Technology with a Touch of Gray: The Case for Upgrading

By Chad Paalman is Vice President, NuWave Technology Partners. From Focus on Small Business, SBAM’s member-only magazine.

Midway through 2010, you send an email using Office 2000 on a PC that proudly announces its compatibility with Windows XP, call your customers on a telephone system that’s older than your high school age children, and prefer to avoid thinking about the longevity of your office server.

Just when you convince yourself to hang on a bit longer, you get more bad news: Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP after April 2014 (at the ripe old age of 14).
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question many business owners will wrestle with this year.

70 percent Move to 7

This year, Windows XP turns 10 years old, decidedly geriatric in the software world, and even seriously long in the tooth for durable goods such as household appliances.
Is it worth it to upgrade to Windows 7? Well, yes.

According to a survey conducted by Computer World earler this year, 67 percent of IT professionals declined to upgrade from Windows XP to Vista. Windows 7 is another story.
The new operating system loads quickly — especially compared to Vista — is more stable, removes intrusive user access control pop ups, improves on document sharing, and makes remote access to corporate networks far easier.

From the standpoint of IT support, the operating system streamlines user configuration management, delivers better device compatibility, supports legacy programs, and affords improved integration with Windows Server 2008. The same Computer World survey reported that 70 percent of IT managers plan to upgrade to Windows 7 within the next year.

Finally, the recent arrival of Office 2010 may seal the deal. For small businesses in particular, it may be especially cost effective to purchase hardware preloaded with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010.

Cost Saving Convergence

For those on the fence about upgrading their telephone architecture, the key selling point comes down to the convergence of voice and data communications — commonly known as Unified Communications (UC) — that integrate voice, messaging, instant messages, conferencing and CRM systems.

By bringing together these services on a platform such as Microsoft Office Communications Server 2008 software, UC can significantly reduce travel, telecom and IT costs, leaving your business leaner, greener and more efficient.

For employees, UC integrates email inbox, voicemail, fax and IM platforms in a single environment, eliminating the redundancy of having separate tools, networks and support teams for each service. For customers, UC provides unparalleled access to key employees whether they’re in the office, working from home or on the road.

Beyond the added capabilities, implementing an IP based phone system can significantly reduce business phone service expenses, especially if you operate several offices or need to add phone lines.

Virtual Office, Virtual Servers

Since the purchase of your office server back in the halcyon days of the Bull Market, server technology has come a long way. Today’s servers are far more efficient in power usage and resource utilization, all because of a cutting edge technology: server virtualization.
Translation: Today’s server hardware supports multiple installations of server software, unlike old servers which can only support one installation. That means, a single server box can mimic several servers: each can host a variety of operating systems (Windows Servers, Linux, etc), Microsoft Exchange servers, SQL servers and Web hosting.

Since one server is doing the work of several servers, you will use less electricity to operate the server and keep

Communication Basics Can Help Businesses Connect

By Barbara Lezotte, APR,  president of Lezotte Miller Public Relations Inc.
From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine

Technology has multiplied the ways companies can communicate with clients and customers, making marketing, advertising and public relations decisions all the more complicated. Which type of communication will connect a company to clients and customers most cost effectively? Business owners and managers can maximize their communication budgets by knowing a few basics.

While communication is a topic that Focus has covered in the past, technology has expanded our options and at the same time made it much easier to spend money uselessly – thus it’s important to continue to keep effective communication tips top of mind and as small business owners, realize the pros and cons of the various types of communication while at the same time managing the “zig and zag” of weighing many other opportunities for our businesses.

1. Advertising, marketing and public relations are not synonymous.

In this era of “integrated marketing” the three often overlap and can be confusing, but they each have a different role and can accomplish very different goals. Advertising is the best understood since most people are bombarded by it daily. Yet it will not work for every business. Very simply, advertising is purchased visibility in newspapers, on television and radio, on web pages or in outdoor formats such as billboards and bus cards. The advertiser controls the message and seeks to create action by potential customers. The ability to select from such a wide array of formats allows any organization to target its audience, however, care must be taken to be sure dollars are not wasted on a particular medium that will not deliver the desired audience.

