Local IT Service Provider MITCON Launches New Website

Local IT Service Provider MITCON Launches New Website
Midland, MI (October 26, 2016) – Midland Information Technology Consortium (MITCON) has launched a new website at www.mitcon.org, with an updated look and easy-to-read format. The site includes information about MITCON’s services, quick links to client resources and more.

MITCON’s mission is to provide comprehensive technology solutions for non-profit organizations operating in Midland and the surrounding Great Lakes Bay Region. With over 15 years in operation, MITCON remains committed to helping non-profit organizations reduce information technology overhead costs and embrace the rapidly changing world of technology in order to reach their goals. Services range from day-to-day help desk support, private cloud hosting, network infrastructure service and support, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone systems.

MITCON has several key partnerships that enable it to deliver enterprise-level services at small business prices. By working with MITCON organizations can take advantage of discounts created by the buying power of the consortium as a whole.

In 2015, MITCON became a wholly owned subsidiary of Midland Tomorrow, Midland County’s economic development agency. “Midland Tomorrow and MITCON are collaborating to help Midland businesses find better solutions to the ever-growing demand for faster, more reliable internet access,” said Becky Church, Vice President of Operations at Midland Tomorrow. “After years of focusing on other organizations’ technology upgrades, we are pleased to unveil our own upgrade,” said Dawn Wright, Program Manager at MITCON. “We think the public will like our bright new look, and our members will still be able to easily download the information they need.”

MITCON’s extensive network reaches over 40 non-profit organizations, and it is ready to help your business to find competitive solutions to your internet and telephone needs.
Anyone interested in finding out more about MITCON’s services can visit the website or call 989-832-5600.

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Advertising That Sticks With You

Advertising That Sticks With You, By Christopher Smith

There are only a handful of advertisements that have stuck with me over time. I still can recall the Taco Bell dog, Mr. Pizzahead, Little Caesar saying “Pizza, pizza”, the annoying “so easy a caveman could do it” commercials, and even the 1-800-Approve campaign. There is something to be said about creating a memorable commercial, but it is the ones that influence buying behavior over the course of one’s life that I want to focus on.

I had a professor at Northwood University’s Florida campus who once mentioned that she always used Crest toothpaste. The reason was that in elementary school the Crest mascot tooth thing came in and taught the students about proper brushing, and the importance of using their brand of toothpaste. For one school visit the toothpaste company had at least one lifetime user, if not more. That is quite impressive.

I have a similar experience. There was this “amazing” movie that came out in 2001 that had excellent product placement (at least in my opinion). The product not only found a clever way of getting screen time in the movie, but it actually became an important plot point. I’m speaking of the movie Evolution, and the product placement of Head & Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo. Granted, being older it’s not the funniest movie I ever saw but I still recall laughing as there were conversations about the active ingredient keeping hair clean, shiny, and dandruff free. On top of that, the active ingredient is perfect for fighting the alien menace. Being Chris Smith and having weird reasons for liking products, I have used Head & Shoulders ever since.

I am sure that everybody has similar experiences, though I imagine most of you aren’t basing your buying habits on a mediocre comedy. And that makes me wonder how much brainstorming and thought power must go into such memorable moments. It’s far more than somebody in a board meeting raising his or her hand and suggesting to give an alien a Head & Shoulders enema. They had to know who future potential buyers would be, what their interests were, make sure that the movie would get into the hands of the future buyer, and on top of that make sure that it would be entertaining and memorable enough.

That just makes me realize the importance of having somebody who knows what they are doing in charge of marketing and advertising, rather than just hoping a website or an occasional Facebook post will bring people in.

Finally, for you viewing pleasure.

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Marketing VS Sales

With the Super Bowl now over, and with enough time to hopefully calm down those frustrated with the Panthers’ loss, I would like to recap one of the automobile commercials from the game. Specifically the commercial titled First Date by Hyundai which can be seen here.

