Sunday, June 18, 2006

Change in the SMB Space - part 2

Changing Faces, Changing Challenges

Many things are not changing: For one, SBS 2003 continues to kick butt. More than it's share, to be honest. I was just talking with a client on Friday and we agreed: There is no greater value available to business owners today than SBS 2003. Period.

We'll have to see after June 30th who the new players are at Microsoft. Some people will get another year to work with other. Other folks are already moving to new positions. By the end of July we should know a little bit about who's who.

[Side Note: If you're going to the MS Intergalactic Partner Conference for the first time, it can seem a bit like a car sales lot. Everyone you meet says "I just changed jobs and I don't have any business cards. Here, let me write my email on this candy wrapper."]

Many old friends will stay. Some will move from one place to another. The solid rock of our community is the collection of user groups. They grow a little here and shrink a little there, but overall they grow larger and more numerous.

Several people act like Johnny and Jane Appleseed, creating new users groups wherever they go. If you're worried about how change at Microsoft will affect the community, your group, or your business, relax.

I think Microsoft will give the SMB space some significant resources for at least another year. It may not be focused like a laser beam, but it will be there. They've seen the numbers and they know how much money can be made on small business. When mid-market and enterprise businesses stopped spending, the SMB space kept chugging right along. But don't kid yourself. If the traditional market returns with a roar, Microsoft's attention will turn just as quickly.

Your Five Year Plan

Most of us, if we'll admit it, don't have a five-year plan. We should. We know we should. But we're trying to get through the day, the week, the month. But here's the deal with change.

Change is going to happen. Time is going to pass. You're going to change and your business is going to change. Think back five years ago. You probably got up in a different place, went to work in a different building, had different friends, and worked with different people. You certainly sold different software and hardware. Your relationship with Microsoft was different that it is today. You probably didn't belong to a user group, you'd never heard of SMB Nation or the SBS show. You'd probably never heard of any of the "well known" people in the SMB/SBS space.

It's not much of an exageration to say "everything" changed in the last five years. Guess what? The next five years aren't going to be any different. Change happens. Here's what a plan does for you. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to "hit" every goal exactly. But if you know where you want to go and have some idea of what you DO and DO NOT want out of life (and business), then you have a framework for interpretting change.

Instead of being bounced around like a pinball, you will be actively participating in the world of change. You can mold your environment and yourself as opportunities present themselves. And opportunities always present themselves. People come and go, software comes and goes, and the business environment keeps "evolving."

If you have a vision about the future -- a five-year plan -- you can interpret change in light of that plan. You can share your plan with people. They may be suspicious or not very excited. But at least they'll know where you're going. And you'll be surprised at how willing people are to help you out, if they know what you want.

Where will you be five years from now? How different will that be if your favorite contact at Microsoft or SMB Nation is no longer there? I'm guessing you'll be just fine. In fact, I'm guessing you'll thrive!

Plan to Thrive. Because you can't thrive without a plan.

And to get started, be prepared for some changes between now and the end of the year.

I welcome your feedback.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thoughts on the Future of the SMB Space -- Part One

It is the job of the business owner/manager/Minder to try to look five years into the future and figure out where the business is going. This includes speculating on trends, business environment, major players, and the local market.

No one is great at this. If you're lucky, you're good. Most of us (self included) are neither great nor good.

But that's not to say that the process of thinking about a "five year plan" is wasted. Any time spent speculating about the future of your business is time well spent.

The Summer Lull is a good time to spend some effort speculating. Here are a few random thoughts.

Change Happens
I don't know why, but human beings have this real sticking point when it comes to change. I'm not talking about resistance to change, but simply accepting that change happens.

SBS and the SMB community have enjoyed a GREAT couple of years. Our industry has boomed. The SBS 2003 product is an awesome, over-the-top, great product. Microsoft is just finishing a year of intense focus on the SMB space. Most consultants don't really grasp how much the partner-facing infrastructure at Microsoft was reorganized last year.

At the same time, SMB Nation has grown from 100 to 300 to 500. This year, SMB Nation "classic" in Redmond will have 800 attendees. They've already had SMB Nation Amsterdam and SMB Nation East this year. These conferences are truly gifts to the SMB community. But change happens. Can this growth go on forever? What's the next step?

Change is accepted more readily in the mid-market and enterprise world. In some sense, it's built in. July brings the Microsoft Intergallactic Partner Conference in Boston. Every year, Microsoft ties up end-of-fiscal-year by shuffling people from one job to the next. In another month, no one will have the same title except Steve Ballmer, and that's not a given.

Last year (It's hard to believe it was only eleven months ago.) MS introduced the SBSC program. WPC was an SMB-fest last year. Other than a CRM rev, the only new thing they had was SBSC.

It won't be like that this year. The Small Biz Symposium on July 10th is looking great. [See and click on the "Small Business Symposium" button.]

But this year MS is introducing a new operating system, 64 bit technology, a new office version, and R2's all over the place. We'll have our day. Then . . .

When the sun rises on July 14th, our little slice of heaven will no longer be in the big spotlight. We'll still have a spotlight, but it will be the little, portable spotlight. Even now they're loading the big truck so they can carry the big spotlight over to the Vista launch area. You know that big contraption with three spotlights circling in the sky? That's being carted over to the Office camp.

So, if you're still squinting because the lights have been so bright, you're about to get a taste of what it's like to to be out of the stoplight.

It will be very interesting to see what our little community looks like in a few months. It's grown up a lot in the last few years. It has matured. It's got some great spokespeople and a handful of icons. It will be interesting to see what the community looks like with more people but less buzz.

I welcome your feedback.

To be continued . . .