Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
Welcome to my new digs here at Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly. Jim & Jan have kindly asked me to stick around and continue writing for you, and I'm very pleased to do just that. In the future we will deconstruct technology as I channel the digital domain. We'll be exploring the interface between technology and the small businessperson: computers and their security, the Internet, digital photography and anything else that seems appropriate. New magazine, new focus, fresh typeface, same old bad puns.
I went back to my very first article (written Feb. 10, 1998) and found this list of profoundly-moving pleas for help:
"How do I get started?" "What can I do with it"? "How much does it cost?" "What are the consequences of ignoring it?" "What's that funny icon there on the desktop?"
This series of articles will address these and other questions.
Still seems like a good idea; let's go with that. (We never did figure out what that icon did; what happened when you clicked on it?)
We are all enmeshed in the technical vastness of the present. Computers run our businesses, our communications and in many instances, our lives. The upward trend of complexity per second seems to be increasing with no end in sight. How do you keep up with it all?
If you are a medium to large business, you hire an IT (Information Technology) person to take care of it all. He or she manages the daily updates and security patches that Windows demands, and oversees the running of the servers, email, and anything else technical your business relies upon.
But what if you are your own IT person? And one who is not particularly interested in technology to begin with - you just want your tools to work reliably so you can run your business and get your work done.
If you are a total technophobe, you should hire a rent-a-geek to visit periodically. Running a computer for a year without a check-up is like running your car for a year without an oil change. Crud accumulates in the bottom of a computer the same way it accumulates in the bottom of an engine, and will eventually bring things to a grinding halt.
But let's say you have a passing interest in technology, and want to be able to maintain some semblance of modernity in understanding computer lore. (I think we can assume that most of my readers are in this category; all the true Luddites stopped reading this deathless prose years ago.) How does one maintain one's balance while being sprayed with the firehose of information? Meetings, magazines, books, geek friends, the web - These are the sources I depend on.
I recently attended a meeting at the Ann Arbor IT Zone, where I heard a panel discussion on ways to improve the search engines' rating of your business website. This is a very important topic for those of you selling goods and services on the Internet. You want to be listed in the first 3 pages of a Google search result if you want to do business with those seeking your products. The panelists were 3 experts in this and I learned a lot. The place was packed with techies and business people. (I give the URL for this and all the other sites I'm mentioning at the end of this article.) Check their schedule of events at their website and consider joining up; it's an excellent local resource.
There are a plethora of magazines out there that cater to the computer user. A visit to Borders or Barnes and Noble will reveal an entire rack of computer publications, for all levels of expertise. Browse the stack and find one or two that seem aimed at your level and buy them. If you learn from them, subscribe. Another excellent overview of technology in general can be found in Wired magazine. This is my favorite read, and they have an excellent website that I visit every day on my lunch break.
The same goes for books. As a pro geek, I'm more into this than most; I buy around 20 technical books a year - mostly web coding and Photoshop books these days. If you just updated to Windows XP or bought a new Mac with OS X on it, a good book about your OS (Operating System) can make a big difference in how effective you are with it.
Talk to Your Geekier friends
Most techies that I know are more than happy to share their knowledge. Talk to your rent-a-geek or IT person on a regular basis. You may not have the time or interest to do a lot of technical reading, but they do and should be able to help keep you on top of issues concerning your computer behaviors.
Cruise the Web
This is an excellent way to get specific answers to specific questions. A well-formatted Google inquiry can work wonders in curing most technical problems. And get a broadband connection - time is too expensive these days to wait for a modem to chew through your Google session. Got a printer problem? You can call the manufacturer and wait for 15 minutes for their tech department to answer, or you can do a Google search on, say, "HP model ZXY margins problem" and find a load of help in seconds. If you have geekish tendencies you might want to check out some of the more technical sites such as SlashDot. (Slashdot was founded by Commander Taco, who lives near Dexter.)
However you do it, you really need to allocate some of your time to continuing to educate yourself. Your business demands it.
Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes visitors to his website at www.mondodyne.com.