I recently spoke with a small business owner who has been fairly successful and has overcome so much to get where she is. She owns a cleaning company and has been in business for over 25 years. Yet, the past four or five years have been an increasingly challenging time to generate new business. As we spoke about the issues, I inquired about how she collects funds from current customers and how she uses social media to get new customers, and she immediately said, "Oh I never use computers, I don't believe in them." Bingo — found the problem.
You'd think that learning technology is a simple solution, right? Just take a few computer classes, and she's good to go, right? Wrong. She won't do that. In fact, she is exceptionally opposed to technology in any form. Which is unfortunate, because we all know how important being accessible online is for today's business, right? You also know how important it is to keep up with technology and the expectations of your customers, right? She also stated that she wanted to continue to operate the business and then sell in about 10 years or so. The sad truth is, she may not even be in business in 10 years from now. She'll get passed by from her competition simply because they have embraced technology and kept up with change, while she is still doing what she's always done.
"Not wanting to learn technology" is just one of the many problems that business owners face today, and hopefully shedding light on these issues will help you avoid a few pitfalls.
1. Inability to use or update technology
My wife and I had a contractor over to the house to see about a kitchen remodel. He talked himself up, of course, about how good he is, how long he's been in business, how great his results were, but there was no proof. No website, no mobile site, no Facebook, no LinkedIn, no Google reviews — NOTHING. That might have worked with people years ago, but not today. We passed.
Listen, getting a good website for desktop or mobile is so easy and cost-effective today that it's ridiculous, and you have zero excuses for not doing so. In fact, so is getting set up with online reviews, which you need as this is today's version of word-of-mouth-marketing. All of this is so easy and affordable that a small business would have to be extremely creative with excuses for not building an effective online presence. So, stop making bad excuses, and start getting this done.
But technology goes further. For example, customers today want fast, easy and convenient ways to pay for your services. Checks and cash are being used far less today than just a few years ago. It's estimated that only 19% of all transactions in the U.S. last year were made with cash. With apps like Zelle, Cash App and Venmo, people are experiencing the ease and convenience of new payment technology. So, what have you done to make doing business with your company easier for your customers? Are you meeting their expectations in communication, collections and/or selection of services?
Here's what to aim for:
Website for both desktop and mobile to create your online presence
Online pictures and videos to help educate customers and your prospects
Easy ways to do business with your customers (sales, collections, communication, etc.)
Review what industry updates are out there, and see how you can implement them.
Look at what your competitors are doing, and see how you can do it better.
2. Millennial workforce
Love 'em or hate 'em, they're here and aren't going anywhere, so learn to work with them. By far, the biggest challenge employers face with this generational workforce is the fact that they will change jobs often. In past generations, employees chose to be more loyal, but today's newer workforce knows that's a bunch of crap. Today, the company has to show loyalty to the employee in order to retain top talent for long-term benefits.
But before you think it's about paying them more, that's not always the top issue. Millennials typically look for a company that is making a difference in the community and/or in the environment. These folks truly enjoy feeling good about who they work for and knowing that what they do each day is making a difference in people's lives.
So, one simple way to help retain this workforce is to get involved with a few worthy local causes. And the easiest way to do that is to simply put a millennial in charge of getting it started and ensuring that it continues. When you provide the opportunity for someone to stand out and take charge, they'll stay with your company longer, because it is their project, and they are personally vested in it.
That means you'll be creating new leaders for your company's next level at the same time (you're welcome). Here's what to aim for:
Keep expectations about employee loyalty in proper perspective.
Show loyalty to the employees first, before you expect it from them.
Allow your staff to create ways for the business to give back to the community/environment.
Read articles about Millennials and how best to work with them.
3. Resistance to change
Back around the Korean and Vietnam Wars, American Soldiers came home from overseas and began to teach the martial arts styles they were taught, and they taught the way that their teacher taught them, which was often physically brutal. That was fine until The Karate Kid came out in the '80s. These master fighters were not prepared to teach little Billy, and they certainly weren't prepared for Billy's mom! Martial Arts schools were bombarded with younger customers wanting to learn, and the schools that were able to navigate the change in their industry were successful. If they didn't change, they went under and closed their doors.
But Martial Arts isn't the only industry that has faced change. Look at the changes in the real estate industry over the past 20 years. Look at the fitness industry, banking industry, as well as AC and heating. Every industry changes due to various factors, and honestly, who cares why it's changing? What you need to do as a business owner is see the change coming and make the necessary adjustments to stay relevant.
Here's what to aim for:
Look for changes in your industry with new technology, new services, etc., and create it.
Look for changes in customer demands/expectations, and give it.
Look for any new training for yourself and/or your staff, and get it.
Look for what you are doing that is too old-school for your customers, and stop it.
Read the book, Who Moved My Cheese?
4. Doing it all themselves (a.k.a., not delegating)
When you're good at what you do, why would you ever ask for help? You're strong. You're independent. You're successful, because you did it all. And since no one knows as much as you, you can do it all by yourself. And you're completely right — until you're wrong.
Jamie, an HVAC business owner I know, was a one-man show for many years, until he really wanted to reach a new level of success and make more money. The only way to do that was to scale up, and scaling up required him getting new people on board with his company. He had someone else handle the books and collections. He had someone else do all of the sales. He had someone else do the marketing and online presence. He only did the training of employees, so that they could do the hands-on work instead of him. However, today he even has someone else doing the training. He now has approximately 40 trucks for HVAC, and he is getting involved in plumbing by getting licensed and hiring experienced master plumbers to run that branch of the business. Jamie hasn't turned a wrench in years, and he is making far more money because of that fact.
So, what are you delegating? Will you let go of things you either aren't that great at or maybe don't like, and allow someone who is good at these things to perform those tasks? Delegation done right equals freedom, growth and the development of leaders for your company. Try it.
Here's what to aim for:
Make a list of things that currently only you can do.
Make a list of people you feel have the ability to learn those skills, and then teach them.
Make a list of the things you hate and are not good at.
Make a list of people who can do those things for you.
Set clear expectations, and review results weekly in staff meetings.
Let these people do their new job, and stay out of the way.
Know that delegation is a big part of developing your future leaders.
Pro tip: While these topics may not be the top issues on someone else's list, I actually sit with business owners all day, every day, and I can assure you that these issues are common themes I discuss throughout the week. However, if I had to pick one that is the most prevalent, the one that caused the biggest challenges for business owners, it would be the resistance to change. Many business owners hate change, and it's their unwillingness to keep up with change that is always the downfall for businesses.