Written by: Steve Rowley, Senior Vice President of Cox Business
In recent years, the movement toward shopping local has gained momentum as consumers work to improve the communities in which they live by patronizing small and medium-sized businesses. While this trend generates a lot of attention during the holiday season, I’m pleased that the majority of consumers are making these efforts an ongoing campaign.
In fact, according to The 2015 Cox Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses, 92 percent of consumers around the country visit a small business at least once a week – with slightly less than half (46 percent) patronizing a small business three or more times a week.
The Cox survey gauged the sentiments of nearly 1,400 consumers around the country to get their reasons for shopping small. The good news is, from Providence to Phoenix, consumers are circulating their money where it has the greatest impact - on Main Street.
This impact can be measured in real dollars. According to some reports, of every $100 that is spent locally - $68 stays in the economy. This circulation of cash does a lot for local economies, from helping spur job creation to strengthening overall infrastructure.
Small Business. Big Service.
The Cox survey found that consumers feel they get a better level of customer service when patronizing small businesses. In fact, better customer service ranked second only to the “need to shop local.” Convenience and more familiarity with customers also scored high.
At the same time, consumers pointed to a variety of ways that small businesses can improve the customer experience even more, with tactics from broadening their offerings to expanding their hours of operation.
Here is a quick glance of the myriad ways consumers believe small business owners can move the customer service needle in their collective favor:
53% Offer more competitive pricing
46% Offer frequent shopper/loyalty programs
32% Expand their hours of operation
24% Broaden their offerings
20% Offer free Wi-Fi
11% Offer e-commerce capabilities
9% Offer more payment options (mobile)
9% Hire more employees
Is More Government Good?
While consumers are doing their collective part to support small businesses, many feel that local and federal government agencies are not doing enough to strengthen this sector. Despite many federal and state initiatives designed to further small businesses, consumers want to see more.
When asked if they feel local and federal government agencies are doing enough to promote small business growth, the response from consumers was overwhelming negative; with 66 percent feeling local agencies are not doing enough and an even larger number (79 percent) stating that federal agencies are falling short in this area.
In addition to government agencies, surveyed consumers also widely agreed that our school systems should do more to incorporate curriculum on entrepreneurship – with many respondents advocating for this education to begin as early as elementary school. When asked if they think curriculum on entrepreneurship and small business ownership should be covered in K-12 education, 78 percent of respondents say yes.
Consumers feel a curriculum on entrepreneurship and small business ownership should begin in:
17% Elementary School
33% Middle School
35% High School
15% Do not think this should be covered in K-12 education
The Way to a Customer’s Heart
Attracting customers and keeping existing customers engaged can be particularly challenging for small business owners as they deal with time constraints and workplace issues like hiring and labor laws. With this as a backdrop, entrepreneurs will need to make a concerted effort to reach customers and prospects through the most effective channels. According to consumers, small businesses can best catch and keep their attention through:
48% In person events
45% Social marketing
32% Direct mail
Every year in early May, the U.S. Small Business Administration commemorates National Small Business Week to recognize the contributions of small businesses around the country.
Even more impactful to our nation’s overall economy and the communities in which we live is the ongoing patronage from consumers who realize that their loyalty and their dollars matter.
About Stephen Rowley:
Stephen Rowley serves as Senior Vice President of Cox Business, overseeing its strategic direction, including all marketing, operations, sales, product development and partnership initiatives. Before leading Cox Business he was vice president of sales and field operations for Cox Business’ western U.S. markets where he served as the chief liaison between corporate headquarters and the western markets with oversight on local strategic planning, sales performance, marketing, back office, customer installations and capital investment.
Cox Business commissioned a blind survey of American consumers in April of 2015. Respondents to the online survey included a total of 1,366 consumers around the country. Complete findings are available CoxBlue.com/survey.
Deltek Clarity 2015: GovCon firms profit from investing in collaboration, project visibility and cloud
Deltek’s 2015 Clarity GovCon Industry Survey, the largest annual study of government contractors, tells the story of an industry that has emerged from the cloud of shrinking federal spending and is once again investing as federal budgets return to growth.
