Top Opportunities for SMB Consultants in 2009!
By Harry Brelsford
Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in the opportunity module of the ERP system we use at SMB Nation. This exercise is both therapeutic and practical. The “therapy” is that working with opportunities leads to optimism, so I feel better about myself and my company. The “practical” side is that there is always plenty of opportunities out there – in good times or bad.
While researching this article, I realized that opportunity is in the eye of the beholder. Whereas one person’s saintly behavior is offset by another’s sins, both saints and sinners have counter-cyclical opportunities right before their eyes. I have compiled a list of opportunities you might consider in 2009 to “go and grow” your SMB-based technology consulting practice. Much of this analysis is pulled from my research and worldwide observations.
Medical and Education Sectors
Tied at the top of my opportunity list are the medical and educational sectors. As you can see in this figure, taken recently from The Wall Street Journal, these two sectors are currently ADDING JOBS! I am not suggesting that all ye olde SBSers quickly retrain as nurses. Rather, when developing your razor-like focus in response to challenging conditions, you are encouraged to seek out economic sectors that are actually demonstrating economic growth. The medical sector is benefiting from a demographic trend of an aging populace. Education is seeking growth from a counter-cyclical viewpoint: folks improving themselves when confronted with unemployment (or “under-employment,” where their skills are underutilized).
But enough econometrics (hey – isn’t that the type of math that got us into this trouble?). SMB consultants really “get it” when fellow partners echo what the broader statistics tell us. In a recent workshop that I conducted in EMEA, a partner proffered his testimonial that his niche in the educational area has served him especially well in this economy. Other SMB consultants have told me that their medical clients are life savers – literally!
Keep the Faith!
“Our SMB PC magazine cover boy” Mark Moreno (aka “Christ’s IT Guy at http://christsitguy.blogspot.com/) has a lot of positive energy and that is leading to terrific results – even today! What’s Mark’s secret sauce? He has combined his passion for IT with his Christian faith. One of his niches is serving as the outsourced SMB technology consultant to churches. In a sense, Mark is doing what many readers (and writers, such as yours truly) want to do: combine passion and professionalism or business and pleasure and make a reasonable economic profit along the way. The Elkhart, Indiana, resident has found his calling and supports both the data networking and telephony needs of churches around the country.
So why weave this conversation into an economics article? For one simple reason. During economic downturns, I have witnessed – and research confirms – that folks turn to sources of enlightenment and empowerment to help them improve their condition. For some it’s the pew and, as you will read shortly, for others it’s the pub. For Mark, serving mega-churches and other parishes has allowed him to report growth in downtimes.
It should also be noted that when I interviewed Mark at the ITEXPO show in Miami in early February 2009, he spoke at length about his successful managed services practice and rattled off a dizzying array of facts and figures (e.g., “truck roll rates”) that has convinced me to write a detailed article on this topic at a future date.
Natural Resources – Hedging
Someone is always making money. This can be accomplished by taking short positions in securities performing poorly or long positions in areas that go up when most indicators go down. An example of this is GOLD! Whereas most business-minded folks – likely you, the reader – have a business model predicated upon continual growth, there are other business models such as trading against misery. Gold is really considered a trading vehicle, not a “growth investment,” and it thrives in fearful times. So not surprisingly, gold has flirted with and crossed over $1,000 USD per ounce in recent times. That translates into busy mines, such as those outside Johannesburg South Africa, that need IT support! Another natural resource to track is oil, which can outperform the market in a downturn. But be careful. What goes up might just go down as we’ve all seen in world oil prices over the past year. Well-known SBSers Philip Elder and Stuart Crawford live in Alberta, Canada, an established and prolific oil region and have benefited from the strength of oil prices over the years in their SMB technology consulting practices.
Something I learned growing up in an oil crash in Alaska (mid-1980s) was that suppliers who provide “necessities” to shoppers are essentially immune to economic downturns. Today that translates into the “outperform” results reported by WalMart with is sales of food goods and basic necessities. This is echoed by similar results from Costco warehouse stores, dollar stores, and second-hand stores.
Yes – Technology!
My wife always cautions me not to be boastful, lest I attract bad fortune. I understand that being humble is a virtue. But I truly believe those of us in the SMB technology field are going to get a “pass” in this recession relative to the start-of-the-century downturn we experienced after Y2K and “dot-com” conspired to slap us upside the head several years ago. I very much welcome your input on this opinion as there is a great debate occurring in our community on this exact topic right now. But I feel, as do others, that technology and innovation are going to lead us to the next round of economic growth. So if you are looking to expand your business as an SMB consultant right here, right now, what better place to start than your own backyard?
