One Saturday recently, I began a task I thought would be relatively easy -- stripping linoleum from my kitchen floor and replacing it with shiny, new tiles. The linoleum had probably been there since the Civil War and is quite old, ripped, and ugly.
As I grasped the first inches of tile, to start ripping it off the floor, I felt that this was not going to be as easy as I thought. As I tore off a few more inches, I realized that indeed this process was going to be absolutely grueling.
Could I stop now? No, the floor was a mess and I really wanted a better looking floor so I pressed on. Believe it or not, I learned a lot about technology while stripping this floor and I think the lessons learned will help other small and mid-size business owners, too.
When in doubt -- research.
My computer is never far from me, so I wiped my hands off and went to my favorite search engine -- Google -- to find out if there was any easier way to get this done. Yes, there was -- something called "adhesive remover."
What does this mean to you? Well, there are parallels to be drawn between redoing flooring in your kitchen and redoing an IT system at work -- whether that involves deploying customer relationship management software or buying new computers for your office. To accomplish either task, you need to do research.
If you have no clue about what computer to purchase, take some time to read a few good magazines or websites about buying a notebook computer. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has an annual notebook buying guide. I have a notebook buying guide here and many other sites (CNet, PC World, PC Magazine) have great notebook buying resources, as well. Of course, buying a notebook is only an example, this applies to all technology.
Verify your research
In my quest to replace my kitchen floor, I went to one of my favorite stores (my kids say) Home Depot and picked up two cans of adhesive remover. Before doing so, I talked to a few customers and Home Depot staff about what I was doing, to get their input. Everyone was so helpful and encouraging and gave me some good tips and guidance.
The main advice? It's going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
What does this mean to you?Once you do desk research, it is worth while to get advice beyond a search engine or magazine, especially if you're spending a lot of money. If you are buying a $20 piece of software you don't need as much advice as if you're buying a $2,000 computer or $10,000 phone system. The $20 is nothing compared to the larger investments.
Start small and then progress
I'm the type of person who will hop into the pilot seat of an airplane and try to figure things out as I go. Unfortunately this does not always work.
I wasted the first three-fourths of the first bottle of adhesive remover because I didn't know how to properly apply the chemicals. Although the instructions (yeah, I glanced through them) did say wait 15 minutes, and in fact it was in big red letters on the front of the can, I figured 15 minutes could mean five seconds.
Only after seeing minimal results did I let the chemicals sit for 15 minutes and then my scraping speed became faster.
What does this mean to you? Before rolling out technology to your entire company, do a test or pilot phase first. Maybe you are thinking of moving from a PC-based sales management software to one hosted online only. Instead of forcing your 20 employees to switch the next day, ask two or three of them to evaluate the new hosted application. This small group can help work out problems, see if the service will work for your business, determine how hard it is to learn, help evaluate the cost of training and migration from your current system to the new system and see if they even will use the new system.
After this pilot phase you can role out the service to the entire company, knowing what challenges you'll experience.
Hire an expert
I'm glad that I'm doing the floor myself -- I love hard, manual work (as most of my life is behind a computer screen and in meetings). I probably, however, would not do it again. Next time, I'll spend the few hundred dollars or so to get a professional to strip and replace the floor for me. I'm sure they could have done it in less time and without my back and entire body feeling like a Tiger Woods' golf ball after being hit for a few hours.
What does this mean to you? Sometimes it's nice to do things yourself, but sometimes that's not in your best interest or the interest of your business. You're an expert and guru in your business. Maybe it's accounting, carpentry, gardening, law, public relations or graphic design. You are not an expert in every aspect of technology. Instead of securing your own computer network, it's really best to hire a professional who can ensure that your network is as secure as possible. Before trying to install your own server, just to save a few bucks, get in done right by having an expert do it for you.
Ramon Ray is an author, speaker, technology writer and former small business technology consultant. He publishes Smallbiztechnology.com, a website that helps small and medium-sized businesses strategically use technology as a tool to grow their businesses.