2. Marketing involves activities or efforts outside of the advertising realm that draw clients or customers to a product or service.

Marketing is distinguished from advertising in that it reaches out to specific populations through mediums outside of the paid advertising arena. It may include product sample distribution, a complimentary service to acquaint a potential customer with the company or social media efforts to build awareness with potential customers.

3. Public relations, perhaps the least understood, is a process in which particular publics or audiences are provided information designed to educate them, change their behavior or persuade them to support a specific issue.

Public relations activities are generally not used to influence direct sales of a product or service, as are advertising and marketing; however, PR activities may improve the public’s understanding of a company, which could indirectly impact its sales. Public relations programs are often confused with publicity efforts because practitioners often work through the news media to carry a message to specific audiences. Giving reporters and editors background information, interviews with sources and additional in-depth facts all help make media coverage more complete and accurate. Beyond the media, public relations efforts continue with well targeted communication designed to reach a specific audience of stakeholders or constituents. Public relations is all about public relationships, not simply publicity.

4. Making decisions about where to put marketing dollars requires an understanding of your client or customer base and the type of communication that will produce the best results.

Is yours a service business with a broad array of potential clients or a more narrow, well-defined customer base? Do you sell a product to a wide variety of customers or is your product of use to only a particular category of the population? Do your clients come to you directly or is there usually a referral source as a middleman? Before deciding wh

New “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” asks residents to shop their downtowns and Michigan Main Street© Districts, share stories for chance to win weekend getaways

A coalition of statewide groups, including the Small Business Association of Michigan, is issuing a “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” to all Michigan residents. The “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” asks individuals and organizations to do at least 75% of their shopping this holiday season in downtowns and Michigan Main Street© Districts, then go online and share their favorite downtown Michigan holiday shopping experience this year to become eligible for a random drawing that offers five weekend getaway packages at Michigan hotels.

In addition to the Small Business Association of Michigan, the coalition includes the Michigan Main Street Center @ Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), the Michigan Downtown Association (MDA), the Michigan Municipal League (MML), the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), The National Trust’s Main Street Center, Main Street Oakland County, Local First and Buy Michigan Now!

“The ‘ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge’ is a way to show how easy it is to purchase all of the gifts you’ll need this holiday at downtown stores, and demonstrate how much fun buying local can be,” said Laura Krizov, manager of the Michigan Main Street Center @ MSHDA. A 2008 study conducted for Think Local First in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Civic Economics reported that $73 out of every $100 spent locally stayed within the community, as opposed to $43 of every $100 spent in a business that was not locally owned.

“When you buy from the small businesses in Michigan’s downtowns and Michigan Main Street© districts, it creates jobs and keeps our friends and neighbors in business,” said SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler. “That’s why we are honored to be a part of making this challenge happen.”

The study also found that if consumers spent just 10 percent more in locally owned businesses, the economic impact could reach $140 million and result in up to 1600 new jobs in the Grand Rapids market alone.

Michigan residents also are being asked to share their stories, photos and videos of their 2010 downtown holiday shopping trips with the public through the campaign’s Facebook page, People who post pictures or video of their experience will be automatically entered into a random drawing to win an overnight stay at one of the following establishments:

  • The Courtland Carriage House Bed & Breakfast in downtown Hart.

Manistee, Clare, Marshall, Boyne City and Hart are recognized Michigan Main Street© districts.

“We all know that shopping Michigan’s downtowns during the holidays is a magical tradition that’s been enjoyed by families and friends for generations,” Krizov said. “We want Michigan residents to tell the world this holiday season what makes their experience so memorable, whether it’s outstanding customer service by a merchant, a great bargain they find at a local store or an unforgettable meal they had at a downtown restaurant.”

