Chances are you'll be working with a vendor to implement technology in your business. These vendors might be web designers, social media experts, or even sales people for technology tools such as CRMs or email marketing software. We often find that the communication between the vendors and business owners often halts, muddies, or even worse completely ruins many attempts at implementing technology in a business. Here are a few tips to ensure that as a small business owner you are prepared to talk the talk with your technology vendors.
Always focus on the end result: It is easy to be in awe of what technology CAN do that often people lose focus on what they NEED it to accomplish. Many technology vendors will take businesses through a business requirement phase, but its best if you've had time to strategically think about your needs before going into this conversation. The good news is you don't need technical knowledge for this; you just need to know your business. Forget for a moment about what the technology can do and create a clear list of what your business needs to be able to do. Don't make it technical or focus on how, but clearly state the result. Determine what your "must haves" are and what can be delayed. If something is going to be delayed be sure to get a clear understanding if the technology can accomplish the result and if it costs extra.
Don't be afraid to ask: Business owners expect their vendors to be knowledgeable and provide them with working solutions. Yet they are often left feeling like their vendors didn't hear or understand them. Wanting to sound knowledgeable, business owners often don't ask the simple questions. You should absolutely trust your vendor, but NO ONE knows your business better than you do. Ask the simple questions. Be unafraid to question how something works or how it will achieve the result your business needs. Do not settle for answers that are too technical for the average person to understand or "just because" answers. If you don't understand, work with them so that they can explain it to you.
Don't agree unless you understand and it's clearly defined: Many contracts leave a wide array of grey area that doesn't clearly explain who is responsible for what. You MUST be willing to ask the questions and ensure that responsibilities are clearly defined. We've heard the stories of technology costs that spun out of control; where business felt like they were taken advantage of or even nickel and dimed in the process. As in any industry, there are snakes out there, but more so it's a matter of agreeing up front what is included AND the prices for maintenance or additional work. In the IT world this is often called the Scope of the project.
Know the basics: What you don't know can and will hurt your business. No one expects you to be an expert in technology, but if you don't know enough to make well thought-out decisions, your business will suffer. In two weeks we will take a look at some great resources for learning technology, but beyond getting resources for yourself, utilize your vendors. Ask them for any resources they have such as blogs, white papers, or even glossaries. If they don't have any then ask them for a conversation where you can pick their brains. If you don't know the basics there is a high chance you will be frustrated and your business will not get the results it needs.
The overall theme is that when it comes to technology you must take control just as you do in any area of your business. As the leader, you must be willing to learn, grow, and adapt to have the knowledge to lead well. Technology can be, and is often, intimidating. It has its own language that many of us didn't grow up using and sometimes it feels like an overwhelming pain, but it's important for you to OWN it.