Our friend Shashi Bellamkonda is back with another guest post of small business stories.
In 1998 I worked behind a counter at a popular restaurant where take out was busy in the evenings. Now in those days the process was:
- Call the restaurant and ask for a menu to be faxed to you
- I would run to the back of the restaurant and fax the menu
- The customer studies the menu and calls us back with the order.
and then the fax machine broke. I wish I could say all hell broke loose, but small businesses have an exceptional way of coping with challenges and moving quickly, so we just called our sister restaurant and faxed our menu to them and had them fax the customers. Of course this was a temporary fix.
At this time I was also getting more and more interested in the online stuff. I used AOL, I had just bought my first PC and was figuring out html. We brainstormed and bought a domain name from Network Soutions of course and then with the help of a geek friend put up a website. (Now preserved in the Internet Archive.)
Now as people called for directions, we decided it would be a good idea to add directions on this website, too. If I remember right, we could use FrontPage Express for free. This was all so interesting that I enrolled for a html class at the Montgomery College in Rockville, and the rest is history.
I think websites for restaurants at a basic level serve the purpose of providing information to customers on the menu, location and specials. Combined with tools like Opentable, etc., they can be leveraged to get additional business, and I am glad we started more than 10 years ago.
Fast forward to today – I was sitting in a auto repair shop last weekend, and no one usually waits here, but I did, and asked one of the two people manning the store if they had wi-fi. They did because I could see the signal on my laptop, but they did not know anything about it. One of them said in the last five years, I was the second person to ask about wi-fi. (I may have been the first guy, too, as I go to this place regularly.) My takeaway here is that if you expect a autoshop to do good auto work, chances are that you may have to forfeit other “conveniences”.
As I sat in this shop, I listened to the guys ordering spares. Sometime I would hear them give out a fax number, and then it happened – the fax machine broke. I watched them struggle to fix it, no sir! It was not the paper. Now it dawned on me – I remembered Ramon Ray’s email signature: “Technology is a TOOL. Use it to GROW your business.” And here was a small business who had technology expertise – automobile technology expertise, but were struggling with a fax machine. I think they fixed the problem by asking the parts company to send an email to their @juno email address.
If you look at the State of Small Business study conducted by the University of Maryland and Network Solutions, business that use six or more of technology tools are more successful. At least in the case of the fax machine, I think they will save the business a lot of valuable time from their techs.
What technology tools are you using in your small business?
[Disclosure: Network Solutions sponsored our Small Business Ideas for Small Towns booklet.]