What’s Silicon Valley cooking up now to help small businesses?
I had a chance to find out when I arranged an “Insider’s Tour of Silicon Valley” to celebrate the 35th anniversary of America’s Small Business Development Center network (ASBDC).
On Sept 9, I took approximately 70 small business consultants on a tour of three companies dramatically affecting the lives of small businesses: Google, Intuit and Facebook. My guests were ASBDC “State Stars” — individuals who made exceptional contributions to small business in their area.
For 35 years, SBDCs have helped small businesses, start-ups and the self-employed survive and thrive. Each year, more than 1 million entrepreneurs come through SBDC doors for free consulting or low-cost training. A new business is opened by an SBDC client every 33 minutes, a new job created every seven minutes.
For the first time, ASBDC held their annual conference in my hometown: San Francisco. That gave me a chance to give back to the SBDC network and show off my home — Silicon Valley — the epicenter of entrepreneurship.
I identified three companies dramatically transforming the way small companies do business. All were generous, donating staff time, buses, and food for the tour. These companies recognize the contribution SBDCs make to entrepreneurs in this country, creating jobs in big cities and small towns.
The day-long tour was incredibly fun and educational. The host companies shared insights about small business, even taking the occasion to announce new services.
A highlight of the day was when Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg greeted our group. Facebook took the opportunity of our presence to unveil new features of Facebook “Pages.” A “Page” is the term Facebook uses for a company’s Facebook presence, and more than 45 million businesses have Facebook Pages.
Facebook’s new Pages features make it easier for users to do business with a company through Facebook, especially on mobile devices. They’ve created a visible and customizable “call to action” button, encouraging customers and prospects to contact you. Services or products can be clearly listed, and it’s easy to message a business, and far simpler for a company to respond quickly.
Our ASBDC group got to meet Intuit’s new head of small business, Karen Peacock. She and Al Ko, senior vice president, had a lively and positive discussion with the group about a range of Intuit’s small business offerings. SBDC consultants are already familiar with Intuit’s products, including QuickBooks, QuickBooks Payroll and Intuit Merchant Services, because a huge percentage of small businesses use Intuit products.
The transformative offering from Intuit is QuickBooks Online (QBO). QBO represents the beginning of a new ecosystem for small companies, where QuickBooks is the backbone carrying vital company information, enabling an untold number of third-party applications to add on to that backbone with specialized features, potentially making it possible for a small business to run virtually every aspect of their operations connected to QBO.
Our group was particularly excited to find out more about Google’s Let’s Put our Cities on the Map initiative, headed by Emily Harris. This program enables small business organizations, including SBDCs, to host turnkey programs to help local businesses easily get found online, for free.
Google has identified more than 30,000 cities and towns, and wants to help small and local businesses show up whenever someone is searching for a business like theirs nearby. The program is an invaluable service to local communities, and a number of SBDC statewide training coordinators decided to take the idea back home.
Of course, at each campus our group got a glimpse of the Silicon Valley culture. We dodged Googlers on multicolored bikes and ate at one of their free cafeterias. We saw the free gym and sports courts at Inuit. We concluded with a stroll down Facebook’s “Main Street” with a range of amenities, including free restaurants.
The attendees were inspired and dazzled by the Silicon Valley culture and excited about what’s coming next for small business.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 11, 2015