Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Why Small Businesses Should Invest in Collaboration Technology

In today’s episode of #O365 Hours, we’re joined by Content and Software Licensing Strategist Shadeed Eleazar to discuss why small businesses should invest in collaboration technology and how they can get started. Watch our discussion below or read the full transcript at your convenience!

Guest: Shadeed Eleazar, Managed Path Solutions’ Content and Software Licensing Strategist (visit his website here)

Questions Covered:

  • How can small businesses benefit from Microsoft 365 technology?
  • Why is collaboration technology so effective in the small business space?
  • Which tools are recommended?


Christian Buckley: Well, good morning. And thanks for joining this morning’s Office Hours webcast. My name is Christian Buckley. I’m a Microsoft regional director and MVP and the Microsoft go-to-market director for AvePoint, and the office hours broadcast is coming to you every other Wednesday morning–when not experiencing technical difficulties–at 11:00 AM Eastern, and you can subscribe to the notifications in the link that you see on the or O 365 hours. And I’m joined this morning by someone who I’ve known for 11 years now. Like I met you in January or February of 2010 and then went and did SharePoint Saturday, Baltimore. I believe that was the event that happened right after that, but Shadeed thanks for joining me. Why don’t you introduce yourself for our audience?

Shadeed Eleazar: Ah, well, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to share this time and space with the AvePoint audience. And it’s great to reconnect with you, Christian. You gave an accurate account of a true story that happened once upon a time. For those of you who are new to who I am and what I do, I’m Shadeed Eleazar and I’m based in Maryland. I am a business advisor. I help Microsoft practices solve the recurring revenue challenge through content licensing. So every Netflix movie that you’ve ever watched in your life is an example of a content licensing deal. So if you’re looking to build an organization, I help them to sustain the business through content. And so that can be playbooks. That can be webinars that could be structuring signature content to create a footprint within the marketplace, attract clients, partners, employees, and build a sustainable business with the context of this conversation. I’m also the chapter chair for score greater Baltimore. Now score is the largest network of consultants for the small business administration, which is the governing body of small business in the United States of America. I’m the youngest chapter chair in the country and also the first full-time entrepreneur to be named to this role within my market. So I oversee tons of, let’s say, lines of business, insight funding, and rebuilding business districts around the country. So we’ll be discussing small business in all forms, as it relates to collaboration, tools and strategies on this broadcast. Are you ready?

CB: And definitely, and, and, you know, so I became familiar with some of the stuff that you’re doing. If you recall, a few years back, I got involved with like a similar, I don’t think it was related directly to score. I think they were, we were reaching out to some of the chapters around that, but in the Seattle area to do something similar, bringing technology and trying to you know, to try to bring some kind of equity in access to technology and software Microsoft was involved in a bunch of partners doing that within the Seattle area. And we were reaching out to different folks doing things. And I, and so I came across something that you had written and like, Hey, you involved at all this and kind of made that connection and, and had you get involved there, but let’s why don’t we start by, because, so the topic is it, you said we’re going to talk about collaboration, technology and the benefits of the small businesses that are out there, the SMB space, because a lot of the technology that we’re you and I are familiar with, we talked about some of our roots back in the community was SharePoint Saturday and the SharePoint community, the Microsoft 365 community.

CB: It was viewed as enterprise class software. And so a lot of small to medium businesses couldn’t afford it or didn’t think they could afford it. And of course, with office 365, which now is part of the broader Microsoft 365 skew you know, a lot of smaller businesses that may not yet realize that they can afford and take advantage of the solutions that are out there, but why don’t, why don’t you talk about some of the evolution, like your experiences from the community aspect of what you were doing and kind of into this role, or what are you all already involved in this stuff back 11 years ago, 10 years ago?

SE: Well to give context what a Christian is alluding to is the fact that for 16 consecutive years, I have hosted a meeting. What is the meeting? It’s a community slash user group meeting. So within the Mid-Atlantic, I started off with the SharePoint users group of Northern Virginia. So DC is what it’s known as transitioned over to the greater Baltimore region through the Baltimore SharePoint users group and every single month, every third, Thursday of the month, same bat time, same bat channel, we’ve held a meeting. So user groups are an incubator for talent for practices, and it’s more or less a hub and a connection point for free education for it pros. So with that, that vantage point, I’ve always had a connection to small business as I was raised in a family that has the do for self or entrepreneurial mindset.

