In preparation for last week’s SMB Cloud Adoption Summit in San Francisco, we interviewed a handful of small-businesses owners to ask them about their use of cloud software to run their businesses. The idea was to provide an SMB voice to the event, as well as to bring to life some of the themes uncovered in the LSA’s Tech Adoption Index research, which measures the small-business shift to the cloud to operate their back office.
The interviews touched on small-business operators’ need for time savings and efficiency, the importance of ease of use and affordability, and whether there is a genuine need for a all in one dashboard that would enable SMBs to access all of their apps via a dashboard with a single login. The video also touches on small business frustration with their interactions with media and software sales reps.
The three SMBs featured in the video represent a diversity of business types. Chris O’Donnell owns a sign shop in Southern California. Daniel Freeman is an established dentist in Marin County, California. And Mike Boland, a familiar analyst to those in the local search industry, has recently started his own research and information business called ARtillry.
While Chris and Daniel meet anyone’s conventional definition of a small business, we spoke with Mike because in many ways he represents the prototypical young “solo-preneur” who has started a small business relying solely on cloud tools for both product delivery and back office.
Here are a few highlights from the video, which you can watch in its entirety below.
On the Importance of Cloud Tools to Running a Small Business Today
“As a small-business owner, I am as good as I am bad at every single category. If I am bad at bookkeeping, we are bad at bookkeeping. If I am bad at sales follow up, we are bad at sales follow up,” O’Donnell told us. “So it has become critical to find some sort of app or cloud tool for most things.”
O’Donnell uses a range of cloud tools, including Quickbooks for accounting and payroll to ShopVox, an industry specific application he uses for CRM and project management.
Boland has launched his digital media start up ARtillry entirely in the cloud, using tools ranging from WordPress to Expensify to LegalZoom to launch a company with no office, no employees and no hardware. He believes the ability to launch this kind of hyper-virtual business wouldn’t have been as easy just a few years ago.
“The list [that I use] is a lot of cloud tools that have really been democratized over the past five years or so,” Boland said. “With stuff that you used to have to own or the capability wasn’t there, or it was cost prohibitive. So I love all of these tools.”
On the Value of All-in-One Solutions
An ever present question among those selling to SMBs, whether it’s media or software, is the advantages of bundling solutions in a single offering, with the promise of price and convenience advantages. Preliminary data from the most recent wave of Tech Adoption Index data (results will be released next week) shows SMBs with a modest preference for such packages.
Not so among the small sample interviewed for this video.
O’Donnell doesn’t see managing multiple apps as a problem that needs to be solved. He toggles all day long among browser tabs for his various mission critical apps, a process he believes works well.
“To have a dashboard like that, there would have to be some one defining metric that would be the one thing that I want to see,” he said.
Boland was only slightly less skeptical.
“I do see some benefit in the bundles pricing,” he said. “But I am a big believer in best of breed functionality…And when you combine lots of things it tends to get toward the lowest common denominator.”
On the Quality of B2SMB Sales Practices Today
Both O’Donnell and longtime Marin Country dentist Daniel Freeman confirmed the often discussed small business experience of daily inundation with sales messages, via phone call, email, in person solicitation and physical mail. And neither business owners is terribly impressed with the quality of these solicitations.
“I never realized how inundated small businesses are with daily offers,” said O’Connell, who sold digital media programs to SMBs before changing gears and becoming a small business owner. “And everyone has the same sales pitch, which is that whatever they are selling is the difference between me being where I am and having a party on a yacht.”
Freeman is dismayed by the lack of a consultative approach, even for very costly solutions.
“I can’t think of a time when anyone has ever asked me ‘What is your plan for your business?’ or ‘Where are you taking your business?’ And then listening to that and seeing if they fit into that,” Freeman said.