Learning From Others Hard Web Site Lessons

    WYOMING – If only they’d had the same type of help available to them when they were starting out.

    Remembering those times when they weren’t sure where to turn when they had questions such as what to look for in a new computer system, a group of Wyoming area business owners and managers are offering their collective expertise and insights to others at no cost.

    This spring they formed a “help desk” at the Wyoming Area Chamber of Commerce, volunteering their time one afternoon a month to answer questions from businesses needing help on issues related to computers, the Internet and information technology.

    The volunteer business people who staff the desk each month hope to help small businesses avoid the kinds of mistakes they’ve seen or made themselves in the past, and help them to “at least get pointed in the right direction,” said Terry Merriman of Tec-Wise Technology Management Advisors and a member of the Wyoming Area Chamber’s Internet Committee.

    “People don’t have to experience the horror story. They can listen to it and hopefully learn from it,” Merriman.

    Small businesses owners and operators quite often are more apt to listen to the advice of somebody who’s been through the same experience and struggled to find the right answers, committee members say.

    “I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than advice, and free advice, from another entrepreneur,” said Sean Peterson, chief executive officer of Allied Technologies Group. “It’s the first step in untangling the web of information they are about to receive.”

    The Computers-Internet-Communications Help Desk. is an outgrowth of the Wyoming chamber’s Internet Committee formed three years ago to develop and guide the business organization’s own online strategy.

    Seeing the need to offer the same kind of advice and assistance to chamber members, particularly small businesses, the committee decided to expand its role into a monthly help desk.

    The idea is to assist small businesses that need or want to develop some form of Internet or e-commerce strategy, but often can’t afford or are hesitant to hire the professional staff or retain the outside expertise it requires.

    “Most businesses we talk to say, ‘it’s out there, I’m still surviving, but I should do something,’” chamber President John Crawford said. “It’s a question of resources.”

    “I’ve always said, one of the best and cheapest experiences you can have is somebody else’s,” he said.

    The help desk, launched this spring, is open 1 to 3 p.m. the second Thursday of the month.

    With the service now being offered in person, the chamber’s Internet Committee is now looking to expand it to a Web-based format. Being discussed is a link on the Wyoming Area Chamber’s Web site (www.westmichigan.org/wyoming) that would enable a business to e-mail a question or request for advice.

    The chamber would forward the question to a volunteer businessperson who would answer it and e-mail their reply.

    The committee is also looking for formulating a list of frequently-asked questions and answers to post on the chamber’s Web site. Making use of the Web site to would allow the committee and help desk volunteers to dispense information and answer questions in a far more timely manner, Merriman said.

    “It’s nice to do face-to-face, but people want answers in a hurry. They don’t want to wait to come here next month,” he said. 

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