VOGSY is fortunate to interact with leaders and influencers involved in a range of professional services organizations (PSOs). The PSO Knowledge Expert Series brings you their thoughts on the topics that matter most.
For this edition, we spoke with Avery Swartz, founder and CEO of Camp Tech, a company that helps non-technical small business owners get the web working for them. Avery created and operates the North Coast Group as well, a website advisory and digital marketing consultancy. She’s also a correspondent for media programs like CTV’s Your Morning, where she keeps Canada up-to-speed on tech trends.
The following are Avery’s insights on small business ownership and overcoming technology struggles.
MVL: Tell us about your work and what you’re trying to accomplish?
AS: I run two businesses, but the shared mission is to help non-technical people with technology. While I work with companies of all sizes, this mainly plays out though Camp Tech with small business owners, and my website and digital marketing consultancy, North Coast Group, which serves many PSOs.
Smaller organizations often see technology as a money pit instead of a way to achieve business goals. There’s this promise that tech will make everything easier, that it will help a company magically streamline and scale. Owners read this in industry publications, hear about it at trade shows. But when they decide to give it a try, things break, systems don’t work, resources don’t speak to each other.
Sadly, many throw their hands in the air and say “to hell with it.” They believe they’re not techies, so they don’t understand and that they’re the problem. They settle or abandon efforts altogether. They revert back to tools they know how to use, instead of utilizing the right tool for the job. I’ve seen people use spreadsheets in the most creative ways imaginable. That, or they just throw more money at the problem, whether it’s another consultant, solution or more training.
Regardless, this gulf between expectations and reality creates a lot of frustration and waste.
MVL: Why does this happen?
AS: It usually has to do with integration. An owner sees an opportunity to expand and buys a specific tool for that purpose. However, the business runs on legacy systems and its infrastructure is outdated. IT folks try to jam square pegs into round holes to get the systems to talk to each other, but they don’t. Meanwhile, owners acquire more applications, IT sprawl kicks in and the complexity to manage it grows.
Then there’s other types of integration issues, such as when systems no longer work together due to industry factors. A good example is Shopify and Mailchimp, a valuable nexus for e-commerce and e-marketing, whose tools recently stopped integrating. It impacted a lot of businesses and it’s a vulnerability small business owners have little control over.
MVL: How do you help?
AS: With Camp Tech, it’s about training – we conduct informative hands-on workshops for adults who want to learn practical tech skills. It could be to overcome issues or understand a specific program. Along the way, there’s always those bigger integration discussions, though – a Google Analytics workshop naturally leads to talk on the interplay with websites, social media and more.
Then there’s the work that I do directly with my digital clients, where I’m both a web/marketing advisor and tech coach. That entails everything from overhauling websites to performance analysis, guiding on software and integrations, auditing for accessibility, compliance and more.
Basically, I call myself a fixer – I put people and their companies on the path to succeed with technology.
MVL: When do the tech problems usually arise and what should owners consider?
AS: As a rule of thumb, issues usually increase whenever a company doubles in headcount. Older systems can’t keep up – they slow down performance or just don’t function as needed – so the business needs to move to something more scalable.
Owners should be attuned to growing pains and periodically step back and look for detrimental patterns in their processes. Identify recurring issues, look for bottlenecks, consider how activities can be fine-tuned. For instance, if there’s an issue in client onboarding that needs to be addressed repeatedly, chances are the process can be bettered. Further, consider if automation can rectify the situation, particularly for rote functions like pre-populated responses to an email or mundane billing and invoicing tasks.
Before investing in new technology, ask, “How is this going to get us any closer to our business goals, big and small, short and long term?” You don’t have to break out a lab coat and conduct hours of data analysis. Just do a simple audit that addresses where you are, where you want to go, your current technology costs and the friction points. Then, evaluate if a tool is going to make things better, test it for a bit, then evaluate it again to see if it really did help in any way.
When it comes to buying tools, keep design in mind. As I mentioned earlier, people revert to old tools; they’re familiar and comfortable. When you look at something like the G Suite, you know they’ve got the design conventions right. If you buy a tool with a similar interface and feel, your employees will know where the buttons are – instinctively they’ll be able to do more.
This ensures the tools you buy will be used and the results you want are more achievable.
MVL: Are there any areas of technology that particularly intrigue you these days?
AS: I am a believer in controlling technology, not letting it control you – and that means using the right tools for the right jobs. For many of my clients, I think professional services automation (PSA) should be a consideration. You can automate tasks to free people up and streamline. You can gain visibility to get an entire team on the same page, control margins and forecast work. With the right cloud-based platform, you can overcome integrations issues and possibly have that one tool to control them all.
Just keep it simple – make sure whatever you buy is something your people want to use. When small business owners gain employee buy-in, and the tools have the capabilities, they’ll be able to connect with their tech and achieve business goals.
Are you in control of your tools, or are they controlling you? Check out our e-book to find out.
Mark van Leeuwen is the CEO of VOGSY, the Google business software pioneers. Mark has held leading roles in software and service businesses on all continents and led growth in uncharted territories for 20 years. He’s also a stickler for simplicity and transparency and doing more with less.