Richard Scholes: Why Older Businesses Must No Longer Resist Technology

The way that small businesses operate today is very different to how they operated as little as ten or twenty years ago. Arguably, technology has advanced more rapidly over the last two decades than it has in any other period of history. To meet the changes that modern technology has created, most businesses have had to alter how they reach customers and how they sell their products. However, there are still an alarming number of small businesses around the world that have yet to embrace even the most fundamental of technological advancements. Only just over 70% of small companies, for instance, have their own website. Considering that more than 90% of people now primarily buy online, these businesses are potentially missing out on stacks of profit by being unable to embrace even this basic technology.

The majority of businesses that have been unable to evolve with the times are ones that pre-date the digital age. While creating a digital presence is among the first steps that most fresh-faced entrepreneurs take, businesses that have existed since the ‘70s or ‘80s are more likely to be stuck in old-fashioned ways. They might now be losing out to new and emerging competitors as a consequence. We see it all the time with major corporations, from traditional Hollywood studios being outperformed by Netflix to long-standing hotels struggling to compete against Airbnb. It is happening for small businesses across the country too.

Embracing the digital age is challenging for older businesses, and the longer they have resisted change the more complex and widespread it will need to be. After all, it requires more than just about setting up a website – you are still lagging ten or more years behind competitors by just updating this one aspect of the business. Small companies should also consider social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that will reach potential buyers and help customers engage with your brand. They should contemplate video, pay-per-click and search engine marketing to maximise online reach. That is as well as ensuring mobile and tablet users can shop as they can on a desktop.

For entrepreneurs to whom modern technology is a strange and alien thing, a simple solution to adapting to the digital age can be to hire young workers. The generation currently entering the workforce have been raised on technology. To them, ecommerce and social media are as much a part of their everyday lives as eating and drinking. Nurturing young talent can help a business modernise to these trends. A company may require some adjustments to their work culture to attract the most proficient millenials (young people have different needs compared to employers of generations before them, such as flexibility and work-life balance) but fresh talent can help entrepreneurs understand where rejuvenation is needed within a company.

For some businesses, embracing the new ways in which customers engage with you requires more extensive change, and this can only be fixed from the top. The problem that some small business face in the digital age, for instance, is less to do with how their business operates but what their business sells. There are hundreds of once-thriving businesses that are finding themselves increasingly irrelevant. Among the types of businesses facing this problem are printing services, photographers and tutors. Parrs are a good case study for how to weather this. Since the company was first founded in the late 1800s they have maintained their brand identity but updated their business model and their stock numerous times in order to continuously meet the evolving needs of customers.

From small changes to workplace culture that will attract new talent to systemic change that overhauls your whole stock, there are many ways that long-running businesses should adapt to the digital era. Technology has changed what customers look for, how they look for it and where they look for it. If your business does not evolve to meet their new behaviour, it will increasingly struggle to survive.

Richard Scholes

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