Speaker talking at the “Small Business Survey: Celebrating Chicago’s Entrepreneurial Community” event at the Quinlan School of Business.

Small business owners say they need technology support: survey

By Lucia Maffei

Technology support is the third top-of-mind need among small business owners in the Chicago region, according to an online survey presented on Thursday and conducted by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Quinlan School of Business.

Companies in any industry and with less than 500 employees filled in a questionnaire about the state of their business, their desire to expand, their confidence in the economy, their needs and concerns. The survey closed on Nov. 15, after having been online a month, and collected 574 answers.

Survey takers ranked technology support as their primary need in 46 percent of cases, after marketing support (58 percent) and business planning (48 percent). However, the survey’s structure did not allow business owners to go into detail about what kind of technology support they would need and who should provide them with.

“I believe they mostly meant how to use social media and emails, but also how to use search engine optimization techniques to promote their businesses,” said Katie Fitzpatrick, executive director of programs at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

The variety of technology support needs may be even wider than that, involving, among others, hardware updates, e-commerce platform substitutions, and POS systems-related issues, according to some of the 100+ small business owners who attended the meeting to hear the survey’s results.

List of Small Business Owners’ Needs

Marketing and Revenue Growth are top concerns for small businesses in the Chicago region, according to the survey. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)

Jason Volmut, 34, knows what technology-related needs a small business owner in Chicago has. He is the CEO of CPURX, a company with fewer than 10 employees located in the West Loop.

At the same time, Volmut’s company strives to answer to such needs. Over the last years, CPURX has provided technology and telecommunications assistance to more than 50 companies, educational institutions and local government agencies, 90 percent of them in the greater Chicago area.

What Volmut learned is that many customers try to fix almost any kind of problem with technology: “They have business problems they think they can solve with technology, but they don’t know how.” After his company has been providing technology solutions for more than ten years, Volmut’s dream – both professionally and personally – is what he calls “speed dial tech support.” “When I got a technology issue, my dream solution would be making a call on the spot to the person who can solve the problem,” he said.

How to avoid spending too much time on technology-related issues is a recurrent topic among small business owners. Ryan Roeda, for example, said that staying involved and updated about the professional printing is sometimes not easy. He is the co-manager of a family-owned advertising business called Roeda Signs, which produces exterior signs and bus and trucks graphics. “Sixty-two years ago, my grandfather started the business hand-lettering. Now, professional printers are a huge cost in our business,” said Ryan.

Michelle Colella, 26, retail sales manager at the e-commerce website Boga Menswear, has to face another common technology-related problem: the change of platform. Since two years, the company has been using Magento, a software specific for e-commerce which allows business owners to keep track of both its stock inventory and customers’ data. Colella said: “The platform is not constant to the business needs. It’s not easy to update.”

The more a company has been in business, the more has faced technology issues and changes. Laura Spingola has helped U.S. businesses to develop international markets for over 30 years. Her company, Trade Resources, moved to an office near Washington Square Park five years ago. She remembers clearly the first research she conducted for a customer who wanted to open an office abroad: whether to invest in a telex or in a fax. “They decided to go for a fax,” she smiles.

Photo at top: More than 100 small business owners attended the “Small Business Survey: Celebrating Chicago’s Entrepreneurial Community” event at the Quinlan School of Business on Thursday. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)