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I’m no techie, but I want in! Lessons from the National Growth Summit.

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If there’s a mistake an SME can make online, I’ve made it in the last five years. My ecommerce site was hacked for reasons that will soon become apparent. My blog disappeared on the very same day and I avoided joining Twitter until last Friday because, “bloody hell — I already have enough to do!”

As a small business owner and Marketing Consultant, I initially had to learn a lot about the web and technology just to survive. You know how it is, evolve and innovate fast or just get left behind wondering what the hell happened. Lucky for me, turns out I love being a part of the online community and in four years of blogging I’ve met some of the most generous and talented people that inhabit the space and hope that I’ve added something of value to the conversation, too.

Last week I attended the National Growth Summit in Sydney. My client, CFO On-Call, had taken my advice and sponsored the event. The first day (Wednesday) of this two-day event saw me there in a management / Mother Hen / butt-kicking role of making sure all the partners made the most of the many networking opportunities. Day two was a different story; I went along primarily as an attendee at the Technology to Drive Growth workshop.

Admittedly, I was in and out of the workshop due to my commitment to my client, but what I can tell you is we have some pretty amazing people in our web and tech industries (I’ve separated them for a reason) here in Australia. On the web side of things, Anthill regular Mick Liubinskas from Pollenizer gave a memorable presentation on Agility and the need to Test ideas in a measurable way. Prior to that, Mike Walsh delivered his ‘look at the past to predict the future’ (my words not his) anthropological look at the web.

Stephen Collins from AcidLabs really got my attention with his roast of ‘segmenting’ your market and informing the crowd they were selling to ‘people’ not ‘segments’. Hallelujah! Kate Carruthers from Sydney Uni spoke just before lunch on Engagement, which was a great reinforcement on the previous day’s satellite hook-up with ‘Worldwide Rave’ author David Meerman Scott. At this point I now have at least five people I respect to follow on Twitter and Twitter in itself is sounding like a much better use of my time.

Moving on to technology, Rob Manson from MOB gave a very cool presentation on the (not too distant) future of mobile technology. A helicopter controlled by an iPhone (nice!) and I wish I’d known about the Sculpture by the Sea App last month. My mind is now buzzing with ideas of how I can integrate this type of technology into future marketing plans for several of my clients — when maybe the development cost of Mobile Apps drop to SME-friendly levels. I live in hope!

SaaS platforms were the order of the day, too. Geoff McQueen from Hiive Systems did a great job of pointing out some of the issues of not thinking through your software choices and the need for integration of all business systems to eliminate double handling and errors in information as it travels in, out and around a business.

Geoff was also gracious enough to answer my question about SaaS providers giving clients assurance of continuity of service (what happens if the provider goes broke, etc?) and readily available back-ups (can the data be uploaded directly into an alternative system without too much drama if the unthinkable should happen?) I’m no expert (I think I’ve made that abundantly clear), but I think those two questions should form at least part of the due diligence any SME conducts before choosing any business system, cloud or otherwise. My concern is always: how will this affect my clients?

As a small business owner my BBH (before being hacked) Disaster Recovery Plan consisted of hoping to hell it never happens and congratulating myself when I remembered to back-up my data. The gut wrenching feeling of having your website and blog containing three years worth of posts hacked is only exacerbated by talking to the 19-year-old tech at your web host who enquires in a smug tone as to where you back-up your MySQL database each night. I think that poor guys ears are still ringing with the expletives I cursed upon him.

The long and short of it is that I got all my data back but it took my host an entire week to send it through. I’m pretty sure that was payback for my unleashing, for which I am repentant. Fear of the unknown can cause you to ‘react’ like an arse rather than ‘respond’ productively to the situation at hand.

Why did my site get hacked? You’re gonna laugh. Anyone remember what was flying around the web last year about old versions of WordPress? You guessed it… I hadn’t upgraded to the latest version of my favourite Content Management System since… well, let’s just say it had been a while. I’m still really embarrassed about the whole thing, but rather than hanging my head in shame and not telling a soul, I’m here telling my favourite SME community in the hope that my story will save perhaps you (and that undeserving 19-year-old tech from your web host) the pain of discovering your Software Upgrade Schedule and Disaster Recovery Plan doesn’t actually exist.

So, if you’re a small business owner taking on the web without a solid tech background, and I’m guessing that’s a fair chunk of us, then I’d encourage you to get yourself along to as many educational events as you can. Make it priority to follow the people I’ve mentioned in this post and be very careful what you leave completely in the hands of your ‘web developer’, your ‘SEO expert’ and your ‘Web Host’ because if you’re going to enter the online world and do it well, then it’s up to you to be informed and educate yourself so that you’re prepared.

Maybe I’ll share some experiences with SEO providers and Web Developers from my SME perspective another day — got some good stories to tell there 🙂

Or you can help make me feel like less of a newby and follow me on Twitter @150dominos.

Lesley-Ann Trow is a seasoned bootstrapping entrepreneur who loves to share what she learns with other SMEs. Her Consulting talents range from asking ‘why?’ roughly 17 consecutive times to assist clients develop their razor sharp cut-through WOM marketing message to helping SMEs protect their reputation and bank balance as they navigate the online world. Start following Lesley-Ann on Twitter @150dominos and please tell her if she makes a mistake.

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