The “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” kicks off on November 8, 2010 and lasts throughout the holiday season, ending on December 31, 2010. The contest was inspired by a campaign in Sparta, Michigan. Sparta’s Read more

Looking for Continual Growth? Weed.

By Perry Ballard, Chairman of the Board of Perry Ballard Incorporated
(From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

Continual (Not Continuous) Growth is an Astute Business Goal

Continual” growth is intermittent.  Random opportunities bring you new income. You have time to absorb the work before developing the next opportunity. “Continuous” growth is like neverending water from a fire hose. Soon you can’t keep promises, make pressure errors due to haste and reduce or eliminate profit. With water or work, continuous makes it tough to catch your breath…and the end result can be fatal.

One practice to reach continual growth is periodic weeding.

Every business has unprofitable clients, products, services or machines that consume valuable time, resources, effort and dollars. That drain keeps you from developing profitable customers. You know it’s true. But it’s hard to identify and categorize each candidate and determine action to get back to a profitable situation.

A helpful tool is the Boston Consulting Group Growth-Share Matrix (BCG Matrix).
The BCG Matrix is covered in the strategic planning chapter of every marketing textbook. It helps guide effort and resource allocation and offers a way to make business decisions based on logic rather than emotion – not an easy thing to do.

A BCG matrix puts opportunity for market growth on the vertical axis and market share (your strength) on the horizontal axis.

The following examples use “products” but you can substitute clients, machinery, employees or any element key to your success. The analysis is the same.

Upper right quadrant is QUESTION MARKS. It’s where most products, services and clients start out. You have a relatively small market share, but the growth opportunity is great. Others may have a similar product so you are fighting for market share and need to differentiate your brand. You don’t know how much sales will grow, but there is real opportunity here and you want yours.

STARS is the upper left quadrant and where you’d like your QUESTION MARKS to transition. These products have high sales growth opportunity and you own a substantial share of the market. It might be a product you invented or a feature you improved. (Think iPhone or a client who really relies on you.) STARS are the easiest to identify because you wish you had dozens more of them.

CASH COWS sit in the lower left quadrant. This product has limited growth opportunity, but your market share is significant. These established brands generate cash to pay your other bills. (Established clients with a fixed budget are cash cows.) The market demand may be flat, but you make money on every sale. STARS hopefully become CASH COWS as the market matures.

Finally, the lower right quadrant is the DOGS. No growth, little market share. Think any number of small, local beer companies that were sold during the Budweiser/Miller expansion fights and before the local craft beer craze emerged. Eventually nearly every product, service, even whole industries become DOGS. (Think mimeograph machines.)

Identification is relatively easy; action is harder

Each BCG quadrant has an optimal approach. Each is difficult for distinct reasons, especially determining when a product has shifted, but recognition is the key to profit. Move your QUESTION MARKS, but where? Invest time and dollars to build them into a STAR so they can grow into a CASH COW? Or weed them if they begin to bark like a DOG? Monitor them closely and base your move on rational analysis.

The danger with QUESTION MARKS is falling in love with the product and making excuses. A QUESTION MARK should become a STAR or a CASH COW within a VERY reasonable time frame. Otherwise it’s a DOG with a QUESTION MARK tail. (A QUESTION MARK b

Statewide election roundup. How successful were SBAM-endorsed candidates?

Snyder Next Governor, Republicans Sweep
National Races
State Legislative Races

SBAM-endorsed candidate Rick Snyder easily won the Governor’s race last night. Across the nation and here in Michigan it was a big night for Republicans.

Rick Snyder captured 58 percent of the vote for Governor, defeating Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero who lagged behind with 39 percent.

In what many considered would be the state’s most contentious statewide race, Republican Ruth Johnson defeated Democratic nominee Jocelyn Benson. Predictions were right, as the 6 percent margin of victory here was the narrowest of all statewide races.

