Don't Fight the Technological Tide

In many respects, I operate a classic SME: a design company with a small number of employees and good revenues, operating in a client-focused industry. My early days as a freelance designer were constrained by both the technology of the era and the attitudes of the industry. As somebody who lived in the commuter belt of a major city, there were endless car journeys for meetings with cancellations and delays, often for little reward.

Although I run a successful business, I continue to think of myself as a designer first and a business operator second. At that time in my life, that was a hard line to walk, and I am happy to admit that I was often falling on the wrong side of that line. That wasn’t why I started my design business, and I needed to reevaluate.

“I knew I had to actively grasp the opportunities that the new technology presented.”

We are fortunate to live in an era where technology is improving exponentially. In the technological sense, the world is unrecognizable compared with even 15 years earlier. I classed myself as incredibly fortunate to have lived through that era  and, as noted above, it disappoints me when others don’t see it in the same way  but I also knew I had to actively grasp the opportunities that the new technology presented.

I turned down in-person meetings that involved more than a 30-minute commute. I explained to my clients why I was doing so and that I would be happy to speak with them over the phone or via Skype. I allowed my first employees to work remotely and gave them greater autonomy over how they approached their day. We used collaborative working software and, in the very rare circumstances where meeting in person was necessary, shared workspaces. 

I expanded my base from the city and state where I lived to the entire country and, eventually, the worldwide market; explored new ways and styles of working that didn’t involve 9-to-5 or a brick-and-mortar office; and, by making some of the changes I described above, I found I had the time and resources to do so.

“I expected short-term pain for long-term gain. Fortunately, the pain never came.” 

This was around 2015, not exactly a lifetime ago, but, at that moment in time, it was an approach that was both high risk and one that I expected to raise a lot of eyebrows among potential customers. I expected short-term pain for long-term gain. Fortunately, the pain never came. 

When I explained to customers, regular and brand new, why I was making the changes I was making, they were not only understanding, but also envious. They often worked in more corporate environments where wholesale change comes top-down and not bottom-up. They longed for a change in lifestyle that didn’t require them to sit in their car for two hours a day and traipse to meetings that often lasted half the time of the commute to attend them. They supported my approach, and I was rewarded with their business.

The perceived negatives that come with technological improvements are just that: perceived. People don’t like change. It’s innate in most human beings, and that mistrust projects itself onto corporate structures. Sometimes change is thrust upon you, you rail against it, then you begrudgingly accept it, then it becomes your life. If you’re dragged kicking and screaming to make changes to how your business operates, then you’ll use terms like “mitigation” or “making the best of a bad set of circumstances.” But it’s important not to forget that to other business owners like me, technology has changed our lives immeasurably for the better. It would be foolish to take a step backward now.

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