SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

The Gig Economy and The Rise of the Uber-Specialists

Posted on May 19, 2017 by Jeff Shuey

Does the gig economy encourage the rise of the Uber Specialist? The Gig Economy

Where Uber Specialist means a person with deep and specific skills.

    Note: This has NOTHING to do with the car service.

Effectively this is the market and model for independent consultants since the dawn of time. Where someone has a unique skill that people are willing to pay for.

Simple. That’s consulting 101.

What about generalists? We’ll come back to this.

The Gig Economy encourages and enables people from all walks of life to take their skills and put them on the open market.

For example, in business:

  • If you want somebody to clean up your audio files you can find that online.
  • If you want someone to help you proofread a technical document you can find them online too.
  • If you want someone to help you with almost any task you can find that skill somewhere online and/or in your town.

Although the points above are specific tasks there are other skills that are more general generic in nature. There is nothing wrong with being a generalist in this sense. However, it is likely that generalists will be limited in what they can charge for their services.

Back to the question from the title of this post:

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Mourn the Past or Celebrate the Future?

    This past week I received an announcement that Bainbridge Technology Solutions was closing its doors on Winslow Way (“Main Street”) on Bainbridge Island. It’s been a storefront institution for over a dozen years; a welcome man cave to pick up parts, order a new system and most importantly, receive expert repair services. It joins other recent closures such as an office supply store (“Paper Products) just down the street.

Bainbridge Technology Solutions was impacted by concurrent forces: retail disruption and pivot to cloud. Across Puget Sound, a short 35-min. ferry ride, is the home of Amazon.com who's disruption impacts physical presence retail everywhere. The pivot to cloud has reduced IT spends as we know it. In the words of Brandon Byron, owner of Bainbridge Technology Solutions, “We have sincerely enjoyed being part of the Bainbridge Island retail community. However, retail operations are no longer feasible in this evolving industry. So, we look forward to the next chapter that will allow us to continue to serve the community for many years to come.” Byron was also impacted by the very IT vendors he served. In this article, I outline how HP’s snub of small retailers in ink sales truly hurt firms like Bainbridge Technology Solutions.

 

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[Photo credit to Charles and Dona Keating and Pattie O’Loughlin]

SMB Nation is a long-time customer and supporter of Bainbridge Technology Solutions. For a few years, we upheld it as a poster child for Small Business Saturday (in late November) that you can read about here (included popcorn and coffee for celebrants in 2015) and watch a video featuring Bainbridge Technology Solutions in 2011 here.

Moving forward, Byron shared that “Commercial clients will continue to be serviced as usual, residential clients will have the option to schedule on-site and remote service calls via our web site.”

The choice is yours on how to absorb this news. On the one hand, you can be angry and perhaps have grievances about losing something from the past. I’d offer, knowing Byron well, he’s focused on the future and, shed from the retail overhead, will figure it out. I’ve got his number on speed dial!

PS – big discounts on remaining inventory the next few days. Stop by and tell Byron that “Harry sent ya!”

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Onward and Upward – Jamison West’s New Gig

Over the past few months, I’ve teased you with forthcoming changes in the world of Jamison West. He essentially divested

his MSP practice business interests, sold his Seattle home into a strong market and moved to Las Vegas with his family (pictured). It would jamisonbe easy to assume it was the record setting monsoon season in Seattle that caused his move to fun and sun but it’s more than that.

So it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. What’s the story with Jamison? With life changes afoot, West is the new CEO for Teamatics. It’s kinda like Myers-Briggs meets Slack. To level set, Microsoft Teams is the competitor to the wildly popular Slack. It represents Microsoft’s latest endeavor into the malleable world of collaboration (following similar positioning with Yammer, SharePoint, Skype messaging and so on). Slack largely created the latest generation of collaboration with what started as a IM tool for gamer developers and was validated but serving as a rapid development environment for the reboot of the Healthcare.gov web site. I view Slack as an internal email replacement to keep my Inbox free. I’m using Microsoft Teams as well but it feels more like a document storage corpus to me (say SharePoint Jr.). Admittedly I’ve only been using Microsoft Teams for five months and it only recently was officially released so the Microsoft Teams journey continues.

West is leveraging Microsoft Teams as a “new platform for developing human capital and improving team performance.” His firm Teamatics strikes me as one part Myers-Briggs, one part peer group/living theology and one part technology. I’d first and foremost define this as a services business, not a product line. West’s calling is and has been for some time to help others ad this new venture allows for that.

Of the launch, West said, “In my 20-plus years of managing teams and leaders of teams I’ve struggled to find a simple, accurate way to ensure talents are aligned to objectives and that the team is aligned with each other and to the culture of my company. I am thrilled to be part of a new team that has done incredible work to solve that problem.”