SE: So my brain is wired to no matter if I’m working in a great consultant company to take those skills and ultimately build for myself. And so back in roughly a 2010 decided to go on my own and begin consulting. So from there, the, the marriage between community and technology tools and entrepreneurship has always been a part of my story. And I’ve evolved over the past few years to provide practices with that support. So it’s always been part of my journey, but now I’m stepping to the forefront to let’s say, lead an entire region and provide a large scale solutions for business owners who need it, especially during these times.

CB: So what are some of the ways, what are we purchase? What are some of the you know, the scenarios where small businesses come in and, and are, you know, what are they asking about? And from a collaboration technology standpoint, kind of what are the solutions that you are helping them kind of spin up and, and work with?

SE: Well, when we talk about the small business owner, what we have to realize is that there’s a hierarchy of priorities that exist within any small business owners schedule technology and the tools often come last, the priority is keeping the lights on keeping the clients happy in technology oftentimes is on the back burner. So what tends to happen is you have a scenario where solutions are patchworked together. So you may have a CRM here, email system here, payment processing here. And so what office 365 or Microsoft 365 allows you to do is to have an integrated suite of applications that allows you to streamline that overall communication. So the let’s say the most costly evolution for a small business happens to be meetings where you have all your team members in one place at one time, and they’re not working. So one of the biggest solutions that team owners or business owners have come to the table with as simply, how do we meet more effectively? How do we manage our calendar and make sure that we manage our time? So building solutions around meetings, around collaborations surprisingly enough with, with all of the solutions that can be built is the most effective within the small business space.

CB: Yeah, it’s interesting. One of the reasons why, so I’m very involved in kind of the Microsoft 365 focus, but productivity solutions. And sometimes it could be highlighting a simple little hidden feature. Other times it’s much more complex solution across multiple workloads, but it, all of them are focused on here are real-world complaints. Like how do we share a calendar across the what’s the best way to share a calendar across multiple people, or we have a project, what are the best ways to capture and track tasks? And as you know, I mean, there’s multiple ways that you can go in and do that accomplish that within Microsoft 365. And so it’s sitting down with a, a, a customer or a potential customer and regardless of size, because I think something is a reality that, that we’re understanding is that complexity of collaboration has nothing to do with the size of the organization.

CB: You could be a 25 person organization and have be working in a highly regulated industry spaces manage. I was talking with somebody yesterday about a small company that had less than a hundred people, but was managing billions of dollars worth of assets, but was viewed as an SMB in Microsoft’s view, but had, you know, highly regulated you know, critical intellectual property within their collaboration system, very sensitive content. And so they needed to have a very well-governed highly regulated collaboration environment and needed to have functionality that was worked and was stable and kind of all those things. So finding those scenarios and, and approaching it from what are you trying to accomplish it here for your business? And what’s the best way to do that. And Microsoft usually provides multiple paths to reach that answer depending on the culture of the organization, the collaboration culture.

SE: Absolutely. And when you let’s, let’s use a score, for example, now score is an organization that has six locations throughout greater Maryland. So there’s one stop centers where you can come in and get a business plan, business mentoring, help you with let’s say financial statements. So on and so forth during COVID the entire, which mind you consists of mostly retired executives and business owners who donate their time as mentors that are in score is retired. And so the transition from being an in-person organization to supporting an entire region through, let’s say, a virtual meetings, phone calls, video mentoring, so on and so forth was a major challenge. So in our case, we had to use or we leveraged Microsoft teams, as well as Microsoft bookings in order to solve a few key areas. Then, for our mentors who are older, they tend to value being in person for the value of face-to-face communication.

