The MBA tech in the small business

Small business techs do not usually have the advanced degrees. An MBA in a small business is the exception rather than the rule. There are times when the Fortune 500 mindset gained in an MBA program can be a detriment to success in a small business. SMB owners simply think differently and do not always understand best practices.

I have worked in computer support for mostly small to medium businesses all my career. I love the small business world for several reasons. First and foremost, I like the idea that I have direct access to the decision maker. When a computer needs to be replaced, a simple email or direct request is all it takes. I also like the independence that I enjoy. I am the top tech because there are no other professional techs in the business.

If you are new in tech support, you may miss some of the things that working in a large IT shop can provide. For example, you may not learn best practices in desktop support or e-mail management unless you see how it is done in the real world. A new graduate would do well to get at least some exposure to professional standards found in larger businesses. You may not find those same standards in the small business world.

Working in a small business can have drawbacks. One of the most obvious to me over the years has been the need to educate management and co-workers on how things should be done. They have not been exposed to best practices in many areas that have long been standardized in larger businesses. I have found that success in educating management on tech needs and tech standards all depends on the timing of the situation.

How to get tech purchases approved immediately

I have tried for years to convince the boss that allowing 30MB file attachments on e-mails is not a good idea. You and I know that large attachments cause bandwidth saturation, e-mail database bloat, and increased backup timing. The small business owner doesn't understand or care about any of those things. All he cares about is that the dozen hi-res photos or architectural drawings he is expecting get through now!

So I just wait, carefully watching the email database grow, making sure that the available disk space doesn't get too dangerously low. When it's down to about 10%, I submit a request for additional drives to add to the array. Hot swap drives are not cheap. A simple explanation that the email server will crash in a few days unless he loosens the purse strings now usually does the trick. You see, it's all in the timing.

It doesn't matter how many times I try to explain to co-workers that saving files on the desktop is not a good idea for several reasons. It is only when they have to work on another computer for the day that they at last realize that having those files on the server folder where they were designed to go is a real advantage. The secret to success in instituting best practices works best if you patiently wait for the right time.

The MBA does not guarantee success

I once replaced a recent MBA graduate as the IT Manager in a small business. He lasted about six months. It was his first job in the real world. I remember interviewing and being turned down for the position. They were more impressed with his promise of bringing structure and procedures into the business. Since he was an MBA and had studied all these things, that made him the expert, right?

Wrong. He alienated just about everyone the first week as he informed them that they must do things his way. His justification was that all the large Fortune 100 companies did it that way. He should know because he did an internship at Proctor and Gamble and just look at how successful they are. What he failed to realize is that small business do not have the staff to take on all these extra steps that he was requiring.

They called me six months later after they fired him. Having worked in small business for many years, I have come to learn that you make do with less. Requests to hire extra staff just to implement a formal help desk tracking system when there are only 180 computers is simply not needed. Now you may disagree, but it has been my experience that emails or phone calls to one or two techs will work fine in this situation.

Summary and conclusions
  • The small business environment is a whole different animal from the Fortune 500 company.
  • Best practices are great but in my experience are not accepted until the timing is right.
  • Having an MBA and the large company mindset can actually be a drawback in the small business.