I’ll continue to monitor this startup.

UPDATED: Let me know if you thing we should weave Jamison into the fabirc of our upcoming six-part MSP Tech Talk series? He is a frequent speaker in the SMB MSP channel partner community. Hmmm...

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8 Success Tips for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Starting a business for the first time can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Follow these sage advice tips to keep your head above water in the beginning stages.

By: Matt Knee Founder and President of MyNewCompany.com

Starting a new business for the very first time can be intimidating. As a first-time entrepreneur, your nerves may be wracked and you’re diving into a bit of the Welcome to Entrepreneurshipunknown. The good news is that overcoming some of the challenges that come along with first-time entrepreneurship can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. There is more advice for first-time entrepreneurs than there are hours in the day, so I’ve gathered some of the best I’ve heard over the years and distilled them down to the 8 best success tips for first-time entrepreneurs.

Drill down to the minimum viable product (MVP)
One of the biggest areas where first-time entrepreneurs fail is in failing to launch. They spend so much time perfecting an idea that it never actually gets off the ground or offered for sale. With an MVP, you identify the core problem people are trying to solve and build a problem around just that - no bells and whistles. If you can effectively solve the problem, you can launch and gather information and insights from customers as you go. From there, you can focus on iterating new versions of the MVP and adding on only what customers have expressed they need. It saves time, money and a lot of heartache.

2. Provide Top-Tier Customer Service
This one goes hand-in-hand with #1. An MVP should be tightly coupled with great customer service, which is where you’ll garner the most insights and provide a lot of value. You don’t need a perfect product, but you do need customer support staff available to make your customers feel valued and to address any issues that arise. People form relationships with people, not products. By making your brand shine with great people, you will have positive feelings attached to the product you sell. From there come positive reviews/testimonials and great referrals.

3. Find Great Employees
A company is only as good as the people that make it run. A bad hire can really throw a wrench in the works and make it more difficult for even the best employees to do their jobs. Do your due diligence in researching prospective hires and ensuring that they have the appropriate background and experience. Culture fit is also an important consideration. People who jive well together produce the best results because they’re happy at work. A negative employee can be like a cancer that eats away at the spirits of the rest of the team. If you make a bad hire, don’t be afraid to make tough decisions to make things right.

4. Don’t Skimp on Marketing
As a first-time entrepreneur, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of ensuring your product is perfect, that customers are happy and that business operations are running smoothly. All those are essential parts of running a successful business, but marketing is, too. You may have the best product the world has ever seen, but if the world never actually sees it, your business will fail. Whether you work with an agency or choose to do marketing in-house, it needs to exist to get your product in front of the right eyes at the right time and increase sales.

5. Keep Finances in Check
This is perhaps the #1 area where first-time entrepreneurs fail. Running a business requires money, and if you aren’t managing yours well, your business is at risk. You need to stay on top of your income and expenses to ensure that you’re not going to run out of cash. By keeping a close eye on the balance sheet, you can adjust spending as needed and keep overhead as low as possible. Being frugal isn’t a bad thing; unnecessary expenses should be avoided. Once you’ve established the business to a point where you see meaningful revenue, you can adjust spending accordingly. Until then, keep costs as low as possible and monitor what is happening with cash flow.

6. Be Open to Advice
Being a first-time entrepreneur is hard enough, but trying to do it solo can be disheartening. Whether you’re in business with a partner or going it alone, you don’t have to isolate. Talk to other entrepreneurs about your venture and be open to receiving advice. Take what you like and leave the rest behind.


7. Get Enough Sleep
It may sounds trite but getting enough sleep is extremely important for first-time entrepreneurs. Studies show that poor sleep quality is connected to reduced grey matter volume in the brain’s frontal lobe - the area that helps control executive function and working memory. In laymen’s terms? Your work quality and ability to be mentally alert suffer when you aren’t well-rested. Get the right amount of shut-eye, even if it seems like there’s no time. The trade-off for working one extra hour vs. getting an extra hour of sleep may be greater than you think.

8. Know Your Competition
Another great pitfall for first-time entrepreneurs is being so self-focused that they forget to look at who their competitors are and what they’re doing. If you haven’t already (and hopefully you have), complete market research on competitive products to establish what sets you apart. When you start doing marketing, these are the bullet points on which you’ll want to focus. Set up Google Alerts to monitor what is happening in your industry and what moves competitors are making. Keep your customers close, and your competitors closer.

Following the tips above can provide some peace-of-mind and help you elevate your new business to the next level. Before you know it, you’ll be a seasoned entrepreneur, sharing your own sage advice with people new to the game.