Next magazine issue I will profile several technology start-ups that are leading that recovery bandwagon. Standby, as I think you will be very impressed.
The adage of “location, location, location” is typically trumpeted during time of economic gain, not pain. But did you know there is a silver lining to the troubled real state sector? It’s true. Three amazing opportunities right now for SMB technology partners seeking more business are:
- Property management firms. When a lender takes back a property, it has a fiduciary obligation to maintain the value of this asset. This is accomplished by using internal property managers at the bank in the “Other Real Estate Owned” (OREO) department but more likely via an external property management firm. These firms need technology solutions and support. Do you get it?
- Movers. Families heading for the hills after leaving their house keys in the mailbox will often need to contract for a moving company to shuttle their possessions away. A moving company can do well in this economy.
- Trash-outs. I read an interesting article in USA Today, a daily newspaper, that was confirmed by a recent Webinar attendee from Detroit, Michigan. The foreclosure crisis has created an entirely new field of firms that clean up abandoned homes. Such small businesses are ideal targets for your SMB technology prowess!
There are several different angles to the green story. One has the Obama administration’s economic stimulus creating an entire new economic sector (imagine Detroit automobile factories making turbine-charged windmills), and there would be big-time economic opportunities for SMB technology consultants! Another angle focuses on the hardware itself. Whereas you likely spent the better part of your career putting technology into small businesses, you can now get paid to take the technology back out under the guise of recycling! Computer recycling is a huge business, and it has two dimensions to it: getting paid money by the small business to dispose of the old equipment and working with recover plants that extract gold from mother boards, etc. A recent article in a South African newspaper detailed how a German firm was using a chemical process to recover millions of dollars of gold from discarded hardware. Smart.
Further research for this article resulted in my discovery of this rather dour but otherwise accurate description of today’s economic climate:
“Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”
Who said this?
- 1. Jeff Connally, CEO of CMIT, Inc
- 2. Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital (1867)
- 3. Astro Brelsford, mascot at SMB Nation
The answer is Karl Marx and certainly not Jeff Connally. Jeff runs a large SMB IT franchise and is one of the most optimistic folks I have met in our space. I enjoyed a wide-ranging interview with Connally and I hope you find this inspirational!
SMB PC: What is the temperature reading out there?
Connally: We’re seeing a wide range of emotions – but our folks aren’t all alone. It brings comfort to know we’re all in this together.
SMB PC: Specifically – what can SMB technology consultants do today to increase sales?
Connally: Serve your best customers – at CMIT we call it our 10 in 10 programs. Call your top ten customers…go meet them in the next ten days…take them a Starbucks card….
SMB PC: What keeps you awake at night?
Connally: I don’t stay awake at night!
SMB PC: What opportunities do you see today in the current economic environment?
Connally: My number-one finding is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. And I have a great story about a CMIT location. This CMIT site has an aquarium customer that reports business is up. People are not going on vacation but adding fish…invest $500 in an aquarium instead of $5,000 in a vacation.
SMB PC: What advice can you offer for both the small business owner and the SMB technology consultant?
Connally: Get more done with LESS! And it’s a great time to be in business if you have a good business model and business plan. If you want to start a business – the cost of labor is down and labor supply is up. And don’t forget the technology needs of the small business. At CMIT, we serve a market that has an intense need. Customers essentially tell us that “My business runs on this server – it’s got to work. The server technology has become as vital as the phone system. ”
So what’s the other side of the opportunity coin? It’s the misery industries I will quickly list here that thrive in bad times as folks seek solace from economic anxiety. This list is largely self-explanatory. I leave it up to you and your own ethical boundaries if you want to serve these industries.
- Liquor stores
- Payday loans
- Gun shops
- Lotto ticket resellers
- Tattoo parlors
- Tobacco stores
SIDEBAR: What to Do When There Is Nothing to Do!
Summary: Flight to Quality!
You’ve now witnessed the saints’ and sinners’ sides of survival in tough times. The intention of this article was to help you keep your chin up and perhaps throw a punch or two along the way against the gale force winds. Final wisdom? Remember that an economic downturn always results in a flight to quality – so keep in mind that while there is a shakeout afoot, you can actually acquire more customers as your competition expires.
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Harry Brelsford is the publisher of SMB PC magazine and the CEO at SMB Nation.