Meet Our 'Small Business Advisor'

By Steve Windhaus | Posted February 11, 2004

It's not often that I'm asked to chime the bells on my accomplishments and background, but before you decide that you can rely on my advice, you'll probably want to know a little bit about who I am and how I got started.

Each month I'll be taking your questions and providing you with the best advice my experience allows. And "Small Business Advisor" is a hat I have worn for quite a few years — let's start from the beginning. No not my childhood, but how I arrived at the point that small business development, business planning, entrepreneurship and small business technology became a part of my life.

Like so many small business owners, the path was not preordained. Fresh out of college, there weren't any jobs beyond teaching for a political science graduate. I began my career as an organizational and systems analyst in South America. After three years organizing other people's businesses, I was still searching for my professional life.

After a two-year detour in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Illinois, I finally decided those traits I used in Venezuela represented some of my best, intangible characteristics — organization, attention to detail, no overwhelming fear of the unknown, a willingness to take risks and a desire to help others help themselves.

After securing my MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management, immersing myself in small business development centers and small business incubator programs, circumstances motivated me to practice what I preached. So in 1999 I formed a business planning firm, Windhaus Associates, focusing on small businesses — existing and startups — and recruiting specialists to work with me. This year we celebrate our fifth anniversary in business.

Though located in Southeast Florida, the firm has serviced existing and startup firms nationally and worldwide. Client industries have been very diverse, including manufacturing, retail and service firms. Products and services include watercraft, hydrofoils, software development, personal organizing, interactive software games, sugar processing machinery, tour guides, employee assistance programs, virtual assistance and more. We have represented sole proprietors, limited liability companies (LLC) and corporations. Some are self-employed, while others have staffs of five to 50 employees and more.

The nature of our business and the far-flung locations of our clients have placed a strong demand on us to implement a wide range of computer technology, affecting the marketing, operations and finances of this firm. We have four computers, a local area network (LAN), develop and maintain our own Web sites, implement numerous software applications and spend many hours reading our user's manuals when operating the systems and peripherals. Yes, we do have a computer technician for more challenging problems, but any technology problem we can resolve ourselves keeps our IT expenses down.

As a small business owner, I am definitely not in the minority when it comes to using computers and the Internet for conducting business. In June 2000 the Small Business Administration released a study indicating 85 percent of small businesses with fewer than 100 employees used personal computers at work and 61 percent had access the Internet. That same study indicated 85 percent of small businesses planned to do business on the Web by 2002.

Remember to put 'Question for the Small Business Advisor' in the subject line of your e-mailSize makes no difference. In April 2003 the SBA's Advocacy Office released a study indicating 83 percent of the 10.5 million self-employed entrepreneurs (those with no employees) in 2000 had access to the Internet. The three primary uses of Internet access were to send and receive e-mail, perform job-related tasks and search for information. If you're a sole proprietor don't feel alone. Two-thirds of you were unincorporated in 2000.

I can relate to these statistics. I started our firm in July 1999. Local opportunities were limited. So I started the first of our three Web sites in 2000. The first client that year was from Belgium. I look back on the first design of that Web site, and feel embarrassed. The content, design, poor graphics resolutions and navigation were less than what you would expect of today's average high school student.

Our technology, antiquated by today's standards, included one computer, a 133 MHz processor, a 2GB hard drive, Windows 3.1, Office 97, a fax machine that also served as a copier and a 33.3K dialup modem.

Today we are up to four computers with 40GB hard drives, 2.4GHZ+ Intel and AMD processors, DSL Internet access, all-in-one machines, external modems, a local area network, Windows 2000, Office 2000 to 2003, three Web sites, a library from ground-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall filled with software boxes, jewel cases, manuals, Dummies and Bibles (as in software) books, not to mention resource books and materials related to our business and marketing plan services.

The local office, being home-based, has a separate business line, corded and cordless phones, and we will soon be testing the waters with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology — when the product reviews indicate acceptable performance levels have been achieved.

There have been good and bad times, successes and setbacks, good and bad decisions (oh yes, I am definitely human), but I don't make mistakes when advising the thousands of clients and online inquirers who have sought my advice since 1977.

Why?

Very simply, I take a very constructive, objective and straightforward approach. I may or may not convey personal opinion, but alternative solutions are presented. I recognize the clients and inquirers are the ones deciding their fates. So they need to have options.

That pretty well describes who I am and how I got here. I look forward to a very good relationship with you, my readers. I will certainly do my very best to address your questions and concerns, and share my own experiences in the hope they will give you more options about how you operate your business.

Each month Steve Windhaus will answer several questions submitted by our readers. If you have a question, send it our way today, and please make sure to put 'Question for the Small Business Advisor' in the subject line of your e-mail.

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