I'm David Ferguson with Tech Smart Boss. I talk about how businesses can leverage modern software to grow and scale faster (while staying on a D-I-Y budget). Ask me anything!

Nov 13, 2017

Small Business, Big Technology is the mantra of a Tech Smart Boss.  Just because you're small or on a budget doesn't mean you can't have top-notch technology to grow your business.  But with so many choices out there, how do you know what's best for your business?

Via our podcast and YouTube Channel we talk and show you how you can automate and integrate your business processes via leading technology that is a) affordable b) easy enough to do without needing expensive consultants and c) help you grow and scale your brand.

Have questions about how to apply technology to your business process in the areas of sales, marketing, hr, operations, finance, and support?  Ask me any questions about selection, integration, or what may work best in your specific use case.

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Conversation (43)

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What 3 books would you recommend that every business networker owner should read?

Nov 9, 10:35AM EST0

I'm always reading about business, but not many books.  I did just try an audiobook to replace my normal podcast listening while driving and the topic was on an area that I'm focused on learning more that I think all businesses can benefit from.

The book is "Building a Brand Story" by Donald Miller.

My favorite business book that I read years ago and recommend is "Good to Great" by Jim Collins.

And then I'll give you 2 more for a total of 4, not 3.

"Blue Ocean Strategy" by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim


"The Challenger Sale" by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon 

Nov 9, 6:43PM EST0

How are your communication skills?

Nov 9, 9:27AM EST0

Something that I'm always trying to improve, I think I do better than most, however. 

My communication philosophy is to listen at least twice as much as you talk.  You'll learn a lot more about the other person that way. 

I'm also a big believer in understanding the personality type of the person you are communicating with and adjusting your style to match how they best communicate.

Nov 12, 10:17AM EST0

Did you ever deal with contention from your family concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it?

Nov 9, 5:46AM EST0

Not really, but mainly because I didn't look to my family as a source.   I have an extremely close and loving family, but we were all raised to be very independent minded.

When I initially told my family I was leaving a highly paid job to go start my own business, their initial reaction to me was "well don't come here looking for help."   

To most that sounds really harsh, but I know if I really hit rock bottom they are always there for help, but because I knew not to expect any sort of seed capital or initial help from family, to me they were simply stating the obvious. 

And while their sentiment sounds like an anti-entrepreneurial spirit, my Dad lost his job of 20 years when I was a teenager and started his own business and was an entrepreneur for the rest of his life.

So I guess you can say the way I avoided contention from family is I never had any expectation of help from family, not because they wouldn't, but because my mindset is to focus on what I can do and not worry about what others think about it. 

My primary advice, focus on controlling and doing what you can and don't worry about what's out of your control, contingency plan for those things.

Nov 9, 6:17AM EST0

What would you do differently in hindsight?

Nov 9, 5:25AM EST0

I would have focused on running a debt-free business as soon as possible.  Which basically means that I would have been a lot more conservative in the things I bought early in business.

I made the mistake of believing the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy to growing business and I hired aggressively, I leased and bought bigger office spaces, purchased expensive software and equipment, all before I needed to. 

If I go back and look at some of the things I bought that I didn't need or at least could have done without, I can easily add up a few million.

But there are a lot more reasons that simple cash flow, money reasons to running a debt free business and I go into them in Episode 21 of the podcast.

Nov 9, 6:09AM EST0

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

Nov 9, 5:24AM EST0

Referring specifically to my software company, Yurbi, I see a growth spurt in the next 2 years.  We have found a good product/market fit and a marketing message that is resonating and we have a new version coming out early next year that really focuses on lessons learned the last few years.

So what I've learned is that you won't grow in your business until you are prepared to grow. 

I answered in another question that one of my biggest mistakes in the past is hiring people, buying software, equipment, space in the expectation of growth. I thought that was preparing for growth, but that was really just hoping for growth (and wasting money).

Preparing for growth is having the processes in place to handle growth (in all areas of business, sales, service, hr, operations, accounting).  Having a pipeline of job candidates interviewed and quickly accessible when you need to hire, not starting the interviewing process when you urgently need to hire someone.

So I see myself being in a much better position to strategically lead that growth in the upcoming years than the last time one of my companies had a growth spurt.

Nov 9, 6:24AM EST0

What kind of business should I set up when starting out - sole trader/limited company, etc?

Nov 9, 1:50AM EST0

I don't think business structure is too important when you're starting out.  Especially if you are the sole founder.  If you have a partner, I would suggest you need a very detailed set of agreements that outline ownership and all separation clauses.

This also depends on your country, assuming you are US based,  I personally like S-Corp or LLC, but again, unless you are in a highly regulated industry or you customers are larger businesses or government organizations, just get started and once you have actual revenue generating you can always move from sole proprietor to a S-Corp, LLC, or even a C-corp.

