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A Day in the Tech Life of an SMB, Pt. I

During the weeks leading up to the LSA’s recent LOCALOGY:ENGAGE event in Washington, I spent a few afternoons visiting Chicago-area small businesses with a videographer to try and capture some stories that might illustrate the themes addressed in our Modern Commerce Monitor SMB survey research.

We shared the videos at the event during those interstitial moments between the end of one session and the beginning of another. We all know these are the are moments most of us spend checking email, having a quick meeting, ducking out to make a call, or heading to the restroom. Not really the best environment for leaning in and listening to what a small business owner is trying to tell you about how technology is changing their life.

So I thought I’d share the videos with you here in a series of posts, adding some of my thoughts on what we learned from our encounter with each business owner.

First up is Shannon Valko, owner of Little Beans Cafe in Evanston, IL, a town just north of Chicago. Little Beans is a “cafe play space” where parents can drink coffee while their kids burn off energy on a pint-sized ninja course. She has a second location in the city of Chicago.

We asked Shannon to tell us about her business and how her use of technology has evolved. We also got into some of her frustrations with technology, and she has some polite yet pointed words for all the software salespeople trying to get her business.

Scheduling is huge for Little Beans, since birthday parties and events are their bread and butter. Shanon used to use a whiteboard and dry erase markers as her scheduling system but now uses the Occasion platform, a move that she admits has transformed her business.

Shannon talks a lot about how software has made her life more efficient — and a need for greater efficiency is the leading reason cited by SMBs for adopting SaaS in our MCM research.

Yet none of her various software platforms (scheduling, point of sale, waiver management) are interconnected. This is a major unsolved pain point for Shannon. Her struggles also illustrate a point we often make, that all-in-one software solutions, however in demand they are in theory, struggle to adapt to the unique issues of each business.

And her message to those salespeople who keep calling and emailing. She makes it clear that she is not interested in switching a single point solution in exchange for a modest improvement in performance. She will only listen if you can come in and make all of her technology work together.

“If we have to completely start over, we want it to solve all of our issues, and not just one of them,” Shannon said.

That, and please do your homework before you call or write.

“If they keep calling and emailing without explaining how it’s going to solve exactly my issue, then I am just going to say, ‘We don’t have time right now. Until I want to make a change I will keep your information on file,'” Shannon said. In other words, no.

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