Google Voice for Students

Google is now providing invites to its Google Voice service for students that have a .EDU e-mail address.  Besides the fact that Google Voice is only available in the U.S., I didn’t see any other limitations of their (generous) offer.  I’ve been told that Google has been sending out invites within 24 hours of the request being submitted.  You can find more details on this page.  Post a comment here if you’re able to take advantage of this offer.

Interview with Matthew Hymel of Switchfast Technology

Recently, I had a chance to interview Matthew Hymel of Switchfast Technology, a leading small business IT consulting and support firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois and an office in Rochester, New York.  In addition to those two cities, Switchfast also provides full IT service in the following metropolitan areas:

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • San Francisco, California.

Below are the highlights of my interview with Matthew.

SoHoTrends: Matthew, I appreciate you taking the time today to answer a few common questions that readers of have about small business IT issues.  What common problem(s) do you see at your small business clients?

SwitchFast: The most common problem we see in small businesses is a lack of technology support and expertise afforded to their bigger competitors. We find they often settle for lower quality resources. Compared to larger companies, downtime lasts longer and affects more of the company when problems like data loss, computer failure, and e-mail downtime arise. These can grind operations to a halt- and without the financial safety net a bigger competitor might enjoy.

SoHoTrends: Great answer.  As a small business owner, my IT issues really affect my bottom line adversely.

Let’s move on to another popular topic, web sites.  Very often I’ll hear readers ask, “My son/daughter/cousin/next-door neighbor/friend designed my web site a few years ago and it needs to be refreshed.  How do I get started?”

SwitchFast: Here are four things to consider:

  1. Think about your “ideal” visitor. Try to define their purpose for visiting: e-commerce? Lead generation? Information? Membership?
  2. Take a new look at your website- as a first-time visitor. How easily can you find what you’re visiting for? What would get in the way?
  3. Consider implementing or updating a “news” or blog page. Communicating with new and returning visitors builds credibility and fosters an ongoing relationship with your target clients.
  4. Develop a list of words that potential clients would “Google” to find your business if they didn’t know your business’ name. Work with an SEO specialist to incorporate these keywords into your pages, and work to drive yourself to the first result for those keywords.

SoHoTrends: Cloud computing is a topic that seems to get all the buzz recently.  What is cloud computing?  Is this something that a small business should consider using?

SwitchFast: Cloud computing is a relatively new term for a familiar concept- buying vs. leasing. Imagine buying a car for your business, and the related expenses (maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc) and compare that to a company leasing the same car for a low monthly price. Now, you can’t be sure that the company leasing your car will be in business forever, and you’d trust that company with your belongings stored in the car. However, being released of the headaches of owning the car, and paying only for the convenience of it, is truly an enticing proposition.

Now, apply that idea to almost every aspect of your business- e-mail, phone systems, accounting tools, sales software, data backups, and so on. Hundreds of providers offer a similar proposition for every conceivable need.  A small business should certainly consider their needs and evaluate the “cloud” options open to them, especially as an alternative to internal investments.

SoHoTrends: Unfortunately, I don’t live in one of the areas that SwitchFast serves.  What should I look for in an IT service provider for my small business?

SwitchFast: Here are four different things to consider when looking for an IT service provider.

  1. Prevention- How proactively are problems handled? If your IT provider isn’t focusing on the source of problems, you might continue paying for fixing the symptom, not the cause.
  2. Responsiveness- How quickly are problems addressed- and fixed? Your needs should be a priority, not a pest.
  3. Expertise- What certifications and experience are you getting? If they aren’t experts in your system, you might be paying for on-the-job training.
  4. Pricing- Are you charged a flat rate (per-month, per-project), or hourly? Without a flat, predictable rate, your IT expenses can be difficult to control and impossible to predict.

SoHoTrends: What services does Switchfast offer to small businesses?

SwitchFast: Switchfast is the IT department for our small business clients whether for a specific issue, a project, or ongoing support.  We offer:

  • IT Support/Consulting
  • Website Development- Online Strategy, SEO, Content Management Systems
  • Application Development- Streamline business processes, improve sales process
  • VoIP Phones- Unify communications, gain efficiency.

SoHoTrends: Wow, Switchfast offers a very broad set of services to small businesses.  How would I get in touch with someone at Switchfast?

SwitchFast: E-mail or call 773-241-3007.

SoHoTrends: Thanks again Matthew for addressing some of the more common concerns that our readers, small business owners, have about information technology.

Five Lessons I Learned From Watching Shark Tank (Part 2 of 5)

Here is the second of five posts about lessons that I’ve learned from watching the ABC reality television show, Shark Tank.  Please join the conversation by adding what you’ve learned in the comment section below.

Lesson 4 – It’s All About Control

For the most part, the entrepreneurs who present on Shark Tank overvalue the value of their enterprise by a fair amount.  When the entrepreneur makes his first offer, you can see the sharks figuring out the implied value of the business.  It’s a simple formula — asking price of the ownership stake divided by % ownership stake offered.  So, if an enterpreneur offers 10% of her company for $20,000, the implied value (or worth) of the company is $200,000 ($20,000 / 10%) .  While I could devote an entire series of posts about how an entrepreneur can justify the valuation of his business, for now, suffice to say that factors such as profitability, cash flow, growth potential, patent/copyright protection and management expertise, all play a role in the valuation.  The point is that IF the valuation that the enterpreneur has implied in his offer to the sharks is fair AND one of the sharks feels like the business has some substance, the sharks frequently ask for a 51% ownership stake (either alone or in conjunction with other sharks) to take control of the company.  In rare instances, the shark’s initial offer is for 50% of the company;however, most times, the sharks ask for controlling interest.

When presented with a counter-offer that gives control to the sharks, the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank seem to fall into two distinct groups.  The first group includes those owners who cannot and will not take orders from someone else.  The company is their baby and they absolutely won’t give up control.  Pragmatic owners fall into the second group.  This group of owners realize that 49% of something is worth more (in some cases much more) than 51% of much less (or nothing).

The next lesson that I learned from watching Shark Tank will be posted shortly…

All five lessons that I learned from watching Shark Tank: