I think I want to start a small business-oriented technology services collective or non-profit

The title says it all (an experiment in approaching titles a bit differently here as well). So let’s dive in to what this means to me, and hopefully by the end of it, if you have some tech skills yourself, you’ll be interested in joining and working with me to provide these services! Or at least have some ideas/advice. Or maybe you’ll want to work with me as a consultant in this kind of arrangement, that would be great too!

As I have written about in some recent #Journal-Update entries, I’ve been experimenting with doing some technology consulting in more of a volunteer/non-profit or work-trade type of arrangement. I have a small sample size and the amount of variation in work and arrangement is quite high, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions, but I have enjoyed all of these projects (and the relationships that are being built through them), and my sense is that this could be a very rewarding thing to invest more time and energy into.

The basic premise is that, while it is reasonably easy to find free, basic computer help about common subjects (how to use some common tool like Gmail, how to send an email newsletter, etc.), usually this info is pretty basic and it really only goes so far. These guides and info also often come from a tool provider, like Google, or e.g. Mailchimp in the case of sending newsletters. That’s all well and good, but if you are a small business owner, or trying to start a new business, this kind of info doesn’t do much to help you decide whether Gmail, Mailchimp, or other options are better for your needs, much less getting them setup to work well for you. Local small business support orgs are similarly deficient when it comes to well-informed and current best-practices on tool selection, implementation, troubleshooting, etc.

Similarly challenging is the fact that some of these things are arguably not even necessarily the things you could or would pay some consultant to help you with. You might want to, but it’s hard to justify $150/hr for someone to tell you “Use this project management tool, not that one”. Obviously there are plenty of orgs that do consult with people around tool selection and often implementation (and migration), and where budget exists for that it’s a great option. But most of the time people don’t have the money, and will just go with whatever tool they’re already aware of it that comes up first in a web search.

Usually these choices are not inherently bad, but they may also not be the best option, or the most cost-effective for the person (free options are especially more difficult to find, most of the time). And even once a tool is selected, the actual configuration and use of it for someone’s particular needs can be a time consuming and frustrating process for people who may have little existing technical knowledge. It may take them weeks to do that initial setup, when a skilled consultant could do it in hours.

There are also some pretty interesting problems and needs that come up for various kinds of businesses that end up having unique needs which may not be directly addressed by any given tool, or which might require domain-specific expertise to know what tools are best. A good example is the food industry, where I have done some of my own recent experiments. People who are trying to manage recipes, inventory, and costing at scale, or who have a unique product or process that doesn’t fit neatly into an existing recipe management tool. Newer and more flexible “no code” tools might be useful solutions to these problems, but it’s highly unlikely someone with these kinds of needs is going to be (or become) aware of them, much less know how to implement their needs within one of them.

That’s where I’d like to come in, hopefully along with a group of other like-minded people with a range of unique technical skills, who are interested in helping small business owners with their particular challenges and saving them time, money, energy, and sanity! This is why my particular interest is in working with generally much smaller orgs, individuals, entrepreneurs, etc., where I think the funds just aren’t going to be available to spend on the kind of expert insight and assistance they might need. I don’t think that lack of money should deny these people the help they could really use, and arguably they could use it even more than larger orgs, especially at the very small (individual) scale where quite often people are starting businesses based on a skill set that has minimal-to-no overlap with technology and “how to pick and configure a good tool for my business”.

In part all this comes not just from a desire to help others, but from an actual, intrinsic enjoyment I get from this kind of problem solving. The opportunities for it are actually somewhat rare in any given job, organization, etc. But as a consultant you can have an endless variety of unique and interesting challenges. My experience in consulting, and working with medium-sized businesses and up, is that their needs are quite often very similar, and frankly rather boring. It’s seldom that anyone really wants me to implement some interesting new tool or process. So I’d rather spend at least some portion of my available consulting time on free or work-trade projects at the smaller scale, where the problems are generally more unique (in my experience), the openness to new tools and workflows is generally there, and I get to really see the positive impact of my work on just one or a few people who really need it and appreciate it.

Does that sound appealing to you, either as a service provider or someone in need of tech help? Let’s talk! I’m just doing this very infrequently, as opportunities come along, and I’d welcome more unique challenges to work on, as well as collaborators to work with.

Existing Examples, Inspiration, etc.

https://aspirationtech.org/services/openprojects

SCORE

Seems like a particularly strong example of similar stuff, depending on the mentor. But I don’t think there’s any direct cooperation between mentors, which might be a differentiator.
https://www.score.org/find-mentor
https://www.score.org/content/search-mentor?f[0]=content%3Atechnology&f[1]=sm_field_areas_of_expertise%3ATechnology
https://www.score.org/mentors/roy-hodgkinson

To Investigate

https://citizentechcollective.com/