There is no denying
Untitledthat it is a clever commercial, and that it brings recognition to one of Hyundai’s newer features, The Car Finder. However, I would be surprised if many people (if any) at all rushed out after the big game to purchase a new vehicle. I doubt most of you will even buy a Hyundai in the near future, though the commercial may convince you to at least check the vehicle out at a local dealership. If you go to a dealership to look, the “marketing” aspect of the sales process has succeeded in doing its job.

When you arrive at the dealership, the “sales process” begins. You have to talk to a salesperson to officially close the deal.

That is the difference between marketing and sales. Marketing agencies create the materials needed for a company, so that the company can generate sales. If the marketing doesn’t work…no sales.

This strategy must work for every company, including yours. You must have and deliver an actionable message. It should be a creative message and grab the attention of the viewer, just as the Hyundai commercial did.

You may not need a Super Bowl commercial, but you absolutely need a creative, actionable strategy.

It’s like spending your money on a great trade show, where you hand out new, beautiful, well-designed brochures and a new spiffy logo; if there is no follow-up to convince the prospective buyer to make a purchase (and actually collect money during the transaction), then you have wasted your money and energy.

18033When you think about it, “Everything you do, is marketing”. You are always preparing for a sale, in every sense of the word. From your market visibility to your storefront, to how your employees look, to how you handle your invoicing…it’s all marketing.

The bottom line is that marketing and sales are both incredibly important to your business, and it is important that you have continuity, creativity and take the actions necessary to secure the sale.


This blog was written by Christopher Smith with assistance from Randall Montalbano of MONTALBANO MARKETING/MONMARK Group, and does not necessarily reflect the views held by MidMichigan Innovation Center. Randall and MMIC had nothing to do with the horrible Microsoft Paint picture.

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Answer Friday – February 12th

By now I am guessing you know the routine where once a month I have Question Thursday, and on Friday I attempt to answer any questions to the best of my ability.

Yesterday we only had two official question, but they were both really good ones.

Kristina asked what are some great CRM system options for small businesses.

At the Innovation Center we use Salesforce, which is a very powerful tool but also one that comes with a price tag not affordable to small businesses (we are thankful to receive it at no cost, due to being a nonprofit).

After doing some quick research and learning that Zoho is free for up to ten users, I created an account. It’s definitely easy to learn, and can help introduce you to what CRM systems are capable of. However, if you plan on expanding beyond ten employees in the near future it might be worth looking at more scalable and customizable options.

However, when moving to a CRM it is absolutely important that you implement it properly. I recommend reading this article from Forbes, since it is eye-opening.

Samantha asked what would be a great book for someone looking to put an idea into motion for a physical product (not technology related). 

One book we highly recommend is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. This book focuses on bringing the product into the marketplace, and validating the concept before spending too many resources developing something that the market might not even desire.

We also recommend Talking to Humans, which can be found as a free PDF online.

Another option, if you would like to hear from experts and ask questions that you might have, is to watch our calendar at www.mmic.us to see when a Best Shot Sales Workshop, Talking to Humans workshop, or another event might occur near you. Many of our events are reasonably priced, if not free.

 

Thank you both for your questions, and I hope I was able to answer them decently! Also, as usual, the views reflected here do not necessarily reflect that of MMIC.

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Finding the Appropriate Funding

We understand the importance of obtaining funding for your company, which is why Access to Capital is one of our three primary pillars.

We pride ourselves in the companies we’ve helped over the years as they have been invested into, received capital from unique opportunities, obtained bank loans, or increased sales and cash flow.

When a new member comes in needing capital, we often have several one-on-one meetings to discuss the best opportunities; several which I have decided to list in this blog for you to reference. After all, angel investment might work for some companies, but sometimes it’s simply not the best fit.

Sales: One of the first things we push members to do is to actually put their minimum viable product out on the shelves and sell it. A sales-first mentality allows an entrepreneur to not only be able to keep every cent brought in without giving up even the slightest portion of their company, but it also allows for the market to provide actual beneficial feedback on the minimum viable product. Rather than wasting resources developing bells and whistles that an entrepreneur thinks one might find useful, the market lets the entrepreneur know exactly what is appreciated and what can be changed.

If you’d like to learn more, we invite you to check our calendar for upcoming Best Shot Sales Workshops that might be happening in your area.