SBAM-endorsed Bill Schuette will be the state’s next Attorney General. Schuette won by a 10 percent margin over his opponent David Leyton.

In the State Supreme Court Race, Justice Robert Young will return to the high court and will be joined by Judge Mary Beth Kelly. Both were endorsed by SBAM. While not as much of a shocker as last year, when Justice Cliff Taylor was defeated, this marks the second election in a row that an incumbent Supreme Court Justice was knocked off the bench. Justice Alton Davis, who went down to defeat, was only appointed to the bench a couple of months ago.

In the races for board membership at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, and for the State Board of Education, Republican candidates captured all eight available seats.

Michiganders also determined that now is not the time to rewrite the state’s constitution and overwhelmingly rejected Proposal 1. “No” voters outnumbered the “yes” votes by a 2:1 margin.

National Races

When the 112th Congress convenes next year, control of the Senate will remain with the Democrats who were able to hold off the wave and will keep at least 51 seats (including the two independents that caucus with the Democrats). But Republicans will have the majority in the House of Representatives. The balance of power in the House looks to be 240-184 in favor of the Republicans, with 11 races yet to be decided.

In Michigan, Democrats currently have an 8-7 edge in Michigan’s delegation, but after wins in the 1st and 7th Districts, Republicans now have a 9-6 advantage.

Key Congressional races in Michigan:

Michigan 1st Congressional District

Republican Dan Benishek won the race to replace retiring Congressman Bart Stupak. Benishek, who very narrowly captured his party’s nomination, defeated Democratic candidate State Representative Gary McDowell by an 11 percent margin of victory. The 1st District covers the Upper Peninsula and much of Northern Lower Michigan.

Michigan 7th Congressional District
Republican Tim Walberg, who was ousted by Democrat Mark Schauer in 2008, retook his seat in a fiercely contested race in south central Michigan. Both parties identified this as a battleground seat and spent a lot of time and money on the race. Going into Election Day it was anybody’s guess who’d come out on top; Walberg won by just 5 percent.

Michigan 9th Congressional District
One-term incumbent Democrat, Gary Peters was able to hold off Republican Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski. In a race much like that in the 7th District, both parties put a lot of focus on this election. It went down to the wire with Peters eking out the win by just 3 percent of the voters in the District that covers much of Oakland County.

Other Michigan Congressional Races
As Election Day neared, polls indicated that the Michigan 5th and 15th Congressional Districts would be races to watch, but despite the Republican wave, Democrats retained both seats. In the 5th, Dal

Small Business Association of Michigan says Governor-elect Snyder is the right person to lead economic growth

The Small Business Association of Michigan says the election of Rick Snyder presents a tremendous opportunity for Michigan because he has he has the right background at the right time to implement a job-creating “economic gardening” strategy.

Rob Fowler“Economic gardening means growing our own small businesses from the ground up, and it’s vital to the future of our state because most job growth comes from our own small businesses, not big businesses – neither the large firms that we have here in the state nor the ones that are lured to locate here by expensive tax breaks,” says association President and CEO Rob Fowler. “Hunting for large firms and bringing them to Michigan will continue to be an important part of our economic development toolkit. However, we have been working on economic gardening for nearly two years and believe it is a game-changing strategy for growing and sustaining our economy and creating jobs. Governor-elect Snyder is uniquely well equipped to implement this strategy, and we look forward to assisting the new administration in this effort.”

The Small Business Association of Michigan suggested that implementation of an economic gardening strategy should include the commitment of at least 60 percent of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) budget toward economic gardening activities, such as increased support for fast-growing second stage small firms.

Fowler also says it’s important the Governor-elect Snyder and the legislature take steps to bring our state to a position of leading the nation in the commercialization of the technology that’s developed by our public/private institutions. “We are among the nation’s leaders in public/private research output, but we are far behind other states when it comes to turning that research into jobs,” says Fowler.

