Small Business, Big Resources: The Power of Community
If you were dropped on an island with 10 other people, which would you consider the best option?
- Go-it-alone to get shelter and food; or
- Work with the 10 others for the potential benefit of everyone.
Most would consider Option 2 the favorable route. But many in the IT industry continue to follow the less favorable go-it-alone route. They haven't joined a community. Here are just a few ways that joining a community can help your business.
Partnerships – Resellers sometimes turn down large, profitable opportunities either because they don’t have a particular expertise or the job requires work in multiple locations that the reseller doesn’t have the resources to cover. A community can fill those skill or geography gaps, giving a partner access to hundreds of potential partners.
At The ASCII Group, we get requests almost daily from resellers: "I need a partner who’s HP Authorized"; "I need someone who’s an expert in telephony"; "I have a client with a satellite office in Chicago that needs someone in that office today to fix their network". It may take some legwork for the 'go-it-alone’ reseller to find a partner. Conversely, we have a community of hundreds of partners to contact. We simply email the request to the members of our community who are potential partners, and in most cases have a partner for that reseller within the day.
Some IT solution providers may be concerned that by bringing another reseller into their client, they will potentially lose business or run into a problem with payment. We just haven’t found that to be true. ASCII has created over 2,000 partnerships over the last several years, and in that time we have had an issue 2 times. Members of a community learn to trust each other, and if there ever is an issue, the community organizer is available to mediate the dispute.
Knowledge Sharing – Even in areas where you’re an expert, you’re not going to always know the answer to a technical problem. Yes, you can spend time researching on the internet or call the vendor. Or you can join a community of other IT people who can often answer your question in a few minutes.
As an example, at ASCII we have a listserv of over 1,000 business owners who exchange information dozens of times daily. Members who run into a nagging technical issue post an issue on the listserv, and suggestions to fix the problem often are posted within minutes.
We also have virtual rooms dedicated to specific vendors. One such listserv community is made up of over 75 current LabTech users who trade information daily to help each other get the most out of LabTech. There is also a room for Zenith users, and are working on rooms for Autotask, ConnectWise and GFI MAX users.
Vendor Recommendations – With new vendors popping up every day and technology constantly changing, how do you know that you’re getting your clients the best solution out there? A community can provide valuable insight from other business owners on the positives and negatives of products from a wide cross-section of resellers. Members on our listserv debate the merits of these products constantly, and as a result have a competitive advantage in creating the best solution for their customers.
It does take some time investment to be an active participant in a community and get the maximum value out of it. The time investment you make, however, will be returned to you many times over.
Doug Young is senior vice president and chief operating officer of The ASCII Group.