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Tech edge? Innovation enhancing efficiency, opportunities

With today’s technology, small businesses have many options available to them and may level the playing field with their larger competition.

John Brandon with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) Division of Existing Business and Industry says one of the exciting things about a small business is that entrepreneurs are taking advantage of new technology.

“It has fostered much of the growth of small businesses, particularly in more rural areas and in home-based businesses,” he said of this technology. “With increased telecommunications options, small businesses are able to keep up with client databases to more effectively market to existing and potential customers.”

The Internet is a big part of today’s technology. That’s where Greg Butler, director of the Jones County Junior College Small Business Development Center in Ellisville, sees resources, data and research available to small businesses. “They have access to information that would not have been there in the past,” he said. “Computer accounting packages can be a big help too with doing a better job with finances.”

Those Internet services allow possible customers to find products and services and to seek information from small businesses, Brandon notes. “It has also made it easier for small businesses to communicate, share information, prospect, sell and arrange financing to compete in a global environment,” he said.

There are many software applications available that are designed industry or business specific regardless of the business size, according to Jim Richmond, spokesman for Cellular South.

“In fact, utilizing these technology products and applications can make your business appear much bigger and better to your customers,” he said. “For example, if you are in a field service business, these applications enable field-based employees instant access to customer records, inventory supplies, service tickets and dispatch information. Or if you are in the insurance business, these mobility tools allow you to collect information in the field, eliminate data recreation and create greater accuracy — allowing savings in claims processing.”

Butler says using technology along with the Mississippi Contract Procurement Center provides a really good thing for the state’s businesses.

“In the past, that would not have been available either,” he said. “They have great opportunities with state and federal governments, and they have the staff with the background to know how to navigate through government contracts.”

AT&T’s Mississippi spokeswoman, Sue Sperry, says the main thing technology can do for small businesses that are trying to grow is to help them be more like large businesses.

“Small businesses can have a seamless operation that makes them seem larger; no one can tell the difference,” she said. “Voice-over Internet protocol service is a good example. VOiP can integrate with a land line system and can go to a wireless system. It’s computer based and can save businesses money. That’s the latest thing.”

Sperry says all size businesses are vulnerable to security and data safety issues, but secure technology gives equal protection, and seminars over the World Wide Web provide learning and training for all businesses in a way not possible a few years ago.

“It’s like leasing office space in a large tower without having to own the building,” she said. “With technology, small businesses can operate with the efficiency and professionalism of larger businesses and grow in the same way.”

Richmond lists the Blackberry 8830 and Pic Sender as keys to helping small businesses manage their affairs while staying mobile. “Whether a business has five employees or 200, there are multiple solutions that can increase productivity and assist in handling business more efficiently,” he said.

Jim Harper, however, looks at technology and small businesses from a different viewpoint. He directs the Hinds Community College Small Business Development Center and says new technology is a wonderful tool if used properly.

“How you service customers is what keeps them coming back,” he said. “A small business may not have a large customer base, so it must keep them happy. Customers still need to be greeted with a handshake and a smile. Technology can support that as long as you know who your customers are and how to treat them.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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