Six tips to help small businesses think big

Everybody thinks small-to-midsize businesses are the hot new market these days. Carriers, in particular, are leaping with relish into sales programs aimed at smaller companies — because often, these folks deliver higher margins and better growth than larger enterprise organizations.

And they’re right. Despite the economic slowdown, businesses overall — and SMBs in particular — are continuing to plow ahead with investments. That’s great news for carriers, as well as the hardware, software and professional services companies that sell to SMBs.

But what about SMBs themselves? How can they best navigate the plethora of offerings aimed at them? IT staffers in small organizations have particular challenges.

Often they’re the only folks who understand technology — so in addition to architecting, engineering, implementing and maintaining solutions, they’re responsible for “evangelizing” it (not to mention creating the business case).

And, of course, there’s the role of taking the heat for cost overruns and implementation failures. None of this is different from how things work in larger companies, but in SMBs, often the same individual is responsible for all of the above.

Here are some best practices, gleaned both from my work with IT teams at smaller companies, and my personal experience (Nemertes Research has 15 folks):

  • Don’t neglect the stakeholders. In SMBs, IT investments are always directly in response to specific business requirementsoften under very tight time constraints.

  • Sometimes what gets overlooked in the rush to deployment are the true requirements of key stakeholders. Take the time to fully understand the requirements — your stakeholders will thank you for it later.
  • RFPs are key. It’s worth the effort to issue a request for proposal even for small projects (such as moving to new mobile services) because it forces everyone to get on the same page with respect to timeframes, requirements and costs.
  • Consider outsourcing. For the first time, more than half the companies I’m working with are considering managed network services. It’s a great idea, particularly if you’re supporting distributed sites with little-to-no local IT support. But don’t stop at managed services — consider outsourcers for support for design, implementation and hosted services as well.
  • That said, if you’re using outsourcers, make sure you’ve got detailed outsourcer-management plans. Specifically, make sure you spell out expectations when it comes to service levels, payment plans and problem-remediation strategies.
  • Stay agile. One big advantage small companies have over their larger counterparts is agility — the ability to respond quickly to changing business requirements. Don’t sacrifice that advantage to save a few bucks (or worse, just because a provider asked). Keep contracts short, and leave yourself plenty of “out” clauses.
  • Review your IT strategy and road map on a regular basis. Another component of agility is the ability to take rapid advantage of technology changes. Because you’re not rolling every change out to 50,000 employees — you may be able to afford to take a risk on newer, more cutting-edge approaches.

    The bottom line? Just because you’re small is no reason not to think big.

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