HP Plays Matchmaker, SMBs Tell All

Who knew that drumming up new business has so much in common with finding a date? Turns out that the two have more in common than most couples. Both require opportunity, mutual interests and, at times, a third-party introduction.

That’s where Business Matchmaking comes in. Recognizing that small businesses don’t often get the chance to bid on government and large, private sector contracts, the United States Small Business Association (SBA) and HP founded a program designed to help them do just that.

The program &#151 sort of a business version of speed dating &#151 lets small businesses meet face-to-face with procurement officers from federal, state and local government agencies along with large private companies. The slogan on the Business Matchmaking Web site sums up its purpose this way: “Bringing procurement opportunities from the DC Beltway and corporate boardrooms to Main St. America.”

We’ve Got What You Need
Business Matchmaking matches SMBs with appropriate buyers (based on the goods and services being sought and offered) who then meet in a series of 15-minute, one-on-one appointments. Any small business can register and attend the Business Matchmaking sessions for free.

As a sponsor, HP splits the cost of the program’s funding with the SBA, but it also provides technical advisors for SMB owners to talk with along with a Tech Center at the event so that participants can check their appointment schedules and e-mail.

HP isn’t just a sponsor, however, it’s also an active participant. “In 2004, HP spent $3 billion on small business contracts for goods and services,” said Michael Stewart, an HP supply chain development manager. “Last year alone,” Stewart continued, “one third of HP’s total revenue &#151 some 24 billion dollars &#151 came from small businesses. We recognize, value and believe in small business.”

Since the program’s inception three years ago, 25,000 small business owners have participated and over 26 million dollars in contracts have been awarded to date.

A sample of past participating buyers includes:

  • American Airlines
  • Bechtel Jacobs Company LLC
  • City of Chattanooga, TN
  • FedEx Express
  • NASA – Marshall Space Flight Center
  • U.S. Air Force &#151 Charleston AFB
  • VF Imagewear

The program hosts events four times a year and holds them in four different regions of the United States. Last month, the event was held in Nashville, Tenn., and today &#151 in recognition of National Small Business Week &#151 Business Matchmaking holds forth in Washington, DC. The next two events are scheduled for June 7 and 8 in Los Angeles, Calif., and September 14 in Milwaukee, Wis.

Currently, the organization is pilot-testing a Web-based version called the Business Matchmaking Online Network. It provides online education and training and electronic Matchmaking services for the following five communities: Phoenix, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tampa, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado.

According to the Web site, the Business Matchmaking Online Network will be available nationwide in 2006.

Survey Says
In other HP news, the company announced today the results from a March survey of 399 small business owners it commissioned from Harris Interactive. According to the survey, 80 percent of SMBs reported key challenges in operational issues, specifically: increasing cash flow (31 percent), decreasing operational costs (21 percent) and improving their marketing effectiveness (24 percent).

Another 44 percent of respondents cited customer relations as a top concern, including retaining customers (20 percent), finding new customers (20 percent) and improving overall customer service (15 percent).

Chris Ogburn, director of sales development, says that overall, SMBs appear optimistic about finances. “About 94 percent of those surveyed plan to spend additional monies on operational issues in the next year,” he said. When it came to technology spending, Ogburn said that SMBs were excited about spending on IT. “The results indicate that the younger generation of managers are less fearful and more comfortable about using technology for strategic advantage.”

The numbers show that 81 percent plan to increase the amount of money they spend over the next two years on various technologies such as Web sites, online services and Web blogs.

When it comes to buying unfamiliar technology, 68 percent of respondents say they plan to adopt a new technology within one year.

Mobility appears to be one of the biggest trends, with business owners reporting that they spend at least 27 percent of their time working away from the office, and 32 percent calling notebooks a crucial part of their business. Thirty-five percent of respondents said that notebooks provide them with a competitive edge against bigger companies and 36 percent said that buying notebooks is their highest priority when it comes to technology spending in the coming year.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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