Matt Knee is Founder and President of MyNewCompany.com. MyNewCompany.com, started in 2001, makes starting and running a business simple, fast, and inexpensive for entrepreneurs and their advisors. They offer complete incorporation and LLC formation packages. To date, they have started over 50,000 companies in all 50 states.

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IT Tips: How Small Businesses can Maintain a Healthy Network

mall business owners have a lot of responsibility. Between daily operations and managing employees, it’s hard to imagine having time to worry about your network connect. But with so many cloud-based applications currently helping small businesses run, the health of their network remains one of the most important aspects of day-to-day functionality.

Keeping ahead of major problems can keep a business from losing out on revenue and taking a hit to their Healthy Networkreputation. But, understandably, most small businesses don’t have an IT department on hand. The fate of the network rests on the shoulders of the less technologically savvy, and sometimes, gets forgotten about until it's too late and there is already a problem.

Want to avoid issues with your network? We spoke to some IT managers to come up with five important steps you can take to protecting and troubleshooting your network.

Invest in a Network Monitoring Solution

If there’s one huge step you can take to track what’s happening on your network, this is it. Researching and investing in a monitoring solution that fits your needs will set you up for success. When you’re considering your options, you want to make sure you choose a program that provides ease of use, has the ability to grow as your company does, and a team that provides exceptional customer service. Having a team behind the program that’s willing to offer training and insight when needed is an added bonus. Don’t invest in the first program you stumble across. Ask around, do your research, and trust your gut instinct.

Develop an Escalation Plan

With a monitoring solution in place and an at-a-glance network map, you can move onto the next step in network health—the escalation plan. At this point, you need to take stock of who is going to step in when there’s a problem and start building a team of reliable employees. If you don’t have an IT team, this is incredibly important. You need to ensure you have employees at every location capable of troubleshooting or contacting the right people to start solving an issue at the first hint of a problem. You should have someone monitoring the network on a daily basis, but outside of that, know who else needs to be looped in if anything goes wrong.

Assign roles and make sure those roles are clear to everyone involved. Each person should know what they’re responsible for, who to contact in the event of an outage and how to escalate their problem. Developing contact lists that include emails and phone numbers, keeping employees informed of internet policies, and constantly adjusting your plan for company changes, are all part of keeping an escalation plan updated.

This plan is the most important aspect of a healthy network. Having a team that knows the warning signs of a problem and how to respond quickly, will ensure your company doesn’t lose any important information or businesses as a result of a network outage.

Keeping your data secure

Security is one of the major factors in network health. Businesses never get a warning before a data breach, but they can take the appropriate steps to ensure they’re keeping their information safe. Some of these steps are incredibly simple, including setting up a company firewall and setting priorities about what employees can access when they’re using your network. If you’ve assigned company mobile phones, it’s important to keep track of the applications that are being downloaded and blocking apps that come from unknown developers.

Limiting remote access for employees is another must. Working from home on their private network should be safe, but public Wi-Fi can expose your data to a host of hackers and other security issues. Don’t’ forget about updating your software. It may seem like such a small task, easy to overlook, but it’s incredibly important. Many software updates come with upgraded security features that coincide with any updates your computer or mobile phone has recently implemented. Not updating software could potentially expose your information to hackers.

Understand your Network Infrastructure

One of the key attributes of a good monitoring program is a network map. If you’re a small business with one location, this isn’t a huge driver. But if you’re a multi-location business, you need to monitor your network across all locations and understand the infrastructure you have in place. Having a network map, whether it’s designed for your monitoring program or a way of tracking your locations that you’ve developed on your own, should allow you ease of access to viewing and troubleshooting problems at any location at the click of a button. Knowing where your physical equipment is, and how your network is connected from one location to the next, can save time and energy when a problem arises.

Monitor your bandwidth and network daily

Just like consistently updating apps and changing passwords, someone on your team should be taking a look at what is happening on your network daily. This can be as simple as logging into your monitoring solution and seeing what’s happening with latency, bandwidth, and CPU. A great monitoring solution will even allow customers to set alerts, so if your bandwidth is suddenly soaring, it will send an email out to let you know.

For more in-depth networks, it also helps to set priorities for where your bandwidth can be used and for what applications. This will make you aware when one office is streaming YouTube videos or uploading and downloading major files consistently. Knowing what is happening at each one of your locations will help you define how to allocate your network and keep it from being stretched too thin.

A businesses number one priority is generating revenue. These days, we can’t do that without an internet connection. If a network goes down, it not only prevents us from providing our customers with what they need, but it impedes productivity internally. These tips can help any business, large or small, stay on top of their network and continue to keep it healthy.

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