Survey respondents – which included more than 300 firms of all sizes, representing a broad spectrum of the government consulting industry – reported that they are once again investing in diversification, merger and acquisition, and perhaps most important of all, their people, as composite fringe rates rose for the first time in four years.
Their top financial challenges reflect this changing climate. The majority of respondents ranked increasing profitability as their overwhelming top challenge, followed by cash flow and the decreasing and/or unpredictable federal spending environment. As diversification and efficiency of operations take over, organic growth – once higher on the list – has become less important.
Net profit is down by 4% to 6% on average across all respondents, but has normalized over the past six years. Meanwhile, with profitability declining for the first time in four years, companies are investing in diversification and growth strategy – and growth is now slowly inching back up.
The purpose of Clarity is to give insight into what companies can do about their challenges. So, what are the most profitable companies doing?
Collaboration. Clarity respondents using a purpose-built collaboration tool reported experiencing near triple growth and 40% more profit versus companies that used home-grown collaboration tools or just email.
High project visibility. Firms reporting very high project visibility reported higher profit: 65.4% more profit on average than all other visibility categories. How are these firms gaining better visibility into their projects? We found that more companies reporting high project visibility were performing Scheduled Risk Analysis (SRA) during all project phases – including proposal, project initiation and execution – rather than just during a single phase.
Leveraging the cloud. There is a greater than 20% adoption rate of social media, Human Resources, Accounting & Finance, and CRM SaaS solutions– and that is predicted to increase to a rate of 40% adoption within the next 12 months. However, there is still room for improvement, with more than 50% of respondents indicating that they still had no cloud plans. Cloud adoption is increasing for small- to medium-sized businesses; in fact, 42% of participating small firms go with accounting in the cloud.
Why should you follow their example?
Collaboration: Purpose-built tools help focus on core competencies rather than building out software solutions. These tools offer an evolving solution to connecting project team members and making them more efficient. Well-run, efficient projects equal more profitable projects.
Visibility: The very best companies are performing Scheduled Risk Analysis (SRA) in more of a routine way so that leadership can have better visibility and take corrective action when needed.
Cloud: Companies that invest in cloud applications report higher rates of profitability. In fact, participating firms with accounting and finance capabilities in the cloud reported three times more profit than other firms.
What does this all mean? In a word, efficiency.
Increased efficiency is the key to surviving and thriving in any spending environment. By seeking out efficiencies whenever possible, your firm will be on the right path to success.
To learn more, download the full Clarity report.
Warren Linscott is vice president of product strategy and management at Herndon-based Deltek, the leading global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for government contractors, and can be found at www.deltek.com.
By Danesh Hussain, American Technology Services, Inc.
I remember it was only a few years ago when my clients were clamoring to upgrade to the latest and greatest in internet bandwidth technology, a T1. Times have certainly changed and along with it the many ways we use the internet today – consider the upward trend in social media usage, telecommuting, and the number of available cloud-based and entertainment applications. There is also user expectation that internet connectivity be ubiquitous, at home and in the corporate office. The combination of these factors has made managing bandwidth for most organizations a constant tug of war between what IT can provide cost-effectively and what the users demand.
Slow networks and unreliable connectivity can also create significant impacts on business: impaired performance of critical business applications, loss of employees’ productivity, more help desk calls, and higher costs of frequent bandwidth and infrastructure upgrades.
Since costs have come down substantially in the last few years, the easy answer to these problems may be to increase bandwidth. But doing so may only fix the "symptoms" (the slowness), not the actual "cause." I have seen performance issues rear their ugly heads even after a major bandwidth upgrade. Instead of watching low-definition videos, users will start watching hi-definition videos, or a lurking virus will propagate much faster. This is where appropriate network assessment and bandwidth management strategy come into play.
The three core elements of any effective bandwidth management strategy are policy, visibility, and control.
Developing and communicating a consistent internet usage policy outlining what users can and cannot use the internet for is the first nontechnical step to effectively manage the flow of network traffic. However, a policy alone is rarely successful as it relies on self-reinforcement and an honor system that typically fails around, say, Masters Tournament or World Cup. To address this issue, visibility plays a vital role.
