Gene Marks can’t make these technologies work, but you can

I love a small business technology challenge!

BarbaraKB on Twitter asked for someone to respond to an article in BusinessWeek, wherein Gene Marks listed off some tech ‘solutions’ he says small businesses “can’t use.” Can’t? All small businesses? Marks is, I think, off the mark. Let’s go through his list of 10 “overhyped and underwhelming technology” tools “that don’t work” and see if we can make them work for small business!

[Photo: Three small businesswomen push forward with online technology.]

1. RSS Feeds: “an endless stream of meaningless items displayed in an overly large browser window that winds up distracting more than informing.”

RSS and feeds can be an exceptionally useful tool, but only with a bit of coaching or some experience. Ask a techie friend to help you get set up, or to improve your setup, so you can avoid the stream of meaningless items. I’m helping our co-author Jeanne “OkieJ” Cole learn to use this tool right now. One key to RSS: know how to delete a feed you no longer want!

2. Spam Filters: “They all suck.” “[Y]ou’re going to waste money on the latest filtering technology, which does nothing more than block that key e-mail you were awaiting from a prospective customer.”

If you don’t get much junk email, you don’t need to worry. But ask Jeanne about excessive spam. Her work email had no spam filtering. So she spent hours a day sorting and deleting, just like Marks advises. I advised her to switch to a service with built in spam filtering, like GMail. She is much more productive and much happier. Really, ask her! Reclaiming hours and reducing stress sounds like a benefit to a small business to me.

3. Anti-Virus Software: “Betsy’s spent more money with her IT firm trying to work around antivirus software than she probably would’ve spent if she received an actual virus.”

Marks laments the degraded performance and difficulty of installing new software while running AV software. I’m no fan of resource-hog AV! I have experimented with several different packages, and I recommend reading some reviews on CNet to find the best program for you.

If you think Marks is right, and it’s cheaper to do without, ask what a catastrophic failure would really cost. How current are your backups? If you have any idea of going without, please, please, backup regularly, religiously, daily. And unhook from the internet and your office network.

4. Blogs: “[Y]ou’ll need to set aside about 17 hours each day to keep it fresh.” “If you don’t have something new to say each day, no one’s going to bother to stop by and check out your blog. It’ll be, like, so lame.”

Dude, get a grip. My liquor store blog gets updated when needed, and that’s once a week on average. It brought me two major customers and about $1000 of revenue last year. Just got a phone call today from it. Word.

5. Search Engine Optimization: “SEO probably does the job for companies with oodles of money, but not for the typical small business.”

Typical small business, a customer of mine, asked me to improve his site’s returns from searches. OK, so I spent several hours researching and learned enough SEO to bring his site from ranking in the 100′s to the top 10. What did I change? A few simple edits in the text, a bit of link-building, and a submission to the DMOZ open directory. It didn’t cost him much, and I apply those lessons to every client site I do now.

I’m not a fan of add-on SEO services, like the one that stung Marks. I do like to see SEO considered from the beginning of a website design.

6. Mobile Applications: “Mobile applications will be a great thing…someday. Just like hovercrafts, telepods, and renewable energy. But for a small business on a limited budget, it’s still science fiction.”

Marks gives examples of entering orders or looking up inventory via cell phone. I don’t see those working for tiny businesses yet, but I do see some great, valuable services available now. Twitter, Goog411, and plenty more services can make your cell phone much more productive right now. What about Jott? Jeanne and I love Jott! Call the 800 number, leave a message, and Jott will email it to you, or post it to your blog, or text it to your buddy or client! How cool is that? And free! Amazing!

7. Customer Relationship Management Software: “A CRM system can be a good thing, but it takes more than paying for the software and training. Without a substantial internal investment, CRM won’t work.”

I’ll break the pattern and agree with Marks on this one. For most tiny and small businesses, CRM is useless. For some, though, it’s priceless. Depends on your champions as Marks notes, as well as your size, your uses, and your needs.

8. AdWords: “Are you interested in a mind-numbing exercise? Give AdSense a shot. Or Yahoo SM or MSN AdCenter.”

I hate to agree again, but I don’t like AdWords, or other pay-per-BS ads. That’s just me. I have a client who uses them, and he seems reasonably pleased. Of course, he had a friend help him set up. If you are interested, I recommend that you only consider very, very finely targeted words and phrases.

9. Online Video: “Online videos are great—if you’ve got the budget of Time Warner behind you.”

Back to normal, I can disagree once again. Online video has great potential for small businesses, as a feature on our own site. I like for hosting and then embedding videos in my site.

Live video opens whole new realms. Jeanne and I also used Operator11 to create successful live video that generated new clients. Without the budget of Time Warner.

For more real-world ideas read my article How to use video to promote your small business and also Chris Punke’s follow up Using video to promote your business.

10. Web 2.0: “All I really see are the same accounting, inventory, and order entry programs from the days of Reagan, albeit with new window dressing. I think we’re supposed to be using Web 2.0 technologies to do more work online. But unless you’re running an online business, these tools seem to have little relevance.”

A quick glance at the list of web 2.0 type tools that we’ve reviewed might make you realize that some new ideas are out there. Here’s the key to web 2.0: when it works, you won’t notice it. As a small business person, you are most likely using plenty of advanced tools now, but without paying any attention. As well it should be.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    Fabulous rebuttal Becky!

    As a small business owner I had done some reading previously on blogs and decided to go for it. I had my cousin in San Francisco who is a techie help tweak the templates for me (since all of the blog set up was new to me) so that things looked professional. I think it’s a grand forum that allows people to connect to you in ways that a newsletter cannot. Also, so far, I have met two wonderful Women Business Owners in the process. One is you Becky!

  2. says

    AdSense is a waste of money if you do web site advertising. However, if you only target search results – it works. At least for my clients it does :)

  3. says

    Kathy, good for you in making something positive from the new technology! It’s been a pleasure to get to know you.

    Zealus, if you are able to get good results, I cheer you on! I recommend that any small business person considering using AdSense and related tools find a trusted consultant to help make it work.

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