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Small Businesses, Big Tech Solutions

In his practice of providing financial consulting, Peter Iannone sees how technology helps small businesses. Take for instance what Iannone calls the bane of all existence the backup policy. The companies he works with lack the resources to put data on tape and secure it in a safeguarded environment. This is why he works with Cloudworks, a hosted network firm in Thousand Oaks that takes care of all those responsibilites. “Very few of my clients could even come up with the level of procedures that Cloudworks gives them at a reasonable cost,” said Iannone, a consultant in the Los Angeles region for CBIZ Southern California. Lacking the budgets and staff, small- and medium-sized businesses turn to outside firms for the technology needed to stay competitive. These firms are often similar sized businesses understanding the needs of their clients for hosted computer services, designing, installing and supporting voice and data systems, connecting with vendors, and creating mobile marketing campaigns. These services save on money and space; streamline business operations; and open up new ways to reach customers. Online advertising brought in $21.1 billion in 2007, according to preliminary figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. That accounted for only 10 percent of all advertising spending yet was a 25 percent increase over the $16.9 billion earned in 2006. Small businesses risk much by turning their backs on that method of attracting customers, which is why Jim Gibson compares his online business directory Service Omni ( www.serviceomni.com )to a billboard that is viewed by as many eyes as possible. Business people make the mistake of thinking once they have a website in place that they are done. What they end up with is a billboard in the middle of the desert that doesn’t attract traffic, said Gibson, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based firm. “We want to put the billboard in the middle of the city,” Gibson said. “The only time they will get charged is when a consumer responds to that billboard.” Service Omni launched in March and so far has about 500 businesses in it the directory. A fifth of those have designed websites over which they have complete control to change the text, photos and videos. Mobile Marketing The software developed by iVisionMobile makes possible in-house control of mobile marketing campaigns for its small business clients. While the software attracted big-name clients such as the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA and local radio personality Rick Dees, it was created with the small business person in mind, said company CEO Omer Samiri. With iVisionMobile, no longer does a business need to spend thousands of dollars to write and set up short code, an abbreviated mobile number necessary for a mobile campaign. Once set up, a restaurant, say, can take a survey via cell phone on its food and service. iVisionMobile ( www.ivisionmobile.com) paired with an East Coast auto dealer conglomerate to have inventory details sent to a mobile device. Receiving the text messages is permission-based and promoted through a company’s advertising. “They get the message when you want them to read it,” Samiri said. Money-Saving Services While external operations like marketing bring in revenue, internal operations at small companies are ripe for cost savings through services offered from companies such as Cloudworks ( cloudworks.com) or Starnet Data Design Inc. ( www.starnetdata.com ) in Westlake Village. The companies Starnet lands as clients don’t tend to have the level of expertise of President and General Manager Steve Marks and his technical voice and data systems sales team who then give the added value of designing, installing and supporting those systems. The hosted-computing model used by Cloudworks doesn’t require in-house expertise either as all the hardware, software and applications are stored and maintained elsewhere. With the Cloudworks model, an employee of a client company can use any computer anywhere in the world to log in to a website to connect with their personal work desktop. Company President Mike Eaton compared what he and his business partner did to a group of farmers who decided to pitch in and build a grain silo together that is better and less expensive than if they had each built independently. The Cloudworks client benefits by not having to purchase equipment and pay for power and maintenance. “To not have to spend $30,000 or $50,000 is a huge advantage,” Eaton said. Cloudworks has clients in varying industries but Eaton finds there are certain factors that match the company’s service best start-ups with limited capital; companies with employees constantly on the road; and industries with seasonal fluctuations, such as accounting which staffs-up during tax season. Companies with multiple locations take to the Cloudworks model, such as a distributor of energy drinks with 17 employees working out of six offices. “Cloudworks is perfect for a company that is thinly spread out,” Iannone said. Small businesses, of course, don’t always stay small and eventually need to move to bigger quarters. That’s where Starnet’s Marks and his partners in the Office Move-In 101 coalition make their services available, from packing up files and boxes, ordering new office furniture, and installing new phone systems. The coalition partners make referrals to each other to make a move all the more easier. Since the coalition companies all know each other, it removes an uncertainty that the required work, say new cabling or circuits, will be completed when new equipment needs to be installed. “If you have people working together there is a responsibility to one another to return phone calls, to be thorough and to do a good job,” Marks said.

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