Small businesses are the backbone of our global economy. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, firms with fewer than 20 workers made up 89.7 percent of these businesses, and firms with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of them. Those are some HUGE numbers. And, many of those businesses are family owned, operated and eventually passed to the next generation. But, in today’s fast-moving, always-on, connected world, the younger generation often has unique and conflicting views of how to leverage technology to sustain and grow the business for generations to come. So, what’s the best way to streamline the transition from generation to generation?
Let’s get geeky
Without a doubt, there have been some amazing advancements in the world of technology the last few decades. The Internet is ubiquitous, smartphones and tablets are more popular than PCs, and social media is here to stay. We’re more connected now than we ever were before.
But, for older generations, this break-neck pace of innovation is challenging to understand and keep up with. And, if it’s not understood, why would they want to invest the time, energy and money to leverage it? They wouldn’t.
That’s why education is critically important. Our parents may not care enough to send a tweet, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t understand the power of Twitter. It’s up to us, the next generation, to show why and how the business world is changing.
But, it’s a two-way street. Having an open mind and brainstorming what the company might look like in the next 10, 20 and 30 years is a great place to start. The older generation has decades of experience and wisdom they earned the hard way – by doing. That’s invaluable and absolutely needs to be preserved long after the baton has been passed to the next generation.
Technology is merely a tool
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when it comes to technology. There’s something new and shiny vying for our attention daily. The world moves fast, and with the help of technology, it moves even faster.
But technology is merely a tool. It’s not going to fix a broken business, nor will it break a great business.
Although, when used correctly, technology can provide an almost unfair advantage to those who leverage it to help build the business. But, even then, your business is still your business.
And that’s the biggest takeaway. The outgoing generation knows the business better than anyone else and the incoming generation knows technology better than most. The goal, therefore, is to combine a little of each to position the business for the years ahead.
Business is all about relationships
In the old days, our parents made relationships by shaking hands and making phone calls. Today, we have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media to do the same. So, while this does change the way we engage with people, it likely does not fundamentally change our businesses. And that’s important to realize.
For the younger generation, the key is to understand the technology and the business enough to apply the tools that are most beneficial.
Tools of the trade
Every business is unique, but here are a few examples of where technology is changing the business landscape:
- Your Website – In the past, people grabbed the Yellow Pages or asked for a brochure. That’s no longer the case. Most head straight to your website. Make sure yours is impressive, up-to-date and accurately represents your business. If it doesn’t, it’s time for an upgrade. And, while you’re at it, make sure it’s “responsive” – meaning that it should work beautifully on today’s smartphones and tablets.
- The Books – In the past, businesses used paper and pencil to keep track of income and expenses. Then, in the recent past, QuickBooks became the go-to tool. Now, QuickBooks Online is the preferred choice. There’s no software to install or backup. Everything is “in the cloud” – meaning that you, your team and your accountant can access it from anywhere and anytime. Another popular option is Xero.
- Email – It’s hard to remember a world in which smartphones and tablets didn’t exist, but that was the case just a few years ago. We’re more connected and mobile than ever before, and this means that our email should be, too. Microsoft recently got into the game with their Office 365 offering. Check it out for an inexpensive email solution that stays up-to-date across all of your devices automatically. You’ll wonder how you lived without it.
- Social Media – Business is useless without customers and clients. Where and how we find them is quickly changing. Handshakes and referrals will always be a big part of successful businesses, but social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook provide a direct channel to get in front of our target audience. LinkedIn is especially powerful for B2B businesses. Facebook and Twitter are well suited for B2C. Regardless of the chosen options, remember that it takes time to build relationships and trust. Keep at it to see results.
- Utilities – There are thousands of low cost web tools available, from sales pipeline management, business analytics, time tracking, invoicing, customer support, project management and more. The best place to start is to identify areas within your company that seem slow and inefficient. Chances are there’s an app for that.
Business as usual
It’s easy to get distracted by the tools. They are complex, confusing and always changing. But don’t let that distract from what makes your business tick.
Today, we have some amazing options to streamline operations and reach people like never before. Our grandparents could only dream of such options. Combine today’s tools with the experience and wisdom from the older generation, and we have the ability to do something amazing.
We just need to make it happen.
This article was written for International Association of Insurance Professionals.