Gaining The Competitive Edge

Small black firms are forging alliances and applying new technology in order to increase market share and boost profits

for greater brand exposure and design a color brochure that helped create the right image for the company, which is important in the development of our business and, quite frankly, any business that wants to experience and maintain growth.”

In 1994, Davis received a $500,000 SBA-guaranteed loan with Commerce Bank N.A. of South Jersey. In a market where contract payments take two or three months to roll in, the money helped him fund the projects currently under way and permitted him the flexibility needed to go after larger contracts. “We used those funds as working capital,” Davis says. “We purchased equipment and paid employees.”

According to reports published by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, small businesses are spending more money on information technology and are embracing e-commerce to expand their customer base and increase profits.

In 1999 alone, small businesses spent nearly $156 billion on IT products. But James G. Martin, CEO of NOAH Communications, a $200,000 telecommunications company in Washington, D.C., says that companies don’t have to break the bank to get in on this new technology. “E-commerce allows a small business with limited capital to reach a wider audience by putting their business online,” he says.

Martin’s firm, which also provides companies with DSL connections, says he offers cost-effective IT packages that cost anywhere between $49 and $500. “One unique thing that distinguishes our storefront solution is that it allows small businesses to process payments instead of just taking orders,” he says. Although having an Internet site offers an easily accessible presence, Martin says that for his business, good customer relations are just as important in staying one step ahead of his competitors. “We find that a lot of people aren’t satisfied with the service they’ve gotten in the past,” he says, “because of the poor job other firms have done with managing their expectations. You have to keep the customer happy. For us, it has been the satisfied customer that we installed a line or built a storefront for who told five or six of their friends about us.”

Martin also keeps his eye on the constantly changing state of technology in order to continually position his company as a leader in its field. As Internet access goes through the evolution of DSL hook-ups and cable modems, Martin believes that the future will be in wireless and satellite connections. “I think that the companies that are positioned to provide that kind of access, are going to be the ones that will be successful over time,” he says. “We’re looking to build out our own network using wireless and satellite access and we’re trying to position ourselves to do that.

NOAH’s current arrangement with Verizon allows it to lease equipment and in turn provide Verizon with a fee from each customer NOAH assigns to Verizon’s network. “This is an important alliance toward reaching our goals,” Martin says.

Such an alliance, which is a rare partnership in the industry, puts NOAH one step ahead of the competition in having immediate access to new technology

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