15 Jun Benson urges businesses to look for the opportunity in this economy
Editor’s note: Inacom CEO and Co-founder Laurie Benson was recently honored as the 2009 National Women in Business Champion by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The award was part of National Business Week. Benson discussed with WTN News her views on leading a company through economic challenges, doing business in information technology, and her approach to success.
Mike Klein (WTN): What advise do you offer your small business customers about information technology investments during these times of economic uncertainty?
Laurie Benson (LB): Always keep the needs of your business and your long-term goals in the forefront of your business planning and budgeting. Determine what technology is right for you, and then prioritize your investments based on what will have the most impact on your business and your customers. Technology is a necessity for today’s business climate. For small business owners, there can be immediate value in outsourcing information technology (IT) to a third party firm. Also, take advantage of real savings and incentives that are available in some cases if you can reduce power consumption. This is good for the environment and good for your bottom line.
WTN: Having been in business for many years and survived the multipleparadigm shifts in the IT industry, can you please share how Inacominnovates and has transformed as a company?
LB: Constantly updating our strategic plan to incorporate industry trends, customer trends, and employee trends has enabled us to be proactive in positioning for long term, sustainable success. A key to innovation for us has been strategic listening to incorporate customer, employee, and partner feedback into our culture and processes.
WTN: What is your advice for early stage and small businesses in thesechallenging times? And what advice do you give to smallbusinesses that have been in operating for more than five or 10 years?
LB: In this case, I would say the same advice applies to all businesses, regardless of length of time in business: it is the implications that differ depending on tenure and experience.Think big! Take a long-term, strategic approach. Anticipate good outcomes and put a plan in place to get there. Leadership is never more important than in challenging times. Communicate good news and bad news to everyone during these times.
Also, look for the opportunity side of current economy. Engage everyone to come up with creative ways to promote your business. Do something that will help others, for example have your company host a food drive, blood drive, or other community outreach and get your employees and customers involved. This creates positive energy and outcomes for everyone. Stay focused on values, employees, customers, and community. Stay close especially to customers. Decide to become a stronger company because of the current challenges, and focus diligently to make it so.
WTN: Are your small business customers currently spending more or less or the same as enterprise customers?
LB: These really aren’t directly comparable, all types of businesses are scrutinizing their capital expenditures more closely, but many are making technology investments that drive new business development, support their customers and streamline their operations.
WTN: Are certain products or services selling stronger into the small business market?
LB: We don’t tend to see investments in some of the newest trends, but rather a focus on the core technologies needed to keep the business running smoothly, such as hardware and software maintenance renewals, desktop and server virtualization, security, and managed IT services. We are seeing a big increase in small business customers utilizing our NOC (Network Operations Center) to monitor their networks. There is also growth in customized collaboration tools to support teamwork and communication within companies.
In many cases, small businesses don’t have the staff or expertise to implement new technologies, so they look to IT companies for help with project management, implementation, training, and ongoing support.
WTN: What drives your desire to help small business succeed?
LB: I view this as a privilege and a responsibility. My favorite thing to do is to help people and organizations realize their potential. This is a way to do both! Helping others succeed is an integral part of our core values and our company culture. On a personal level, it is one way I can honor those who help me. The difference between success and failure is often perspective. The best way to help small businesses succeed is to challenge their strategic thinking, so that they come up with choices, and can make the best possible decisions. Encouraging others to exceed what they believe is possible, that’s how I view my role.
WTN: What advice to offer to women in terms of starting and managingtheir small businesses today?
LB: There has never been a better time to start a business. If you are passionate about your business, you will most likely succeed. Join a group for mentoring. And make sure you are willing to make the commitment of time and energy that it takes to make it. There is a world of opportunity awaiting you, don’t miss it!