the confidence of a thriving small business segment, one that is crucial to the overall success of the economy. Microsoft sees a small business as one with less than 250 employees (ITMatters has about 30), and it says that small business makes up a significant portion of the overall economy. Small firms employ more than half of those in the private sector economy, and they account for as many as 75 percent of all net new jobs, according to recently available data.

So keeping small businesses happy, productive and profitable is key to Microsoft, and its many SBSC partners, including ITMatters.

Founded some seven years ago, the company is built around the IT and expertise of the partners, all of whom worked for a larger consulting company before starting out on their own.

“We wanted to have a positive impact in the Calgary market; we knew we could do this for ourselves, and we knew our ideas would have a significant impact on our clients. Our previous company, we felt, had lost its focus, and was unable to respond to changing needs in the marketplace. That’s one of the drawbacks in a large corporation, and one of the advantages of a smaller company. We can directly relate to our clients, we can generate quicker results, and so we can become a trusted IT partner for them.”

“Small businesses need to continually sharper their own saw,” says Crawford, describing both his own company and those of his clients. “The successful ones listen, and then they craft their deliverable around that. They learn from what others are doing, and they are open to input from customers, suppliers, industry partners. They utilize input from peer groups and client focus groups.”

How does IT support that listening?

“Technology is important because a business needs the right technology solution in order to grow and become profitable. Technology is a business enabler, a way for a small business to compete in the global economy and be a voice on the flat world.”

Crawford says that Microsoft Office Live Meeting is one example of a technological tool small business can leverage. “With traffic hold-ups and rising fuel costs, it isn’t easy getting around anymore – whether you’re in the GTA, or here in Calgary. But by scheduling ‘webinars’ and live meetings online, you can reach clients or suppliers worldwide in a productive manner! A quick half hour, without leaving home but with the power of a full PC desktop, well, that’s a powerful business communications tool.”

Add in some effective PowerPoint slides to the online presentation, maybe even utilize some compatible third-party pre-services like Surveymonkey, and small business can turn client feedback into actionable, profitable intelligence.

For small business owners particularly, having business information at their fingertips is critical the success of the business. Besides email, contacts, and calendaring, small businesses need solutions now that run on a mobile phone. Windows Mobile 6.0 is a perfect fit for your line of business applications, Crawford describes, as many clients are already familiar with the Windows interface and can navigate easily on the platform. Windows Mobile leverages the Microsoft .NET platform as well, and it can easily be developed into a tool to access small business data online, anywhere, anytime.

Another example Crawford cites is the small business need for secure crucial business data and applications (without the time, expense or dedicated IT resources many large companies have on hand, but that many small businesses do not).

Utilizing Microsoft’s small business infrastructure and remote IT monitoring capabilities, ITMatters offers its small business clients a reliable data back-up and archiving service.

On a mutually agreeable timetable (say, four times every quarter), a back-up image of the client server is made and stored on optical disc. Cold site server management and recovery tools are available, but the system can automatically check the back-ups, monitoring runtime activity, and, in case of emergency, provide instant notification.

Crawford operates a successful small business, and so he and the ITMatters team are well suited to understand the needs of their clients, successful small businesses. He ‘talks the talk’ as they say, and as a member of the small business community, he’s is committed to maintaining those productive and profitable business conversations, to ensure that small business has the tools to succeed in the marketplace.

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