I love technology. I am often an early adopter of the latest high tech device. And I am also always after my staff to seek out new technology and new ways we can apply it in our business.
But even as I do this, I encourage small business owners to remember that technology supports - but does not replace - the key building blocks of any company. Too many people have their heads in their devices. It’s easy to forget three growth maxims for small businesses that are still true, even in the Internet age:
- Referrals are crucial building blocks. Technology can promise to generate leads, prospects, opportunities and growth. But you can’t be fully dependent on the screen to generate new business. I remember working as a young man in my father’s commercial painting business and he used to drill this into me all the time: If the monsignor at St. Agnes likes your jokes and thinks you did a good job painting the rectory kitchen, he’ll tell Father Meara at Trinity whose brother John owns two apartment buildings. The business follows the relationship.
- Community is your best investment. When you have a chance to do something good, do it in the community in which you do business. The community is not just your customers. It’s also your employees, your vendors, all the people most likely to remember your name. There are many worthy causes all around the world. Don’t forget to invest in your own backyard.
- Conversations are your best source of competitive information. Today, it’s trendy to talk about “big data” and what it can tell us about how to run our businesses. All good information. But tech platforms do not negate the value of data you get over a cup of coffee or a back yard fence. When I was a kid, Dave the deliveryman for Sealtest Dairy would show up at to my grandmother’s door every day with a selection of milk, cheese, butter-;and data. Whose business was doing well, who owed who money, which of the neighborhood boys was in trouble again. He was the “big data” of the neighborhood. When I started my first flower shop, I set up a couple of plastic chairs and always kept a pot of coffee brewing so that folks would stop in, say hello, and chat with me about what was going on up and down the block. Today’s small business owners would be wise to look up from their screens and look for information in a conversation.
I started out with one flower shop. I never forget that my business did not grow from small to big on technology alone. Relationships, community and conversation were my earliest tools. That’s still true for small business today.