These days, most small businesses are utterly dependent on technology. Even dry-stone wall builders have GPS mapping, and mobile payment devices so that you can pay them halfway up a hill.
Most people running a small business know that technology can, like a superhero costume, give you an exoskeleton that makes you as agile and far-reaching as any hefty corporation – possibly more so. Social media, mobile payments, data analytics and all kinds of devices are now the small business’s weapons of choice.
The problem is, things go wrong. When you set up on your own, one of the most frightening things is that you become your own IT department. In large companies, there are teams of people whose sole job is to help you with your IT – people who emerge to fix your computer, and seem to enjoy it. Then they disappear until your next computer meltdown.
In a small business, you’re on your own – except if you have made such good friends with your former IT department that they do home visits. We all know that’s very unlikely, unless you marry one of them.
Your next best bet is asking a young person; if you have a child between two and 32, they will definitely know more about technology than you do. However, make sure you don’t have the kind of child who plays on your work computer when you’re away and downloads a selection of the world’s most colourful and deadly viruses.
Even when your devices are working, you are stuffed if your broadband connection goes down. When the blue light on your router turns orange, it’s like watching the police put out ‘Road Closed’ signs just a few cars ahead of you on the motorway. If this has gone on for a while, you begin to think your whole business is going to crash. By ‘for a while’, I mean more than three minutes.
These days, it’s more than likely that all of your business is on the cloud, so there’s the additional worry that the cloud itself might crash. This is technically improbable, but that doesn’t stop you backing everything up on old school disks and drives and sticks, and occasionally printing out the entire contents of your computer, just to be safe.
There are so many powerful business applications available that it’s now possible to run your entire operation on your smartphone – if you can find your smartphone. Your business is in deep trouble if it’s slipped down the side of the sofa.
The most common idea among people who are thinking of starting their own business is for a new app. It’s worth remembering that successful businesses are more likely to be the hairdresser than the app telling you when you need a haircut. (Although if there were an app that showed you what your haircut would look like before you had it, that might be an interesting idea.)
Computing aside, there are only three pieces of technology you need to survive in the small business world: a microwave, a hairdryer and a torch. The microwave for your two-minute lunch break; a hairdryer to look good for customers; and a torch so you can find your smartphone.