When I worked as a manager at the World Bank we often brought in the big guns, the large consulting firms, to do studies, identify best practices, and provide expert guidance. It cost big bucks. Now there is a service that provides business smarts to small and medium-size companies, even solopreneurs... and it's free.
Focus  works well - I have given it a shot myself. Sure enough, it's completely free. And the advice is thoughtful, excellent in my opinion. The experts are real. The only catch is the right-hand column of advertisements that frankly is unobtrusive, not annoying.
In exchange for letting those ads pass to the right of my eyeballs, there is a lot to be had. The screen is laid out so you can easily jump to topics that interest you, ask questions, follow threads or experts, search, or take a look at Research Products. The screen design is nothing fancy, which is good in a situation like this. It is easy to understand, presenting a really functional and value-laden set of options at your fingertips.
I jumped to the research products listed under Business Intelligence today and found four white papers including: Best Practices for Using Excel as a Business Intelligence Tool, Top 5 Business Intelligence Concerns for an Enterprise, and Benefits of Business Intelligence in the Cloud. FYI is a cool feature that currently has articles such as Industries that are Bound for Recovery in 2011.
Focus is a goldmine. Special topics include IT, marketing, sales, finance, customer service, operations, human resources, and small business. There are communities you can be a part of on topics that matter. The experts are accessible and interact quickly when there are questions.
I caught up with Scott Albro, Founder and CEO, while he was on the road. He was refreshing, clear, and had a great vision. About himself he says he likes building businesses that disrupt big, legacy markets and leading teams of motivated, smart people. I would say that is exactly what he is doing.
I asked him about what he's trying to do, and he said, "Focus is about helping small and medium size businesses make better business decisions. Did you know that most of the jobs in this country come from small business? We want to help them make informed decisions, and generate the success they deserve."
[Note: According to the 1997 report of the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s 17 million small, non-farm businesses constituted 99.7 per cent of all employers, employed 52 percent of private workforce... Small business-dominated industries provided 11.1 million new jobs between 1994 and 1998, virtually all of the new jobs created during that time period. Small businesses are most likely to generate jobs for young workers, older workers and women, provide 67 percent of first jobs and produce 55 percent of innovations.]
Of course I wanted to know how Focus is funded. I am always concerned there is going to be a catch, that at some point someone is going to have their hands in my pocket and that will scare me away from usage. But, I was pleased to hear Scott say, "Focus works on a simple business model. The experts who contribute get visibility. They are vetted specialists who get contact with the marketplace through the interactions the site generates.
"We pay for the site, the webinars we produce, and the other services we provide through a very traditional advertising model. Because we can provide targeted placement of ads, we attract significant revenue. Of course, we believe our readers will often find value in the ads they see and pursue relationships with our advertisers. As a result we can offer these services for free - it's an amazing process, really. And it's working."
Yes, it is. Check out Focus. It's a great way to learn, to have your questions answered, and to insert yourself in the nonstop learning curve that is generating the future, job growth and all.
Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com ) is a Change Leadership specialist, helping leaders successfully adapt to the new world of business. He has worked closely with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, Prudential, Marriott, World Bank, Peace Corps, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. Seth's web site is VisionaryLeadership.com . His latest book, a Washington Post bestseller, is Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out. Download a free excerpt at GettingChangeRight.com .