Best recommendation is to talk to a tax preparer that you trust and get their advice.

Nov 9, 6:48PM EST0

Are we changing as fast as the world around us?

Nov 8, 2:47PM EST0

No, we're not and there's a lot of opportunity in that problem.  You have lots of people, all in various stages of development when it comes to all aspects of technology and non-technology areas.

Most people think you have to be an expert in something before you can sell your services or create a product to serve a need.

But in reality, the best people to serve a segment of users are the ones who are not too far removed from where the people they are serving currently are.

When you're an expert and at level 10 in something, even if you do your best to dumb down your message to say a 5-6 level, many people are still searching for a solution at level 1-2.

This gives the perfect opportunity for the right business who is at the 3-4 level to reach them and thrive.

Nov 8, 6:38PM EST0

What is an elevator pitch & how can I make one?

Nov 8, 11:19AM EST0

The concept of an elevator pitch is something you can say to someone very quickly (as in the time it takes to ride an elevator) and leave them with exactly what you do.The best formula is to answer these questions and put it into a short 1-2 sentence story:

1) describe the pain point you help your customer solve

2) describe your solution

3) describe what the successful outcome is for the customerSimple formula, but hard to get into the perfect 1-2 sentence format.

Example for my business intelligence product, Yurbi:

Most businesses have lots of data that they could be using to make better decisions but it's locked away in databases and spreadsheets that are hard to reach. Our software makes it easy for business users to get that data without requiring the IT department to spend lots of time and money.

Last edited @ Nov 8, 5:51PM EST.
Nov 8, 5:51PM EST0

Did you have major competitors when you started, how did you plan to compete with them, and how did that plan play out?

Nov 8, 11:02AM EST0

Major competitors?  You better believe it.   My product, Yurbi, is in the business intelligence space.  It is dominated by billion dollar companies like SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Tableau and even recently, venture capitalists have been flooding the industry with $100 million to $600 million investments in companies like Domo, Sisense, Looker and many others.What you find with all big competitors are a few traits you can take advantage of:

1) they can't move fast, so they are always behind on new trends in the industry

2) customer service doesn't scale, so they always drop the ball when it comes to supporting customers

3) the bigger they get, the more they are focused on profit and bigger deals, so there is always opportunity in the small to medium size market

4) their software inevitably becomes bloated as they are forced to implement features to meet as many use cases as possible and as they buy other companies they simply bolt them on versus tight integration (plus the innovation of the company they buy ceases)

So understanding those factors, my focus is to build a product that meets the core needs of a customer in a simple and elegant way, at a great price, with amazing customer support.

The challenge at that point is being discovered and from a bootstrapped approach, we leverage inbound content marketing and try to write content that our specific audience would be searching while they are looking for software in my space.  So most of our customers stumble on us via Google while they are learning about our competitors.

I talk more about this approach in Episode 13 of the podcast.

Nov 8, 6:00PM EST0

How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?

Nov 8, 10:02AM EST0

There are some things that won't change and most things that will.

Think about the technology that exists now that didn't 10 years ago:

  • Smart Phones
  • Cloud
  • Social Media
  • GPS
  • YouTube

and you could go on and on.

Looking forward you can't even imagine what the next 10 years will look like but it will be heavy in Virtual Reality,  Blockchain, Chat Bots/AI,  Wearables, Robotics, Nano-technology,  and who knows what else.   I suspect the smartphone will be replaced with something else, perhaps glasses with an on-screen display like Iron Man or Terminator.

I think also we will see a big change in the workforce,  from full-time employees to freelance or part-time.  From a centralized office to a remote workforce.  The concept of structured 40 hour work weeks will be replaced by job sharing.

It won't happen in the next 10 years, but you'll see the beginning of the automation/robot workforce start to take place.

But some things in business won't change and that involves the expectation of customer service, quality, and brand marketing.  I think whatever business and industry you are in you have to start looking at how you can automate and do that at scale while keeping a focus on the relationship and adding personal services/value.

Last edited @ Nov 8, 6:31PM EST.
Nov 8, 6:31PM EST0

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Nov 8, 5:37AM EST0

Wow, this is a tough one to nail it down just to one.  I'm going to say the willingness to serve. 

The concept of Servant Leadership and a desire to give in all interactions that you have with other; customers, employees, and partners.The way this looks in practice is a desire to provide value to customers in all interactions,  to lead by example with employees by being willing to do whatever it is you expect them to do,  and to be very giving in praise and rewards for their service to you.

This characteristic alone is not going to guarantee success, but in my opinion, it is a cornerstone for all great leaders.

Last edited @ Nov 8, 6:08PM EST.
Nov 8, 6:08PM EST0

Great answer. Thank you.