SE: Utilizing video to explain the tagline was like facetiming your grandchildren. And that phrase led to a huge spike in adoption and more mentors being willing to try the solutions out solved the major question that pops up with our mentors, which is the no-show where, because the service is free and provided by the, the government, small business administration people oftentimes would miss the meetings or, you know, the hierarchy of priorities would take over. So when you’re able to say, well, I’m free at this time, and it’s based on your outlook calendar, then it allows for people number one, to schedule at a time that’s best for them. And also reschedule when priorities are life, where business gets in the way. So using those two solutions and integrating those, it allowed us to have a spike in mentor sessions clients, not yet counseled and overall net promoter score for our, let’s say our clients who are coming in, in rating our mentor. So using those solutions and making sure that solutions had, let’s say a tagline in a way for people to connect and make it easier for them helped our small business community to stay afloat. And in many cases increased the amount of education that has occurred within our region.

CB: Yeah. You know, just, you had me remember it because it went down memory lane here with my first startup in the late nineties. And of course the technology was very different. We didn’t have a lot of the collaboration tools. We would share content. And there were four of us were the founders of the company via FTP server. And so upload content to a central location and pull, pull it down. And it was all, it was there while we were in business school together. They if you recall, groove was released. So prior to Ray Ozzie solution, and it was put an interface on all of that and provided check capabilities and kind of all these other capabilities. And for those that don’t know, you know, groove was acquired by Microsoft and really helped with the pathway with SharePoint happening you know, like a couple years later you know, into what is now SharePoint and into office 365.

CB: I say that I wish we had had those tools back in the beginning and, and how powerful it is. And now, especially with the pandemic happening, you know, for those of us that work in this space, I mean, there was very little change because we’re already using this technology, but one of the things I kind of make, bring up that, that, that past, but I had a question I’m a part of a Facebook, my neighborhood here, and we communicate and share things when people need help. And whose dog is this that we saw in the front yard? That’s kind of thing. Somebody saw on my profile that I’m involved with Microsoft technology and reached out and said, Hey, I’ve got a small business. And they’re like a dozen people where do I go to buy licenses? Like, what do I eat? What do I need?

CB: What do you recommend? And where do I go? How do you answer that? I mean, guys, I know how I answered, which was, do you have any other partners that can resell, you can go directly to Microsoft and purchase those things, but what are you trying to do? What, who do you actually work with today? Whether they can help you with these things. So it’s, cause I don’t do that kind of consulting, but how do you answer that when you get those questions today, a small business comes to, you says, how do I, where do I even start? What do I actually need? What, how do you where do you refer them?

SE: Well, it all starts with the, the conversation of do you already own it? And so what Microsoft has done a great job of doing, especially through let’s say legacy apps that say windows SharePoint server, for example, is providing solutions that allow you to test drive to see if you want to go to an enterprise solution. So in many cases, a small business may already have an instance of some form of Microsoft technology, whether it’s office and scaling on up. So I, I like to find out and run a quick assessment to find out what tools do you currently use within the work center. And so once we identify what tools exist, then we say, well, who is your current vendor? And so being that I am in a user group community, I’m never too far away from a partner. So I first make sure that they have the education through the user group. So do you, are you connected to the user group? If not, let’s learn about a technology resources, then we can if you already have the technology, then let’s reestablish that communication here, our trusted partners and vendors, so that there’s a human element versus contacting the company directly. We, we have a trusted handoff to a partner that is backed by education, so that any decisions that are made it comes from a place of know, like, and trust and a partner that can guide them through the process.

CB: That’s a great point because yeah, there are the, the, the partners in your region that are doing the most marketing may not necessarily be the most recommended by members of that community. And so, it’s funny that we weigh that with like, “I’m going to go to a restaurant” or you know, “I’m going to go take my car to a new mechanic and look on various locations to find out what other people have said, how they’ve rated it, and what their experiences are.” And yet, why would we not do that same thing by turning to local regional user groups to say, “Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen the marketing from this company XYZ. What are your thoughts?” And get feedback and recommendations.

SE: Now I’ll tell you this Christian, one of the most pivotal moments in my career was actually sitting down with a business advisor. This was at least nine years ago. And so the business advisor now user groups are community organizations. They tend to be not for-profits. They tend to be labors of love by the organizer of them. But the, the advisor one, it meets to do an exercise, to think about the monetary value of the user group. So, okay, you have this user group, you have at least 1200 people who have come to meetings who have gone on to become MVP who have lost launched practices. What is the value of it? And the exercise of quantifying the value of the user group changed my life because I realized, oh my goodness, not only do we have a place where people come to learn, but it actually is a tech incubator.

