Subject: Re: SMB Linux approaches?
From: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller <robin@roblimo.com>
Date: Sun, 21 Mar 2004 07:27:33 -0500


> Check with the Chamber of Commerce, too.

Yes. And not just for mailing list access. Chambers and 
business/networking organizations are always looking for speakers -- and 
new members. When you're selling trust-based B2B services you can't beat 
personal contact. You can't beat it when you're buying, either. 90% of 
us would rather have a lawyer, accountant or IT consultant we *know* (or 
a friend knows) than a cold-call stranger or someone picked out of the 
Yellow Pages or found on the Internet.

> Lawyers, accountants especially.  Maybe you should cozy up to some
> accountants; if someone's accountant does a good job and recommends
> you as an IT guy, she'll listen, I think.

Note that lawyers and accountants are big chamber and business 
association joiners. IT people aren't. In this part of Florida there are 
a number of business organizations that network like mad, and there are 
several geek groups organized around specific technologies that are 
great sources of technical assistance, including active LUGs up and down 
the coast, but the title of the commentary I keep not getting around to 
writing is "Networks that don't network" because the business and geek 
groups have hardly any overlap.

Craig Zeigler and Austin Theem, down in Venice, FL, are exceptions. 
They're young Linux junkies and general computer "consultants" I met 
through the LUG who come from "old" local families. They manage to scare 
up enough work without trying to support a decent "young and single" 
lifestyle including fancy motorcycles, a small collection of 
rally/sports cars, and plenty of partying. They don't get work because 
they're tech superstars or have walls full of credentials -- they're 
competent computer generalists, not geniuses -- but because people 
"know" them.

They're computer kids who set up friends' and neighbors' computers and 
home networks and helped people get rid of viruses -- grown up and 
turned pro. They originally got work through parental/family 
connections. Now they get plenty of referrals of their own. They're not 
getting rich and their business isn't "going anywhere" because they take 
on enough work to pay the rent, keep the "toys" going, and take the 
girlfriends out, but that's it. They like to ride those motorcycles and 
do car rallies too much to bog themselves down with too many clients.

One day they'll get married, and that'll probably make them more serious 
about their "business," but I doubt that they'll ever become big-time. 
Why should they? $40K-$50K/year is enough to support a family nicely in 
this area. Beyond that, what do you do with money? Get a bigger boat? A 
bigger house that takes longer to clean and has a bigger yard that takes 
more mowing? More motorcycles?

In the Craig/Austin scheme of things, "work to live" is the rule, not 
"live to work."

Okay, so you don't have their family connections. Join that chamber, go 
to those business networking breakfasts. Meet those lawyers and 
accountants. Don't ram Linux down their throats. "Selling Linux" to 
small business owners is a non-starter. They need computers and networks 
that make their lives easier and more profitable, not a particular 
operating system or software licensing methodology. If they need to have 
access to selected Windows software packages on that little thin-client 
network you set up for them, give it to them instead of trying to talk 
them into free software you think is just as good or better, but isn't 
what they want. Put in some Linux servers here and there. After people 
see that they "just work," start extending free software into other 
areas of their business. Make it a gradual process. Once a few try and 
like free software you've installed, others will want the same thing. 
Slow and steady wins the race, etc.

Remember, I used to run a limo business. By the end of my first year 80% 
of my business was repeats and referrals, with 20% of the business 
coming from my Web site, which was my only advertising. The limousine 
business has a huge failure rate, but I never came close to failing. I 
was not growth-oriented. I just wanted to earn enough that I could write 
what *I* wanted, when I wanted to write, instead of constantly hustling 
assignments. My old partner follows the same pattern; "Robin's 
Limousine" morphed into "Mr. Charles Limousine" when I turned to writing 
and editing full-time, and is still a healthy, low-key business. The 
only difference is that Charles' outside interest is church work, not 
writing. He gets a lot of work through people he meets at church, too. 
That's his primary networking group.

People hire people they know and trust for critical functions, and a 
wedding limo for your niece and a computer network for your five-person 
office are both critical functions in most peoples' minds. The best (and 
most pleasant) way to sell either service is through personal contacts 
made in semi-social settings. It's a slow way to build a service 
business, but it doesn't cost much (aside from time), and if your 
service is at all useful and is priced reasonably, it's as close to a 
"can't fail" marketing program as you'll ever find.

- Robin