In my previous posts, (1, 2) I’ve been talking about why Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMB) need Linux and Open Source solutions. I’ve also talked about Open Source industries. But what we haven’t covered is getting in the game.
While I could go high tech here or dazzle you with business terms, the truth is, going into business only requires that you understand the ground rules.
Think of it in terms of poker or any other game. Yes, it might take you a while to develop the skills you need to be really good at the game, but one of the most important steps is learning the rules and understanding what makes for a winning hand.
No matter how unique your method of doing business, or your business model, you will need to pick up the basic skills and techniques. But just because you may not have a full tool kit at the outset doesn’t mean you can’t get started. Especially if you surround yourself with people who have the strengths you need.
The really good news is that you can get the basics lots of places. There are countless business resources online and many in your local community. If you’re in the United States, SCORE offers free business counseling and low cost workshops and the SBA sponsors Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) where you can also get free counseling and learn the basics of writing a business plan, accounting best practices and other essential skills.
Where you’ll find it getting tricky is getting past the no-cost mindset when you, and your clientele, begin thinking about free software solutions. I can tell you that the early years of my FOSS business were rough until I figured out how to properly position ourselves in the market place.
Our business model needed to be tweaked more than once to be sure our potential customers could see the value in doing business with us. In some cases we raised our prices, others we lowered them. In some instances we dove into the marketing plan, hammering out little details and studying our customers.
As I have branched out and helped other FOSS projects think about their positioning I’ve found the biggest issue is marketing messaging. You see, it isn’t about what they wanted to say about their latest and greatest update, but about what the customer needs to hear.
While that statement could be interpreted as the sort of thing con-artists do, it’s not about trickery, but about point of view.
Think about it this way… What are the key things high level geeks think about when it comes to setting up a new computer? Processor speeds, RAM, Kernel version, getting the proper video drivers and all those other spec sheet gems.
Now think about what a business owner wants to know. They want to know how much it’s going to cost. Is there going to be any down time? Will their employees adopt the new tech and use it effectively? Who’ll be able to solve any problems that may arise? Why should they trust that a free download isn’t going to be a lemon? If it’s so great, why is it free?
My best advice, DON’T Underestimate the importance of re-programming your thinking so that you can step away from the for-geeks-by-geeks FLOSS marketing that you’re use to seeing. If needed, find someone familiar with FOSS and SMB speak to translate for you.
The reality is that the barriers to starting a successful business aren’t that big if you’ve got the right mindset going in. Again, a good team of advisers can help you overcome any portion of the business process that you have questions about. The rest comes down to your skills and ability to get the job done to your client’s satisfaction.