Angel Investment: Angel investment is an excellent form of capital, especially for high-growth technology companies or startups that fit into what angel groups’ portfolios. In exchange for a portion of the company, an entrepreneur receives needed capital along with the angels’ expertise. Working with the BlueWater Angels and other angel investment groups throughout Michigan, we are able to advise entrepreneurs on which groups might be the best fit for your company as well as assist the entrepreneurs with their pitch.

If you’d like to learn more, we invite you to check out our calendar for upcoming Angel Investment workshops that might be happening in your area.

Business Accelerator Fund: This is a unique program put forth by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in which technology-focused entrepreneurs can apply for a specific amount of money to be spent on their behalf. The investment doesn’t go to the entrepreneur, but instead to a firm that might provide marketing or patent assistance; work that will help an entrepreneur obtain sales.

If you’d like to learn more, visit your local incubator and ask about this opportunity.

Bank Loans: Traditional bank loans are sometimes the best route to take. A bank invests into your company, the company grows, and the entrepreneur pays the bank loan back. We work with several banks through the Great Lakes Bay Region, and can help with the application process.

SBA Loan: The Small Business Administration offers unique loan opportunities to small companies, and they may choose to lend the money when traditional banks do not. They offer several opportunities for providing an entrepreneur with funding, and should not be overlooked.

There are several more opportunities for funding, which we discuss with members as they come in and meet with us. However, the ones mentioned in this blog seem to be the most popular, and they are ones we believe you should become familiar with.

If you’d like to learn more, we invite you to contact us about becoming a member. You can call us at 989-839-2333 or email us at startup@mmic.us.


 

This blog was written by Christopher Smith, and may not necessarially reflect the views held by the MidMichigan Innovation Center.

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From Advertising to Entertainment

If you know me, you know that I am definitely excited for the new Star Wars movie. I’ve been excited for it the moment the rights were sold to Disney, because after all Disney has done a wonderful job with Marvel (even though I prefer DC, because, I mean, Bat Man). I am also quite confident that Disney cannot do anything worse to the series than George Lucas did. Everybody knows Han shot first, and dare I remind you that Lucas put out Episodes 1-3.

Anyway I am excited, and I’ve watched each of the trailers about a dozen times each. I’ve shared them on Facebook, I’ve talked about them with friends, and now I am even writing a blog for work that is about Star Wars. I’m not even getting paid by Disney, and I am providing them with tons of free advertising (since obviously everybody listens to me when it comes to what movies to watch; by the way, have you seen The Toxic Avenger?!).

But how did it get to that point? How did it get to the point where I’ll sit through an advertisement on Youtube to watch a trailer, which is also essentially an advertisement?

It’s because it captured my attention, and provided me with something to talk about. Disney knew I had a bleeding hole in my heart for more Star Wars movies; a wound that the prequels only tore further apart rather than fixed. They knew that they’d have to do this movie right, otherwise they’d get an angry Facebook post from me! Disney put a hand on my shoulder, contacted me via an advertising trailer, and let me know they cared about my problem.

This same principle can be applied to your own company. If you can find a way to have your customer seek you out rather than trying to seek them out, if you can provide your customer with something to talk about with their friends or loved ones, and if you can get free advertising then that’s a substantial and absolutely amazing milestone.

And to do that you need to first truly understand your target market, which thankfully is not as intimidating of a task as you might think. Especially since there are resources throughout Michigan to help you with this problem. Not that we’re directly advertising you or anything, wink wink.

This blog was written by Christopher Smith.

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Question Thursday – Answer Friday (November 13, 2015)

For those not entirely familiar with Question Thursday and Answer Friday, it is a monthly event where anybody on social media can ask MMIC any questions they might have. I, Chris Smith, will then attempt to answer them to the best of my ability. Although we prefer the questions to be related to business and incubation, we allow any question to be asked as long as it’s PG.

Mitchell Clapper asked me to explain incubation. According to Entrepreneur, business incubation is “An organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections.” 

