SMBs Need Less Snark, More Common Sense to Evaluate Technologies

Ann All

I hadn't heard of Gene Marks before I started encountering his occasional columns in BusinessWeek. My lack of knowledge is a little embarrassing, considering that he also authors a syndicated column called "The Penny Pincher's Almanac" and has written no less than four books geared toward SMBs.


Two of the columns I've read are lists of technologies that Marks says promise much but deliver little for SMBs. From blogs like this one, in which Kalena Jordan nominates Marks as her "Dumbass of the Week," I think it's fair to say that Marks inspires some strong opinions.


The Marks column that inspired Jordan's rant also generated 11 pages of reader comments, many of which feature adjectives like "shortsighted," "insane" and "misguided." A reader named Meg seemed to sum up the collective vibe with this:

Wow. Did the Luddites pay you to write this with a quill?

Now, I didn't react quite as strongly to the column, a list of 10 technologies Marks thinks SMBs should avoid. I like his snarky sense of humor, and recognize a ring of truth in some of his comments, such as this one on blogs:

Jamie! You started a blog for your business? That's dope! Now go out and get some accessories, like a pair of black-rimmed rectangular glasses and a Starbucks card. And oh, by the way, you'll need to set aside about 17 hours each day to keep it fresh. Dude, it'll be so viral. What's that, Jamie? You're not in the media business? You don't work for a software company? You just own a hardware store? Dude, that's a drag! If you don't have something new to say each day, no one's going to bother to stop by and check out your blog.

As I noted myself in November, blogging is certainly not for every SMB. And it can be a major time drain. But it does work for some. That's my biggest issue with Marks -- and it's one that plenty of others share, based on those reader comments. In his haste to dispense his snappily worded judgments, he doesn't seem to consider that he might turn some SMBs off of tools that could come in quite handy.


While Marks slams AdWords, for instance, some SMBs find pay-per-click advertising to be a far more cost-effective way of attracting new customers than more traditional advertising outlets like the Yellow Pages.


And yes, I agree with the droves of folks who flamed Marks for recommending SMBs avoid both spam filters and antivirus software. Having worked for companies with no spam filters, crappy spam filters and pretty darned good spam filters, I can say that either of the latter two options beat the heck out of the no-filter one.


And with SMBs' generally poor record on security, I think it's highly irresponsible of Marks to knock antivirus software because of its supposed tendency to slow PCs and degrade application performance. If you are bothered by that drag, imagine how you'll feel when your PC is completely out of commission due to a virus.


Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience as well. While upgrading our home antivirus software, my husband turned off the program for -- he says -- no more than 10 minutes. We got a nasty virus, and had to take the PC to a professional to wipe the hard drive clean and start over. We spent an anxious weekend wondering if all of our photos and other personal data were going to be there. (Yes, we should back up our PC more.)


Though readers didn't appear to like it much better, I thought Marks made more valid points, and none I considered irresponsible, in his more recent list of 10 Tech Trends to Ignore. And hey, Marks isn't always negative. Here's a list of 10 technologies he thinks are worthwhile for most SMBs.

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