After you’ve been in business a number of years, you look back and see all the things you wish you had done earlier.

It seems so obvious now.  You think, why didn’t I do that then?

As one philosopher is purported to have said, you live your life forward but only understand it backwards.  The same, I think, is true of running a small business.

With the benefit of hindsight, let me share three lessons about technology that I’ve learned the hard way.  My hope is that by sharing these lessons, it will save you expense, frustration, and time.

Take a software programming class

I wish early on I had taken a class to learn some -- any -- programming language.  Not so I could program, but to educate myself that I could:

  1. communicate better with programmers and
  2. understand the limits -- and possibilities -- of software. 

You see, you can’t run a business today without using software.  In fact, technology is a key to business success.  According to research by Six Disciplines Corporation, the best performing small businesses have the ability to strategically use technology.  Strategic use of technology is one of five factors that separate them from lesser performing businesses.

Most people assume that you can hire talent to help you with the technical stuff.  That’s true.  But you need a level of knowledge so that you know the right questions to ask and how to deal with your tech help.  You’re always better off knowing a little something about what’s under the hood.

Replace fears and resistance with action

Sometimes we build up in our minds an unreasonable fear or resistance to technology.  We won’t upgrade because we “heard” something was confusing.  Or we resist trying something new because we fear it will take too much time to implement.  Or we think that some new technology will be too complex to learn and … well … we just don’t have the time right now.

Been there, done that.  

Don’t spend mindshare worrying about such stuff.  Jump right in and act.  Every time you catch yourself thinking something fearful, or procrastinating due to uncertainty, replace it with a technology action step.  Consider how much mental energy you are expending thinking about what could go wrong, or worrying about it.  That’s energy you could be putting toward streamlining operations, making your business more efficient, cutting costs, or expanding your capacity.

Worrying is not doing.  Do.

Start with baby steps

I’m a big fan of incremental-ism.  Start small.  Build step by step. 

I only wish I had done more of that when it comes to technology, instead of holding off waiting until I could get to the big projects. Here are three simple examples of making progress by taking incremental steps: 

  • Improve one page of your website, rather than waiting six months until you find the time and money to re-do the entire site. 
  • Adopt electronic billing -- don’t hold off thinking that you should automate your entire payables and receivables process. 
  • Send out a short, simple e-mail update to customers, instead of procrastinating thinking you have to send out a perfect, award-winning newsletter.

It could be months or years before you actually find the time and money to tackle large projects.  Meanwhile, you’ll benefit from the smaller steps you take.  Plus, you’ll get a feeling of accomplishment that will give you the confidence and energy to go after bigger projects.

Knowing these three lessons, as I do now, would have saved me frustration, expense, and wasted time. I hope they can help you, too.

Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.