This article is the final installment of a two-part series. Read part one here.
Jack Plunkett's book, The Next Boom, describes what will occur in the world in the next 15-to-20 years. His book is a Gold Medal Winner for the 2011 Axiom Business Book Awards sponsored by Inc. Magazine. Below, Plunkett gives direct advice for how small businesses can succeed in the next decade.
Curt-Answer this question: Most of my readers run small technology businesses, are business owners, and are interested in technology—why should they care about your book?
Jack-It's an alternative to all the bad news we hear everyday. It's optimistic. There are lots of problems out there—we've had lots of problems before and somehow we've always found a way to solve them. In my introduction, I describe the environment in 1982 before the last boom when things were actually worse than they are today: inflation was worse, employment was worse, people's moods were worse. In 1982, we kicked off the 25 year boom that saw the Dow Jones Index go from about 1,100 to 14,000.
Maybe your readers are already aware of technology, but there are huge demographic and population changes that nobody's talking about that need to be discussed. There are huge changes in global trade and if a small business has awareness of the changes to come, they can garner some portion of their business overseas. Also, there's no reason why small companies can't be highly innovative and move faster than a company like General Electric, if they have an idea and the staff to do it.
Curt-How do they protect their business though? I run a software company in Austin in addition to writing for Inc. and we're always experimenting at that fractal edge of the market and trying to find a niche that's big enough to feed us but small enough that the venture capital firms don't care. We find it difficult sometimes to protect our inventions, because defending a patent is very expensive. We have lots of patents but they haven't done us much good. It's nice that small businesses are going to be the driver in innovation in the world (which I think they typically are). Do you see anything out there to help small businesses defend their inventions?
Jack-Intellectual property is going to become even more of a battleground. Innovation will soon come out of emerging markets. Many people are getting higher education in engineering, for example, in India and China; those education systems are getting better and better and people are becoming more creative. Intellectual property is going to become a bigger battlefield than it is now, so small businesses must think outside the box. They must work on something that is so radical or so niche-oriented that no one else has picked it up yet.
If a small business has something that is extremely valuable and they need to protect it, they should try to get a big player early on as a partner for that product. If they've got something that they think a large company will try to copy, then they should try to partner with that company or somebody else who understands how to protect the intellectual property.
Curt-In what ways do you think a small business can engage with consumers who are now saving their money rather than going into debt—at least in this country?
Jack-The most important thing that a small business can do is to show that they are offering real value. Consumers will spend their money, but they won't spend it frivolously. The won't spend it to the extent that they used to on things that don't have lasting value, high quality, and high levels of service behind them. Small businesses have got to show leadership in those three areas: high value, lasting quality, and high levels of service.
Curt-My company is a BtoB company—we sell to other businesses. What advice do you have for BtoB companies?
Jack-BtoB companies should really focus on innovation. The BtoB space is similar—you've got to pull the same heart strings as you do in the BtoC space. You've got to convince people they're making a wise purchase and they're engaging with a company that's offering real value and a high level of service. They want to feel like they've spent their money well. In business more than with personal things, you need to spend your time well, because you only have so much time to spend with your suppliers.
Curt-Are there any other books out there that you're a big fan of that you'd recommend?
Jack-I would encourage small business people to not only read my book but read Matt Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist. Listen to all the negative views and understand what's going on, but really take the time to understand the positive things and the exciting things about the future that make it worthwhile to get up out of bed and go to work everyday. There are really tremendously positive things out there. If you focus on them, you can build your business around them.