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The Challenge of the Relevant Small Business

How do you stay relevant to a constantly changing society and world?

He was elderly; probably well into his 80’s.  He arrived at the office with a cart of filthy computers, old printers, and a wad of power cords.  He wanted to have us work on the computers and make one of them connect to a printer.  I glanced at the vehicle he drove – a fairly new model, recently washed.

He was holding court with a technician, a kind-hearted young man who listened respectfully.

Putting my hand on his shoulder I informed him that it would be unethical and unconscionable to do any work on the equipment or to charge him for any service, including cleaning the equipment.   The systems were ancient, ready for the Smithsonian Institute. They were no longer relevant to our fast paced technological world.  It would be unfair to charge him for anything.  Regretfully, they were useless.  They’re not like toasters.  Technology changes rapidly.  We are sorry.

He would have none of it.  Ignoring me, he addressed the male staffer and continued his instructions.

I interrupted.  “I am sorry.  We cannot do any work on this equipment.”

Intense anger erupted in a nanosecond.  He wasn’t going to listen to a woman.  Not now.  Not ever.  No, siree.

“Do you know what I think of her?  Do you know what I’m thinking?” he demanded of our technician, expecting him to agree with the personal injury he was experiencing.  “You know exactly what word I’m thinking about her.  I’m not listening to her.”

I repeated myself.  “I am sorry, sir.  It would not be fair to you to work on this equipment.  The best you can do is recycle them.”

The intensity of his discomfort increased and he spewed a litany of unsavory declarations.  In silence, we let him push his cart out of the office.

It was clear that we didn’t share the same values.

Change is uncomfortable.  It reeks of havoc, fear, and uncertainty.  It causes us to fuss, dispute and wrangle.  The challenge is the same for business, as well as individuals. Staying relevant is the only way to survive.

All business success depends on the business’s value creation story aligning with the customer’s value story. We not only succeed by being important and useful to our customers. We win by being worthy of their time, attention and financial outlay. Our brands become valuable not simply by creating value in the moment, but by valuing and adapting to the changing narrative of the people we serve.  –  Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling

The narrative has changed for technology firms like our own.  While I may be an aging baby-boomer, the  largest generations in history is about to move into its prime spending years.

Millennials are forcing companies to change their products and services.  The new consumers are digital natives with an addiction and affinity for instant access to information, technology, and knowledge.  They must have what they want wherever they are – on their phones, their pads, and even their wrists.   They believe in the sharing economy.  They are slower to marry and have children.  They may well partner someone from the same sex or someone of a different race or culture.  They will read peer reviews before they take your word for anything.  They’ve grown up dodging spam, and use a critical eye to view everything from gum to housing.

Whatever they are, they will force us all to change.  Many of us will struggle to remain relevant.

It is wise to think about the old man that came to our office.  It is wise to see him in ourselves and ask ourselves where we are stubborn in our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews and our personal and business practices.

It’s pointless to greet the world with a metaphorical cart full of dirty and useless relics. Staying relevant is the only way we can survive.

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About the Author

Jinx is our story teller, our wordsmith, and our office Mama Bear. She draws from a richly creative lifetime of professional work including writing, theater and teaching. Her day to day experiences in the world of technology, combined with her own experiences as a small business owner, grant her a unique and compelling view on business, the arts, technology, and life in our rapidly changing world.

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