Archive for the 'Trade - Imports - Exports' Category

The future of your small business - in the clouds

The world is definitely changing, isn’t it? The recession of 2009 has business managers thinking that flat is the new up in terms of growth, and as for accounts receivables, 90 days is the new net 30.

So if I were to suggest that you should “have your head in the clouds,” in the past you would have asked why I would encourage you to disconnect from reality. But today, that suggestion would be quite to the contrary because having your head in the clouds in 2009 is actually a very real way for your small business to gain a competitive advantage. Let me explain.

If you haven’t already heard it, let me introduce you to a new term: cloud computing. Get used to it because cloud computing is going to become as ubiquitous as terms like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and social media.

In truth, cloud computing isn’t all that new. The early term was ASP, which stands for Application Service Provider (also ISP, for Internet Service provider). These were the first developers of processing power that a customer could access over the Internet without having to own it and install it on his or her desktop or server. The next generation of this highly efficient way to leverage technology was – and still is - called software-as-a-service, or SaaS for short. But more and more, as acquiring processing power offsite (think mobility) becomes the norm rather than the exception, we’ll think of this kind of leverage as cloud computing.

If you’ve ever sent an instant message, you’ve worked in the clouds. If you’ve ever made a transaction in that virtual marketplace called eBay, you’ve conducted cloud computing. and if you’ve managed a community on any of the social media sites, you’re a cloud-head.

Cloud computing is a pretty intuitive way to think about managing your work and life in cyberspace, isn’t it? But it’s more than intuitive; for small businesses, cloud computing is the next generation of thinking about gaining a competitive advantage. The more you can acquire processing power on-line, the less you have to capitalize that power because, virtually by definition, cloud computing comes with incremental delivery, on-demand availability and pay-as-you-go pricing. No muss, no fuss and turn around on a dime – just what small businesses need.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate show, I talked about this topic with a real, live cloud computing expert, Maia Sisk, Director, Product Management, IBM Lotus Online Collaboration Services (, and a member of my Brain Trust. Take a few minutes to listen to what Maia has to say about what is to become such an important way of thinking about how you leverage your business model and your precious capital. And be sure to leave a comment.

Small business and the Internet governance debate

How do you like being able to log-in to the World Wide Web and “go” anywhere, “talk” to anyone, see anything and pretty much do anything that’s possible in cyberspace? Me, too. In fact, as someone who once made a living using an ink pen, carbon paper, an Underwood Five typewriter and the U.S. Postal Service, the things we can do today on the Internet are nothing short of magic.

But what would you say if I told you that there are forces around the world that are plotting to wrest control of the Internet from the currently successful stewards of this great global democratizer? What if I told you that one of these forces is the United Nations? That’s a nightmare thought, right?

Well, it’s true. The U.N. and various governments around the globe are apoplectic at the fact that the private sector, not governments, are primarily managing the Internet. They believe that, by definition, Internet governance should be handled by governments. God help us if that ever happens.

In the past year or so there have been several Internet Governance Forums (IGF) around the world, and there will be others next year, where interested parties come together to debate how the Internet will be managed (read: controlled) in the future. Every commercial entity on the planet should be participating in this very important debate. Businesses cannot afford to let the Internet fall into the hands of organizations like the U.N.

Recently I discussed this issue on my small business radio program with someone who has been working tirelessly on behalf of the marketplace in general and small business in particular. Steve DelBianco has attended all of the IGF events and, while there, has made the case for unfettered access to the Internet by commercial users. Steve, vice president for corporate affairs at the Association for Competitive Technology, filed a report about the IGF progress on my show, and I urge you to listen to my conversation with him, to maintain your awareness of this debate and to support those organizations, like Steve’s, that represent us there. And don’t forget to leave a comment.

Small business owners, it’s time to get mad

It is difficult to comprehend the level of incompetence of our federal government – at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, including both parties – regarding the way, over several decades, it contributed to setting the stage for our current economic nightmare. It’s just as difficult to imagine the level of greed of certain people and organizations on Wall Street and in the financial sectors that have contributed to our current financial nightmare.

And it’s difficult to see how companies like GM, Ford and Chrysler couldn’t affect necessary changes that would allow them to avoid the structural nightmare they’ve created for themselves and their stakeholders which, frankly, we now know includes every American.

Here on Main Street, we’re inheriting the whirlwind that has been created by this incompetence, greed and denial. And yes, to some extent, we have a level of responsibility to accept ourselves. But be that as it may, I think it’s time for Main Street – small business owners in particular – to take back our marketplace and our economy from people who have had the power, but not the judgment or values, to be so influential in our lives. And I think it’s time for small business owners to get mad.

Yes, anger is not usually a productive emotion, but in this case I think anger is appropriate and actually can be beneficial. Anger can help us never forget what this completely avoidable financial meltdown is going to cost us. And since I’m convinced that small businesses will lead the U.S., and, therefore, the world out of this recession, a little anger can help small business owners resolve to fight a little harder to survive, continue to add value to every transaction and take our leadership role in the marketplace more seriously in the future.

Recently on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I vented my feelings about this anger idea. It made me feel better and it might do the same for you if you listen to what I said. And be sure to let me know if you agree or not in the comments section.

Small business, the Obama administration and IP

As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, it’s clear that the strength of the American economy will come more from our ability to create and sell intellectual property (IP) than the tangible things we were so known for in most of our history. And as globalization – efficiently transporting goods, services and financial assets around the world – continues apace, our IP is also being delivered away from American shores and, therefore, the protection of U.S. intellectual property laws.

Our trading partners around the world have their own IP laws that dictate how our property will be treated there, but unfortunately, those laws often don’t provide adequate protection and, frankly, our innovations can get ripped off. This is where our federal government comes in.

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) is the primary organization that negotiates our business relationships with other countries, including IP issues, and the leadership of that cabinet level department is changing. Barack Obama has chosen Bill Richardson to head up his DOC and since small businesses are creating more and more IP, and doing more and more international trade, this appointment bears watching. Richardson has an impressive resume as a governor and diplomat, but time will tell about his effectiveness as the head of the DOC.

Someone who will be watching the Richardson DOC is Dr. Mark Esper, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Recently, Mike joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about IP, trade issues and the Richardson selection. Take a few minutes to meet Mike and listen to our conversation. And of course, comments are always welcome.

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