Social networking, file sharing and photo-video applications collectively represent 24% of the applications and 23% of the bandwidth, with Facebook consuming up to 71% of all social networking bandwidth1. How does your organization stack up against these numbers? If you have no idea, read on.
How to increase visibility:
• Through the use of your existing infrastructure’s built-in tools. Most firewalls have basic built-in monitoring tools that can report on Internet usage patterns. Many routers and switches have the ability to export network flow data to third-party applications (Solarwinds, Whatsup Gold, Netflow Analyzer) for real-time visibility and reporting.
· Through dedicated hardware devices for collecting, aggregating, analyzing, and reporting network data. For example, Blue Coat, Exinda, and Barracuda are physical hardware appliances you install on your network while AppNeta is a cloud-based service that gives you visibility into your network usage.
Once you have visibility into how your bandwidth usage, the next step is implementing some form of control. My philosophy on bandwidth control falls into two approaches:
1. The autocratic approach involves blocking noncritical applications. This typically results in the greatest short-term improvement in network performance by restricting access to many entertainment applications. However, this can create unforeseen issues. For instance, YouTube and Facebook may be used by your events or membership staff to post conference videos and updates. This approach can also create a level of resentment among employees that may be contrary to the culture of your organization.
2. The populist approach focuses on prioritizing business critical applications. You may restrict social media to just ten percent or video streaming to five percent of your total bandwidth, while prioritizing access to your website and key business applications. The ability to implement such granular controls is rarely something that is available out of the box and requires investment in hardware solutions.
Some bandwidth management solutions:
Some of the vendors mentioned in the “Visibility” section also provide control and management functionality. Exinda’s Network Control Suite and Blue Coat's PacketShaper are two effective platforms with which I’ve had great success. Also, products that aid in Wide Area Network (WAN) acceleration and optimization of internet traffic like Riverbed are especially helpful for organizations with a lot of remote employees or multiple office locations.
Demands for high-performing networks will only increase with time, as will the challenges of effectively managing network data flow. It is imperative that you have a comprehensive, long-term approach to these challenges, one that incorporates policy, visibility, and control, and one that is in sync with your organization’s unique resources and culture. Remember, most of the time adding more bandwidth alone is rarely the best solution for enhancing your network.
Danesh is Director of Network Services at American Technology Services, Inc. (ATS®). Danesh has over 14 years IT management and consulting experience, with progressive involvement in strategy development, project management, and oversight of system implementations and upgrades.
American Technology Services, Inc. (ATS®)
American Technology Services, Inc. (ATS®) is a leading provider of comprehensive IT services. Founded in 1994, the company has a strong track record of providing high-quality services including IT consulting, managed services & network support, web design & development, and hosting & cloud services. ATS is headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices in Chicago, IL, Baltimore, MD and Bethesda, MD. ATS is also a member of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Learn more at networkATS.com.
1. Name: Jenny Coppedge
2. Title: Director of Programs & New Initiatives
3. Hometown: Richmond, VA
4. What brought you to the DC Metro area? I moved to DC from my previous job in St. Michaels, MD to take a new job here at the Fairfax Chamber.
5. When did you start at the Chamber? March of 2011
6. What is the first thing you do when you get to the office? I’m usually running late J so I don’t eat breakfast at home. When I get to the office the first thing I do is make a smoothie.
7. What is your favorite part of your job? Working with my incredible co-workers. Everyone is so team oriented and always willing to drop everything to help out.
8. Tell us one of your goals for this year. (Ex: attend more council meetings) One goal for 2015 is to beat the financial goals set for each Chamber event.
9. Who is someone that you would love to meet (living or dead)? There are too many to name! One at the top of mind currently is Robin Williams.
10. What are some of your hobbies outside of the office? I love to read and to cook. In another life, I’d be a professional chef.
11. In your opinion, why is the Fairfax Chamber a great membership organization? The Chamber is so great because it brings together so many people who would not ordinarily get to connect.
12. How can we reach you? (Phone, email, social media, etc.) I’m neurotic about keeping my email inbox clean, so send an email to get the quickest reply (firstname.lastname@example.org)!