I was explaining to a friend who is also a small-business owner that if he wants to grow his business, he needs to use state-of-the-art technology and best practices. Since I like using analogies, I asked, “What are you using to guide your business: a road map or a GPS?”
This same friend had just finished telling me he had taken his daughter to college several weeks earlier, and as he talked about his daughter’s college town and the campus, he piqued my interest when he said he got directions from MapQuest. I said to him, “Welcome to 2015. People don’t use maps anymore. They use GPS.”
But what he meant was he had printed out directions from MapQuest, instead of having it or another program give him oral directions as he drove. I could hardly believe he was still using written directions — I didn’t think anyone was — and after what happened on his trip, I doubt he’ll use them again.
He said when he was about 15 miles from his destination, his printed directions instructed him to turn. But he couldn’t find the street he was supposed to turn on. He sat there — steering wheel in one hand, directions in the other — looking back-and-forth hoping to find the phantom street.
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His daughter opened Google Maps on her iPhone, and a woman’s voice broke the silence. The voice told him which way to go, what street he would turn on, and how many feet he would travel before he’d reach the street. He tossed his MapQuest directions on the floor and let the woman’s voice guide him to the front door of his daughter’s dormitory.
What’s the difference?
It’s never a good idea to take your eyes off the road when driving, but if you’re using a map or written directions, you have to. You have to ensure you’re on the right highway or street, and you have to find where your next turn is. Customized, printed-out directions are an improvement over a map, but they aren’t much of an improvement because you’re still forced to take your eyes off the road to read them.
With spoken GPS, you can keep your eyes where they should be: on the road. The voice tells you where you’ll turn and how much farther you have to go before you’ll turn, and GPS offers plenty of additional — and useful — information: fastest route, lodging, gas stations, places to eat, rest stops, traffic conditions.
What is a business GPS?
GPS stands for “Global Positioning System,” but when I’m talking about your business, those letters stand for “Guide to Profit and Success.” If GPS is guiding your business, you are using cutting-edge technology and best practices, which were designed to help you run your business more effectively and more efficiently. And make your life easier.
Why would you not use them? If your answer is, “My tried-and-true processes have never failed me,” then I say this: By using the latest streamlined processes, your competitors are getting more done than you. Perhaps lots more. In less time and at lower cost.
In the good old days, it took you one or two days to take inventory, for example, counting every item on your shelves or in your warehouse. There is no good reason for you to take inventory this way now because electronic cash registers do the same thing in an instant.
There’s no shortage of technologies, so their prices have dropped, and what was once cost-prohibitive is now affordable, which means you can afford to compete with the giants in your industry. Speaking of cost, and since I’m using a GPS analogy, when Garmin introduced its Street Pilot 2720 in 2005, one of the industry’s first GPS’s, it sold for more than $1,000. Its top-of-the-line 2015 model is $399, and its least-expensive model — which is only $129 — is undoubtedly more sophisticated than the 2720 was.
When inventory-management software systems were introduced, some costing $100,000 or more, small-business owners couldn’t afford them, but now you can get a system for as little as $20.
Cutting-edge technology is there for you to use. Best practices are there for you to use. In today’s global market, where everyone is trying to get a competitive advantage, you cannot afford to not use them.
Trim the fat
Assume you decide to market primarily on social media, wanting to reach as many non-business people as possible, and your marketing director suggests you use the social-media website they’ve used to stay connected with friends and family: Myspace. Your reaction should be, this is not a good idea. To confirm this is not a good idea, you do your research and find that Myspace has 50 million users worldwide. But Facebook has 1.49 billion.
You may scoff at the marketing director for being incompetent and at my friend for being behind the times, but have you looked around your business lately — what relics are you preserving? There is surely equipment needing upgrading or practices needing updating.
If you’re not using cutting-edge technology and best practices, without knowing a thing about your business, I guarantee two things are true: Your business is grossly inefficient, and it’s losing — perhaps hemorrhaging — market share.
I talk to small-business owners across the country every week, and I’ve been thrilled to discover that more and more of them are modernizing their businesses. Smart business owners know they have no choice. Customers continually demand lower prices, and since only the leanest, most-efficient businesses can provide them, the market is happy to expel bloated businesses, leaving their owners — with their crumpled road maps in hand — lost at the side of the road.
Marvin Carolina Jr. is a vice president for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.