SE: And so when you start to reframe user groups from a business standpoint, you start to look at the value of education, the value of community, the value of partnerships, whether you assign a price tag to it, or a ticket value to it, which we haven’t, it caused me to reframe. And so what I started to do is invite our partners in the region to our meetings, invite our partners to our conferences, allow them to speak in and share their knowledge so that not only do we have it professionals, but we have that layer of business decision-makers support. So that, that you typically only find at the Microsoft channel partner meetings, but the user groups, oftentimes there’s a disconnect between the two. And I felt that it was important to provide that layer because the decisions that are made, if they come from a consultation with trusted resources, then it improves the value of our companies, of our vendors, of our hiring practices within the region overall.

CB: Well, so having said that in the few minutes we have left, I mean, so what is your recommendation? You’re a small business in a region. Like, what would you say? Like the, the first three steps to go and do you know, recommendations. Like, it’s almost like if I could do things over again, I would do things very differently. I go back to the Christian Buckley of 1997 when I started that, that company and say, you know, here are resources that you just didn’t go take advantage of that were available at the time here’s technologies that I would have, you know, pointed myself towards. So what are your recommendations? What would you recommend to yourself as a new startup?

SE: Well, the first thing is I’ll always include the human element people first strategy. So I would connect to the communities and begin to build relationships with people that are on the rise that share the same interests. So I have a business that solves a problem. I’m going to connect and build my, my, my toolkit with other businesses that provide complimentary value. Keep in mind that when I solve a problem, when a business solves a problem, there’s a problem that exists that keeps the client up at night before they arrive to my solution. Now, if I deliver a quality solution, if I deliver on my promise is going to create new problems that exist. Now, most people only focus on what they deliver. And so the, the vendor that tends to have longevity or the business that has longevity, they partner with other let’s say, vendors who solve the problem before and solve the new problems that my solution delivers.

SE: And so community ecosystem is the most effective way to accomplish that next. I’m going to do an inventory of what I use and why I use it and start to think about end to end solutions. So let’s say office 365 provides an all-in-one solution. So that is a potential path to go in towards, in terms of say building productivity within the business. And finally our focus on providing let’s say, rockstar, customer support within the community. And so when I deliver a solution and I think customer lifetime value, I’m always looking to support my end-user community support. My clients support my partners along that path. And that opens up the door for referrals, endorsements, testimonials, and that is the lifeblood, the oxygen that keeps the business afloat. So that’s my three step formula for our businesses that are looking to grow. And if I was to go in a time machine and ask myself the question, that would be the golden advice that would help me help future me succeed on a higher level.

CB: It would have to say that, you know to, to kind of give ourselves some kudos here that we both understood at least back then, way back on the power of the community approach to solving this well, you know, I, I, again, I had missteps in where I went with that, but I learned much faster by being part of that community, seeing what others were doing, being smart enough to not repeat some of the mistakes that were made. Of course, a lot of the love that what I’m back in that time period that was right before the internet bubble burst. So that was an interesting time to be into, to start a business. And so I think that there’s a lot that you can do through community to help stave off any future bubble bursting and be prepared for, to weather that kind of you know, experience again, if something happens to our economy but yeah, the community, having those conversations is going to help you to better understand the potential that’s out there in the technology, in, in relationships to find prospects for customers to answer problems that your clients are bringing to you, kind of, all of those things is a great place to start.

SE: Absolutely.

CB: Well, we did really appreciate you joining us today. It’s great to have you. It’s great to see you and talk to you again, and thanks for being one of the AvePoint Community Champions as well as a champion of the broader Microsoft community. And we’ll, we’ll do this again in another 10 years and see how things are going now. It’s great to talk to you today.

SE: It was my pleasure to join and thank you all for tuning into this broadcast.

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Christian Buckley
Christian Buckley
An Office Apps & Services MVP and Microsoft Regional Director, Christian Buckley is an internationally recognized author and speaker and runs the community-focused CollabTalk blog, podcast, and tweetjam series.

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