At MidMichigan Innovation Center we do this through our three primary pillars; Access to Capital, Access to Talent, and Accelerated Commercialization. To accomplish this we meet with each new member to learn where they are at as a company and what their needs are. From there we recommend our unique workshops, have one-on-one sessions, or connect them with industry experts. Granted, there is a lot more to this than that, and if you would like more information I would love to have you come out to see our facility and have a more in-depth conversation.

Brad Johnson asked if Frank’s RedHot is traded publicly, and if so how many shares do I own. Upon a quick visit to Wikipedia, Frank’s RedHot is owned by French’s, which is a subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser. I currently do not own any of their stock, but with how much of Frank’s I go through I might as well invest in it.

Brad Johnson asked if he has an accelerator, how shortened will his chickens incubation period be. It’s definitely a clever question, and shows the importance of writing the correct terms. I want to make it clear that MMIC is not an incubator, but a BUSINESS incubator and accelerator. We have nothing to do with egg incubation or egg acceleration, despite my love for eating eggs and chickens. As for accelerating the chicken incubation period, we’ll just have to rely on science for that. For now, you can follow these steps for better results.

Brad Johnson asked if one doesn’t believe in a higher power if they can still be an angel investor. Being an angel investor does not require a specific set of religious beliefs, so the answer to your question is a yes.

Thank you for your questions, and if you have any additional ones I will be more than willing to answer them in next month’s Question Thursday – Answer Friday.

As usual, the views reflected here do not necessarily reflect that of MidMichigan Innovation center.

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Starting a Business: Where to Begin

 

The thought to start a business crosses several peoples’ minds, but outside of having an idea and maybe talking about it to a few different friends about how sweet the revolutionary widget they designed will change the world, many people just don’t even know where to start. They think they just need to get on Shark Tank for an investment, or file for a patent and sell the patent to a manufacturing company.

Unfortunately for all of us who have thought of the next greatest thing since sliced bread (I always thought we should slice bread length-wise so we can make bigger sandwiches!), thinking those are your only ways to enter into the market will most likely lead your company to never going anywhere. Investors or anybody looking to buy out your patent want more than a concept; they want proof that your company can earn them a return (not to say filing a patent is a bad idea, but believing somebody is going to buy it the moment it is filed should not be your strategy).

Thankfully Michigan has put together several resources and funds to help point entrepreneurs in the correct direction. If you really think you’re ready to take the leap into building a company, one of the first places you should stop at is your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The SBDC hosts workshops throughout the state, covering topics on how to start your business to learning to brand your company. They also provide counseling, and can perform initial market research. These are much needed resources that will allow you to put together a professional business plan, to understand your company and how it will operate, and to learn about who your target market is (rather than me just saying my market is everybody who likes sandwiches because that obviously means they’ll want an even bigger sandwich).

After working with the SBDC, there are several incubators and accelerators throughout Michigan including ourselves who are ready to help your company to make the next step; a subject that I will cover in an upcoming blog.

So if you really are ready to take the initial step into starting your own company, don’t apply to Shark Tank and then give up if/when you are not accepted. There are people throughout Michigan waiting to help guide you along, and to bring your company from concept to actuality.

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Humanizing the Online Experience

Chances are that if you are actually reading this blog that you are quite familiar with the invention called the internet and the fact that you can buy a ton of sweet stuff from the comfort of your own home (or anyplace where there is an internet connection). You are definitely not alone, with over 70% of Americans shopping online on a monthly basis according to a study from Mintel. Another fun stat is that the items purchased online are things that one will buy occasionally rather than items you’ll need immediately or in the new future.

However, just because a large amount of the population buys online doesn’t mean that they are going to buy your specific product. Just consider the fact that if somebody asks where you got your fancy blender or coffee machine, and if it was indeed purchased from online, the typical reply is that you got it from Amazon (or another large online store). It’s not that it’s a specific brand with certain features at a set price; you pretty much just tell the person to go look for themselves.

