6 Apr 2009

On Growth

Author: q | Filed under: Conference, Pontifications

This change in our economic climate is generating different reactions from different people, no huge surprise. Over the last few months, I”ve seen several different approaches from customers, peers, and other contacts. Some have chosen cut back their marketing and advertising spending as a way to save cash flow. Others have started spending more in marketing and advertising to generate more customer leads and referrals. Some have cut staff, others have added sales staff. Some are taking the same approach to business that they have for years, others are looking over their business models and seeing if change makes sense to them.

I”m not here to tell you that there”s any right or wrong way to approach your business. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. The same tactics that work in a large metropolitan area may not work in a smaller, more rural, closed community. The same approaches that are working well in Texas may fall flat in Michigan.

But one thing is constant – technology is constantly changing. Microsoft released SBS 2008 last year, and in case you haven”t figured it out yet, it”s not the same as SBS 2003. IT Professionals who make their living supporting customers who run SBS are having to learn the differences in Server 2008 from Server 2003,Exchange 2007 from Exchange 2003,etc., etc., etc. Windows Server 2008 Foundation was announced last week, and while it”s based on Server 2008, it”s got some key differences that will make it more of a niche solution than an across-the-board solution for many consultants.

So what are you doing to keep up with the changing technology? What are you doing to learn about new solutions or opportunities for your business? One thing I”m fairly certain of is that if you”re not open to change, you”re going to get left behind at best. So how do you keep up?

My background is in education. I started my career in the higher education arena, and I”ve always approached every job or business opportunity as an educational opportunity. Either as a way to learn for myself and grow as a person, or as an opportunity to help another learn and grow. In business, it”s often referred to as continuing education. Many industries require people holding certain certifications to take a number of continuing education classes each year to maintain their certification. That”s not the case in the IT industry, and while I”m not advocating any sort of formal continuing education system for IT service providers, I know that the good ones are always pushing themselves, keeping up with the latest trends, tools, technologies, etc.

Many of us will take the approach of trying to learn things on our own. That”s my own primary method for education. I sit down in front of a new tool or a problem or a challenge and I work my way through it until I get to the other side. Others are book learners and gain their perspectives from reading anything and everything about a topic that they can get their hands on. Still others are visual learners and choose to watch others do things to pick up skills and techniques. And still others learn almost by osmosis, by being around others who are well-versed in an area and learn from interactions with them.

As you look to the challenge of growing your business or your personal skill set, let me offer two events that may help you learn in the short term so you can make decisions to help you in the long term. The month of May has two events geared towards helping IT professionals and their organizations grow by offering discussions and presentations on growing your business, learning about new technologies, and interacting with your peers. These are the SMB Nation Spring event in Montclair, New Jersey May 1-3, and the SMB Summit in Dallas, Texas, May 15-17. Both of these events have a number of speakers chosen specifically for their expertise in certain areas that are of interest to the IT Professional community these days. The SMB Nation Spring event is set more as a regional event, but the SMB Summit is intending to draw a national audience. If you”re not already considering attending one of these two events in May, I would certainly give it another thought.

Why?

Check out the web sites for both events and see who the speakers are and the topics they are presenting. If there are not multiple sessions that apply to you or your business, I”ll be very surprised. Think about the opportunities you will have to interact with the speakers outside of their presentations. Think about the opportunities you”ll have to interact with your peers outside of the sessions and event activities. I will be speaking at both events, but that”s not the primary reason I”m going to each – I”m looking forward to seeing the other sessions that are being offered; I”m looking forward to interacting with a number of the other speakers; I”m looking forward to the hallway conversations I”ll be able to have with the other attendees. I expect to gain a great deal of insight into my own business and other ventures by interacting with the other people who will be at these events.

If your interest is piqued but you”re still not sure, check out what other speakers for the SMB Nation event are saying: Harry Brelsford talks about the shift to becoming a trusted advisor in this blog post. Dana Epp of AuthAnvil fame talks about his presentation for the SMB Nation event in this blog post

Of course, if conferences are not your thing (although if you haven”t been to one of these events, you really don”t know what you”re missing) or if your travel budget won”t allow you to attend these events, you still have a number of options open to you for continuing education. Check out the 5W/50 webcasts. Check out Karl Palachuk”s SMB Conference Calls. And, of course, I have to mention the Third Thursday webcasts at Third Tier.

Bottom line, there are LOTS of opportunities for you to learn about new technologies, new business opportunities, new ways to market to customers, etc., etc., etc. If you”re not taking the opportunity to update (or upgrade) your skills or your business approach, know that someone else out there is taking advantage of that opportunity. What”s your plan? How are you going to keep up with, or better yet, stay ahead of your competition?

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