Small business, big newsletter

There are no small businesses in Canada. There are just businesses that haven’t grown to their full potential yet.

Of all the words you’ll see in our stories, the term “”IT”” is probably followed by “”enterprise.”” That’s been our mandate since we started covering the Canadian technology market

nearly 30 years ago. The trouble is, true Canadian enterprises — meaning corporations that might crack the Fortune 500 — are few and far between in this country. After you’ve gone through the major banks, some transportation companies and one financially-troubled airline, what you’re mostly left with is mid-sized firms which still encounter many of the problems faced by their larger counterparts. Then you have the sea of startups, mom-and-pop shops and companies that prize customer relationships over a slew of branch offices. Apart from looking at opportunities for resellers in this space, we’ve mostly avoided small business stories in our magazines. That’s about to change.

This week, the Transcontinental IT Business Group will be launching SMB Extra, an e-mail newsletter that will be published every two weeks. This is not merely a case of doing more of what we do today. We’re creating content for a new set of readers, and we’ll be crafting that content in a very specific way. Although we’ve always tried to highlight best practices and offer tips for IT managers, SMB Extra will be as service-oriented as possible, identifying both technologies and the business strategies to use them successfully.

Our readers in this case aren’t necessarily IT managers. They are most likely owner-operators who have a far more hands-on role in decisions that involve technology purchases. Their level of IT expertise, therefore, will be more limited than that of a CIO managing a highly complex infrastructure. We’ll tailor our stories appropriately, offering check lists and product information to make the most informed choices possible.

This project was generated in part by a stampede among major product vendors to find new sources of revenue among smaller firms. SAP, IBM and many others have committed considerable resources to gaining market share in this segment, in part because they know it won’t be easy. Try bluffing your way through a sales presentation about a software product that will take months to deliver results. A small business owner won’t take that kind of risk without some major guarantees. Outsourcing contracts of five to seven years are common in the enterprise, but small businesses aren’t as interested in being locked in. Vendors are also finding it difficult to assess what level of functionality small businesses need, and what kind of pricing models will work. Like the early days of the Internet, no one has quite figured it out yet.

The first stage of any major shift in focus, of course, is to generate demand, which is why small business owners can expect an onslaught of marketing that will try to convince them they need the IT equivalent of much larger firms. In many cases, they won’t, because the business can remain operationally efficient (though perhaps not maximally productive) using less automated methods. In other cases, though, some investment will be important, particularly as small businesses deal with much larger suppliers and business partners that expect them to be proficient in using Web services or other technologies to handle everyday transactions. SMB Extra will try to help them understand the investments worth making, and how to get the most from their money.

Small business owners sometimes aren’t taken as seriously as executives with larger firms, but in their fiscal caution and their insistence on results they often have the kind of values as an IT buyer that CIOs lacked for many years. That’s the thing about running a small business: to some extent, every deal is a big deal.

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