Last night I was lucky enough to be a judge at a contest looking for a new business to support, and what a fascinating evening it was. My brief was to find out how far the finalists exploited and engaged with technology, and due to the various natures of the businesses pitching, one question definitely didn’t fit all. The SMEs presenting to us were a cookery school, a hamper company, a soft play centre and a business consultant specialising in building corporate bridges with Asia, so each with specific needs, reliance on technology and ways to engage with the internet. These are the questions I asked them, and whether you’re a cookery school or an international business consultant or not, they’re questions it would be well worth asking yourself about your company’s online services. Oh and please don’t count the questions – when did a panellist ever stick to just one question??
I asked the first contestant “How do you use technology to attract business, or to connect with potential partners and companies that can bring you business?” The answer was very little, she did all that in person. Personal contact is vital, but she could spend all day every day doing that instead of her core business activity, so there is huge scope there that’s not being realised. It seems a common misconception that using the internet to make contact with people precludes personal contact, but in fact it’s the opposite – making contacts online often leads to personal and durable business relationships.
I snuck in another question, or two run together just to make the most of it. “Are you confident you’re using technology to the maximum benefit of your business, and are you confident also that you can manage the technology your company relies on or do you have a good relationship with someone who can?“. The contestant felt that as she had a website she was using technology, albeit at a distance as it wasn’t an area of great interest. That’s incredibly common, and precisely why companies like OpenSure exist, to deal with the boring tecchy side of things, while business owners get on with what they do best.
To the next finalist I posed the question “Given how crucial online sales are to your business, are you confident that your online services are in good hands and working in the best interests of your business?“. She felt that side of things was all fine, but didn’t engage with it greatly herself, as she was another businesswoman with the view that it got in the way of ‘proper’ business relationships. I feel another article coming on as this is such a common theme.
The next finalist didn’t mention technology at all in her presentation, so I asked the question “How do you feel online services can make a signifiant difference and contribution to your business?“. This was the third contestant running that didn’t want to focus on her website or online services of any description as it wasn’t how business had come her way to date. We know the feeling, much of our business comes through word of mouth and it’s the best way, but this businesses in particular could exploit the internet to huge advantage, especially for maximising communications with the other side of the world across time zones and considerable language barriers.
I asked the final contestants “Do you view technology as a necessary evil or something that can help? Is it a help or a hindrance?“, which was two questions really but I got away with it. It was quite a relief to hear a contestant talk positively about use of the internet both in the services they provided and in running their own business, but they were the exception that proved the rule, and demonstrates me to just how much progress remains to be made in opening the eyes of SMEs in the contribution online srvices can make to the success of their businesses.