As consumers it’s convenient to glance at some reviews and prices online and then to make a purchase with some quick clicks of the mouse, but how do you build brand recognition as  an entrepreneur? How do you get somebody to say that they purchased a Smith Widget 450-XYZ from Amazon, and that you recommend that specific brand or model above all others? Or, if for some reason your company isn’t selling on Amazon and only makes sales through your website, how do you get the person to recommend going to SmithWidget.Com (I have no idea if that is a real website or not) rather than just searching for a similar product on Amazon?

I believe that the best way to do that is to humanize the user experience. You have to make the customer realize that you indeed care about their shopping experience. To elaborate on this, I want to refer to a personal experience I had.

For those that know me, I brew my own beer and for the longest time there was not a brewing store that could satisfy my needs in the area. Obviously I went online to find grains, and would go back and forth between two large companies until a friend recommended Adventures in Homebrewing; a Michigan based company. He told me about his positive experience, and so when I needed a few specific things I went there. I loaded the items into a cart, looked at the price as compared to a competitor and based on price alone I went with the competition. What shocked me was an email I received a day later mentioning that they saw I had almost checked out but didn’t make the final purchase, and they went on to say that if there was something keeping me back from buying the product such as a competitor’s price being lower or another reason that they would love to work with me to get me to buy from them.

That stunned me, because other than receiving a smiley face for ordering a book on Amazon from a private seller I had never really experienced a company actually reaching out to show that they cared about my experience and about me being their customer.

They made me realize that it’s more than just a website that I was dealing with. They made me realize that I absolutely mattered. From them on when I needed anything I went to them, eventually not even bothering to check the prices of competitors because if it cost a little more it didn’t matter to me. (For more information on why customer loyalty is not price-based you can read Randall Montalbano’s blog here.)

That’s why I recommend finding a way to humanize your customers’ shopping experiences. Make sure that they know that you appreciate their business, and that your value is more than just convenience and/or pricing.

Forbes has a good article here that you can refer to, or else you can search for other tips to stand out from your competitors and build a brand rather than just another product. Otherwise you may find your customers telling their friends to check this internet thing for whatever similar product comes up first.


This article was written by staff member Chris Smith and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of MidMichigan Innovation Center.

 

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Having a Professional Phone System

Phone systems are obviously one of the most entertaining things to discuss in the world of start-ups, so I figured I would make today’s topic about having a low-cost professional-sounding phone system.

Obviously when you first open the doors to your company and are bootstrapping your way to sales, you will not be investing the capital and time into an actual managed phone system. Most likely you’ll start out with either a landline or a cell phone, which is completely fine at first.

However, as you gain customers and hire new employees the option of using just cell phones or landlines does not always come off as professional. Not only can it become inconvenient for the potential customer trying to contact your company having to cycle through several different phone numbers until they reach the correct person, but you also do not have the option to quickly forward the potential customer to the right department or contact. Just imagine the last time you yourself tried to contact customer service and how many departments you were transferred to until you finally were able to speak to the right person. Now imagine doing that, but having to call different cell phone numbers each time or having to wait as the employee looked up the numbers to call rather than just forwarding you on.

Thankfully there are several ways to come off as a11216827_1010564898978299_3461861959336999061_n (1) professional business to your potential customer. If you are located at an incubator or facility with an existing phone system, you can inquire about using it. By taking this option you can be provided with an official business number (sometimes you can pull that number once you graduate), have a professional greeting, the possibility of a shared receptionist who can answer any calls that you are unable to get to, and even the ability to forward calls to your cell phone or house phone.

If that is not an option, or if you are not currently in an office setting, there are other options such as Grasshopper or Google Voice. Grasshopper can use your current phone number or provide you with a new one, have each call go to a professional greeting with the option for different departments to be transferred to, and allow you to get needed calls anywhere. Google also provides Google Voice which can ring to any of your different phones depending on who is calling, can provide all Voicemail online, and other perks.

Granted, if you continue to grow your company it might begin to make sense to purchase a professional VOIP phone system and hire somebody to manage it, but for now there are several low-cost options to make your company sound more like a company rather than somebody working out of the garage.


 

profile-picture-1442868227This blog was penned keyboarded by staff member Chris Smith, and the views reflected here do not necessarily reflect that of MidMichigan Innovation Center.

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