Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for flagging the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report, that flagged Aaron Brown’s article that led me to a great interview on Another Signpost on the Information Highway. (I apologize for the nearly Biblical list of how info begets info – but sometimes it’s nice to know the lineage.)
The author, Benjamin Power, is a student and IT professional. I learned a lot about him from his very entertaining video application for a school scholarship. He interviewed Frank Odasz of Lone Eagle Consulting, an expert in the field of rural e-commerce education.
There were a couple of themes that struck a chord because they are things I’ve seen in Minnesota too:
Broadband and entrepreneurship is a one-two punch that can keep rural America in the game.
Geography still matters to a lot of people but for a lot of businesses, it doesn’t have to matter. I learned that first hand last year in Ireland. None of my clients cared that I was in Ireland. So long as I was able to get online, I could meet their needs, and that’s all they cared about. And now the new clients from Ireland feel the same way. (And those checks in Euros don’t hurt!)
Odasz mentioned several rural retailers who had quietly built successful businesses online. Through broadband and an entrepreneurial drive they have been able to live where they want to live. My favorite story is still my friends in New Ulm, who have a tidy Stained Glass business online.
We’ve Got to Focus on Application Too
Which came first, broadband or application? It’s nearly a timeless question – but if the supply comes first then it seems that the revenue doesn’t come fast enough to support it. I think we need another one-two punch here. To be successful broadband deployment needs to include a training component.
Odasz pointed out that the technology (and entrepreneurial) training goes well – but we need to have policy and decision makers in the room too. I think that both broadband and entrepreneurship are different enough from what many folks learned in school that even if you’re over 30, you have to pay attention.
Often kids know more than the grownups about technology. Heck, my “almost 10 year old” knows my cell phone better than I do. But I don’t want her touching the technology without my guidance. She may know how to find the coolest ringtone – but that doesn’t mean she knows how to make a business phone call or what to do with an annoying or obscene phone call. We still need the perspective than comes with being over 30 – especially when building business plans. (Partially because if you don’t you’ll become the fabled superhighway road kill but also because you have something to add to the conversation!)
They talked quite a bit about how businesses can get started on the web – really how to sell things online or make money from affiliate links. The advice was good. I talk to people about that a lot too. They also talked at a high level about how what’s really important is that we learn to learn how to use the web. Akin I think to learning how to learn. It’s one thing to pick up on the laundry list of e-marketing strategies today – but to prosper long term businesses need to learn how to keep up with trends.
Or Start in the Middle
I like the idea of starting small and building. But I think to attract the decision and policy makers we have to start building case studies and approaches on how to start in the middle. How do you add technology to an existing business? One of the scary things is that it’s a lot more expensive and there’s a lot more at stake – but broadband and entrepreneurship can make a difference to an existing company too. There’s a great old book (on e-marketing) that does highlight case studies from the middle – the Cluetrain Manifesto. The book is from 1999, so the technology is dated – but the ideas remain the same in how to work in the new tech-heavy, entrepreneurial-minded work and marketplace.