How can the little guy compete with a giant corporation? Perhaps better than you think.
In fact, as a “Virtual Corporation” the small business may even have the edge.
A small Los Angeles business law firm that I highly respect recently expanded to a state-wide law firm by closing their prestigious Santa Monica offices. The staff now works out of their respective homes spread throughout Northern and Southern California. Their sophisticated phone service allows for seamless communications from the client to any member of the legal staff. An outsider calling in has no way of knowing that the staff is not all located in one facility.
Computer software like “PC Anywhere” allows a staff member to access any company computer, anywhere with the proper password security. faxes, e-mail and messengers allow for efficient document handling. A complete legal library is available on-line through a subscription service.
Most client meetings are conducted at the client facilities a definite convenience for the client. When meeting at client facilities is not desired, strategically located conference facilities are available on an as-needed basis.
The word virtual means to possess the powers and capabilities of something else. To possess the powers and capabilities of a giant corporation, the small business needs to employ two critical elements. They are technology and relationships.
First let’s explore technology. Over the past two or three decades, our world has changed dramatically. A small business can now easily afford computing and telecommunications technology heretofore only obtainable through multi-million dollar budgets.
The advent of the low priced PC, facsimile machine, cellular phone, pager, voice mail, copy machine and other equipment allow a small business to perform service and administrative functions on a par with its larger counterpart.
Modern voice mail technology makes it virtually (there’s that word again) impossible to tell if you have reached a small business or a multi-billion dollar corporation.
In fact, with transparent telecommunications technology like “Follow-me,” a call forwarding service available through many local phone companies, small business personnel can be reached by phone anywhere, anytime.
Moving toward the cutting edge of technology, “Wild-Fire” is a friendly voice interactive telecommunications service that will respond to your verbal commands to locate the person you wish to reach. PC software is also available to accomplish the same technology from your own office.
Advances in PC hardware and software have been the foundation for small business growth. Laser and ink jet printers driven by desktop publishing software allow anyone to print professional quality documents.
Fax modems and e-mail provide instantaneous transmission of any computer generated document. Popular accounting software like DacEasy and QuickBooks has made it practical for the non-accountant small business person to keep his or her own books. And, relationship database software like ACT! and GoldMine have greatly streamlined the marketing and scheduling functions.
A photocopy machine and a fax machine will round out the technology needed for most offices. Add to that the mobility afforded through cell-phones, pagers, and lap-top computers and the small business person is armed to take on the giant corporation.
However, a large corporation still has a significant advantage when it comes to its support functions. Small businesses can’t afford large legal, accounting, marketing, and engineering staffs. That’s where the relationship part comes in.
All of the above services can be rented. Furthermore, unlike the large corporation, they do not pose an overhead burden to be maintained when they are not needed.
Along these same lines, strategic alliances can be developed to enjoy the economies-of-scale afforded the very large corporations.
For example, two small companies targeting similar market segments can pool resources for their market research and direct marketing efforts. Similarly, a small business and a key vendor may share their engineering resources to develop a product or process that will benefit both of them.
Even the smallest of businesses have all of the essential services available to them just a phone call away. Dial-up secretarial services can make any business look professional. And with a fax, e-mail or messenger, documents can reach you without your having to leave the office.
Some small business entrepreneurs prefer to locate in industrial parks or office suites where several businesses share common ‘front office’ personnel and facilities. This is particularly popular in the legal and medical professions.
Business start-ups may wish to explore the incubator concept. This concept focuses on providing the special physical and management resources needed by a new business in a business park environment.
Any small business can become a “virtual corporation” possessing the powers and capabilities of a larger company. To determine how best to accomplish this, you might ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who is pursuing the same target market can we combine marketing resources?
2. Will my vendors share the burden to better meet my customers needs in return for a committed business relationship?
3. What outside legal, professional and miscellaneous support function relationships must I structure to surpass my competition?
4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of locating my business at a business park/suite with shared facilities, equipment and services?
5. What is the best telecommunications system configuration to serve the needs of my customers, employees and vendors?
6. What additional technology will enhance the efficiency and profitability of my business cell phones, fax, photocopy machine, etc.?
7. What information will I need to run my business and what computer hardware and software will best meet my needs?
Ward Wieman is the President of Management Overload, a Santa Monica based consultancy.
Small Business is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact Dan Rabinovitch at (213) 743-2344 with feedback and topic suggestions.