Nov 13, 12:39PM EST1

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Nov 8, 1:22AM EST0

I think the biggest for any new business is lack of resources. Generally, that means cash, but in some high growth businesses, cash may not be the problem but finding qualified people to deliver a huge incoming demand.

For me, access to capital was my biggest hurdle.  I didn't have family and friends to ask. I wasn't in a position to get investment money.  And my first attempts at bank loans were shot down pretty quickly.

I was fortunate in that I had a set of skills and a consultant background to be able to focus on delivering professional services.  I was able to provide billable services to customers and take the money from that to hire more team to provide billable services and eventually take the money from that to hire people who can do non-billable things like creating software.

So now instead of having to sell people-hours,  we were able to migrate to selling a product (and still sell the profitable person-hour when needed).

It's still a struggle as a bootstrapped business, so I wouldn't say I have overcome the hurdle or lack of resources.  But I think I'm on the right track.

I would say check out Episode 21 of the podcast on running a debt free business and also Episode 24 on Bootstrapping vs VC for more on this topic.

Last edited @ Nov 8, 6:49PM EST.
Nov 8, 6:46PM EST0

What are some strategies that you would recommend for making the best use of one’s time?

Nov 7, 8:47PM EST0

The biggest thing that helps me is to eliminate distractions.   One of the biggest distractions we have these days is being connected to technology.

One of the smallest changes you can make which really has made a large impact on me is turning off all the notifications on my phone.  All the alerts, popups, little numbers that pop on apps to let you know something is waiting.  We check our phones often enough, we really don't need the reminders real-time.

Other things I do is streamline time-consuming processes as much as possible through technology.  Scheduling appointments is an area that has a lot of back and forth normally.  I use Calendly which makes it extremely easy for someone to book an appt with me.  

And I leverage timeboxing to block time on my calendar to focus that time on a specific task.  Whether it be time at the gym, a specific time each week I dedicate to recording a podcast, or doing something related to accounting, I'll block it out on my calendar so no one can book me during that time.

I go into more detail on this in Episode 10 of the podcast, you can listen here.

Nov 9, 6:29AM EST0

Are there any good business resources you can recommend for beginners online?

Nov 7, 8:45PM EST0

I just recently ran across startups.co and they have a lot of great resources for early-stage businesses. 

Quora is also a great place to ask questions and also read questions and answers from some great entrepreneurs sharing information.  Here's my profile over there.

And of course, my self-serving answer would be to subscribe to the Tech Smart Boss podcast on your favorite podcast platform. :-)

Nov 9, 6:56PM EST0

What was your business’ original mission? How has that mission evolved in the time since?

Nov 7, 8:32PM EST0

I had a very simple mission when I started my first business,  it was to provide the best, most honest, service I could provide to help make my customers successful and to make a profit while doing it.

I was leaving a large enterprise software company and was frustrated at how they were taking advantage of smaller and medium-sized customers by aggressively selling them expensive software that they were not equipped to manage or use effectively and then selling them endless hours of professional services to "try to make it work right."

I wanted to take more of a customer advocate position in business and do what was right for the customer.

Not exactly what most businesses start with as a classic mission statement.  And believe me, I wasted lots of brain cells early on trying to come up with a pithy one-liner that described how I wanted to be the best ABC of the world (like the Microsoft one, put a computer on every desk).

What I found was my mission statement worked well and provided a great guideline for my team to understand,  that regardless of what we were selling, it was customer first, even if we had to recommend a different company's product or service for what they needed and not ours (and we do that often).

Today our mission has evolved into more of a set of values that we run the business by and they embody the customer focus that I started out with.  You can read them here - https://www.5000fish.com/values/

Nov 10, 1:24PM EST0

How do I find out the laws in relation to taxes for my area?

Nov 7, 6:36PM EST0

That is a really tricky one because I don't know your area.  Not only does the law change greatly from state to state, but also from country to country.

I would say find a good tax professional in your area that is willing to offer you some advice for a free coffee or lunch. 

Google can be your best friend and your worst enemy but generally if you track down your state and local county websites they will have some information and more importantly some phone numbers for information where you can talk to a live person.

If you're in the US, I would say to check with SCORE and the free resources there can probably help you with local advice - www.score.org

Nov 8, 6:54PM EST0

How did you build a consumer culture around your product?

Nov 7, 4:59PM EST0

Most of my experience has been in B2B markets,  but at the core, marketing and building a brand to businesses is essentially marketing and building a brand for people/consumers.

I've been recently learning more about the skill (or art) of using Storytelling to build a brand.  Since consumers are human,  and all humans resonate with a good story, I think it is the best approach.

One book that I recently finished listening to (yes, an audiobook) is "Building a Story Brand" by Donald Miller and I recommend that.

In a nutshell,  your consumer is the hero of the story and your brand is the guide who will take them from a state of conflict, through a journey, to an ideal outcome. Most brands make the mistake of putting their product as the hero of the story.

