Previous readers would know that my own small business specialises in assisting the smaller business market with their online requirements.
So any opportunity I get, I like to go and talk to business operators about how they are faring with the online world to find out if there’s anything we can do to improve it.
Recently I had to collect a quantity of meat from a nearby meat wholesaler for yet another summer barbecue. And as I typically do, I asked the staff member, in this case the office manager how useful the web was in promoting their business and otherwise streamlining their operations.
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Unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for her response.
Website? We don’t even have a computer. Why would we want a website?
I tried not to be speechless but I didn’t make much of a fist of it.
Sure enough, as I looked around I found that the desks were completely free of boxes, keyboards and wires. Instead, the office was filled with every kind of administrative book you can imagine.
Customer books, ledgers, accounts payable and receivable, inventory records, price lists, operations manuals, occupational health and safety registers and regulations and so on. All neatly filed within a quick scoot of the office chair.
It looked like a very orderly office from the early 70s. In fact, the only difference from a 70s office was the lack of ashtrays.
The office manager went on. “Why would we need a website if we don’t have a computer? What would be the point?”
I knew I was up against it before I tried to reply.
“Well…,” I ventured, “even though you don’t have a computer, pretty much every single one of your customers does. And they are using the web to not only find a supplier, but find out more about you. Many order from the website and many others pay for their order.”
Her quizzical look continued. “We just use the bloody phone”, she said. “It’s lasted us the last 40 years and will last us till we fall over.”
I was clearly on a hiding to nothing, but I had to at least try and justify the computerised world that the vast majority of her business counterparts had ventured into last millennium.
And my own business!
“June” I said as gently as I could. “Whether we like it or not, times change. And if we don’t keep up with change, we’ll soon make like the dodo and perish”.
“No business survives if it doesn’t adapt to the changes around us.”
“Well it has this far, she said, “and it will till we drop. We’ll be retired in a few years, so what’s the point in all this computerisation now?”
To that end she did have a point.
I could well have talked about how computerisation will make the business far more valuable to any prospective buyer, how it would slash her labour costs and how they were missing out on the business their competitors were getting online and so on and so forth.
But I had to just accept that even the most fundamental of automation capabilities had passed this business by.
And that they were blissfully ignorant of just how streamlined their operations could be.
At that I collected my package and my change (none of this new-fangled eftpos palaver), wished her well and was on my way.
As I got in the car, I couldn’t help but admire her determination to stick to her tried and true admin methods and defy the last four decades of technology development.
And retire without ever having to have worried herself about compatibility, backups, helpdesks, directories, logons, crashes, outages, floppies, hard drives, connections, viruses, scheduled maintenance and all the other technology factors many of the rest of us now can’t live without!
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.