The association president also called on state leaders to work to shift Michigan’s cultural outlook so that entrepreneurialism is valued and nourished at all levels of society. Michigan’s community assets – including libraries, schools and local governments – can be energized to encourage small business startups, innovation and job creation, Fowler says.

Further details on the Small Business Association of Michigan's economic gardening recommendations and opportunities for the MEDC are contained in the association's Blueprint for “Propelling a New Economic Direction for Michigan” report.

We’re Electing a Governor, but the Nov. 2 Election Has Other Important Races and a Crucial Ballot Question

(By David Palsrok, vice president government relations for the Small Business Association of Michigan. Originally published in the association’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.)

We’ve seen a lot of attention on the race for Governor. However, the races for Attorney General and Secretary of State are extremely important to Michigan as well. Why? Here are three reasons that small business owners should pay attention to the candidates and cast a well thought-out vote:

1. The Attorney General is Michigan’s chief law enforcement executive and makes crucial decisions about consumer protection and the deployment of the state’s legal resources. (The Small Business Association of Michigan has endorsed Bill Schuette.)
2. The Secretary of State has important responsibilities for the administration of elections and election law.
3. Both offices can be steppingstones to the governor’s office, so choose wisely!

Congressional Races Important to Michigan

SBAM does not endorse in federal races, but you need to pay close attention to the candidates in your congressional district. Control of the U.S. House and Senate is up for grabs in this election (note: Michigan’s Sens. Levin and Stabenow are not up for re-election this year.) It is widely expected that the Democrats stand to lose seats in both chambers, potentially turning control of the House, and possibly the Senate, over to the Republicans.

The question in Michigan is which seats will be targeted by each respective party? Congressman Peters (D) and Congressman Schauer (D) both defeated sitting Republicans, so those seats will likely be high priority targets of the GOP. Also, the retirement of Congressman Stupak (D) leaves an opening for the GOP to target his seat that was previously held by a Republican.

SBAM Urges You to Vote “no” on Proposal 1 to Hold a Constitutional Convention

A broad coalition has come together to oppose Proposal 1 and urge Michigan voters to Vote NO. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution is made up of SBAM and leading groups representing agriculture, education, faith, manufacturing, business – both large and small, transportation and infrastructure, real estate, and medicine. Coalition members may often disagree on matters of public policy, but they agree a Constitutional Convention would be a costly ($45 million), lengthy (two years or more) and dangerous process.

A constitutional convention will reopen every contentious issue either passed or rejected by voters over the past decades; issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, gambling, tax limitations, school vouchers, stem cells, and the death penalty. It’s also virtually certain that a constitutional convention will be populated by delegates selected in low-turnout special elections dominated by extreme partisanship and special interests.

Michigan has many problems that need to be addressed, but none of these problems will be solved by an expensive and controversial Constitutional Convention.

Making Change in Michigan

Your vote counts. Don’t let Tuesday, November 2 be just another day. Take time to understand the candidates’ positions on Propelling a New Economic Direction for Michigan and other matters important to small businesses and cast your vote wisely. Making change in Michigan is on the line and your vote will directly contribute to revitalizing our promising state.

Schuette, Kelly, Young Endorsed

The Small Business Association of Michigan has endorsed Bill Schuette for Attorney General and Justice Robert Young and Judge Mary Beth Kelly for the Supreme Court.

“Bill Schuette’s experience as a lawmaker, state department head and judge gives him the breadth of experience that will make him an effective Attorney General,” says Small Business Association of Michigan President and CEO Rob Fowler. “We believe that as Attorney General he will promote a safe and thriving entrepreneurial economy in Michigan.”

“Justice Young and Judge Kelly have demonstrated a strong, conservative judicial philosophy,” Fowler says. “They are dedicated to restoring balance in Michigan law and promoting fairness for Michigan families and businesses; their sound judgment is vital to the State’s economic stability.”

The Small Business Association of Michigan has also endorsed Rick Snyder for Governor. For a list of the association's legislative endorsements, click here.