Building a consumer culture around your product is nailing your story.  One example in the book of a company who did this amazingly, Apple.

Last edited @ Nov 9, 7:03PM EST.
Nov 9, 7:02PM EST0

What are the three most important variables to monitor within your business?

Nov 7, 3:48PM EST0

#1 without a doubt for me is cash flow.  You need to really be on top of your income and expenses.

While cash flow is very important, for the next 2 put your attention on leading indicators that drive your cash flow, most importantly the revenue side of cash flow.

Nail down a key metric related to the success of your pipeline.  It will vary by business, but nail down what metric is a good indicator of future success.  It could be knowing the number of phone calls you need to make daily (or emails to send) to generate enough leads in the pipeline, to close enough deals that quarter, to hit the revenue goal you have.  But it all starts with that daily action of lead generation.  Find out what that number is for you and track it relentlessly.

And for the 3rd, focus on a measure of custom retention.  The easiest revenue source is keeping the customers you already have (especially if you are in a recurring revenue business which is what I recommend).  So you want to focus on your renewals, but by just looking at that number it's too late to do anything about it when it starts to decline.  Come up with the leading indicators of success to keep your renewals high. 

The frequency of customer interactions is a good one because it's the customers you never hear from that are at most risk of leaving.  Having a customer engagement strategy to make sure you are communicating with them, delivering value, and building relationship is a great way to keep a customer.  Quantify that into a metric you can track.

I think you need to dig into the leading indicators that drive your cash flow.

Nov 8, 7:04PM EST0

What is your opinion about 3d printing?

Nov 7, 3:10PM EST0

It hasn't caught on.  There was a lot of hype around it and I think the price point of it has reduced to be accessible in the consumer market, but I don't think there is a consumer use case for it yet.

Until I can get a Star Trek replicator where I can walk up and get a plate of food generated,  I'm not quite sure what I would use a 3D printer for yet.

I see great videos on social media where a dog or young child had a limb printed that changed their lives or someone makes some cool toy.  I've even seen people downloading gun and bullet designs and printing those (scary).

I suspect some future technology will leapfrog 3D printing with some awesome use case that makes everyone want one and the current 3D printing technology that we know today will be the failed grandfather to some future success.

Nov 8, 7:09PM EST0

How do you facilitate a positive work environment that attracts and retains talent?

Nov 7, 1:32PM EST0

The best way that I have found is to lead by example and to treat others as you would like to be treated.

Every decision that I make that impacts my team, I try to go through a thought process of how would I feel if I was the one receiving this information versus giving it.

And that doesn't mean you don't make decisions that negatively impact the team, I've gone through plenty of cycles of downsizing and having to deliver bad news.  But at that point, you have to ask, how would I like to be told this information, and generally it means being as honest and transparent as possible and being open to taking the feedback given in return.

So having that example from the top in how you treat everyone goes a long way to making that positive work environment.

The next big piece is encouraging people to be vocal when they see something not right, or when they have a better idea. For every new person we hire, I stress that it doesn't matter if they have been here 1 day or 10 years, if they see something done a certain way that seems wrong, bring it up.  So empowering the team is critical.  But what is equally critical is adding that their idea or suggestion will not always be implemented but will always be considered.

And the last thing I would add is that you have to hire slow and fire fast.  You have to hire the type of positive people that will fit into your culture and remove the ones that don't without delay.  So if you want a positive work environment, focus on hiring positive people. 

Nov 10, 1:45PM EST0

What do you look for in a client?

Nov 7, 1:27PM EST0

This is an interesting question and we do in fact have expectations for a client and I think everyone should.

I have quite literally, more than once, fired a client.  Client's that we do not want their business, nor their money.

Generally, these are clients that are mentally and verbally abusive, to vendors/contractors/partners and in most cases to their internal employees as well.

But it's not limited to just extreme cases like that.  Here are red flags that I have when working to bring on a new customer:

Extreme negotiation. Someone who wants to nitpick and negotiate every little minor thing.  They will be a real pain to deal with long-term and they generally put too much emphasis on cost, not value.

Overly legal. I'm all for having a great set of legal documentation, but when a potential customer gets their lawyer involved and we're on the 3rd round of revisions, the only people making money at that point are the lawyers.  I wish we could all still work on a handshake, but unfortunately, we can't.  But there has to be some level of trust between customer and vendor as well.

Unrealistic expectations.  Potential customers who are under an extreme deadline or over-committing to their customers on what will be delivered will typically result in long-term headaches for your business.

Those are the big red flags for me.  What I like to work with are enthusiastic customers, who are happy with their company and role, and who are positive.  People who see things half full versus half empty.

Last edited @ Nov 10, 1:36PM EST.
Nov 10, 1:35PM EST0
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