Ah, Thanksgiving. The official kick-off to the holiday season, the calm before the chaos of Black Friday and the biggest sanctioned pig-out of the year – if you are American. For Canadians, Thanksgiving is about celebrating with friends and family but mostly – and let’s be honest here – it’s a coveted Monday off between Labour Day and Christmas.
For meditative small business owners/operators, that precious extra downtime may provide a moment for reflection and, in keeping with the holiday, an opportunity to give thanks for all the goodies the universe has bestowed. In that spirit, we survey 10 innovations, ideas and developments entrepreneurs can be grateful for right now.
1. The advent of social media
Cheaper than traditional display advertising and perceived as more grassroots, canny postings on Facebook, Twitter and the like take your message to the masses without the middleman. Plus it levels the playing field for large and small companies plying the same space. Best, happy customers can use social media to spread credible testimonials. Of course, unhappy customers have the same outlet at their disposal, and heaps of otherwise smart companies continue to fumble their social media strategy, mostly by so obviously not having a strategy. But creative types that succeed win big and go viral, occasionally catching the attention of mainstream press along the way.
The ability to raise money for an idea by pitching it to those who will be directly impacted by the finished product isn’t just awesome because it bypasses tire-kickers and traditional bankers. It opens up whole new avenues of potential, fostering greater community between service providers and customers. Clever entrepreneurs can use the experience to further engage with the public through incentives and other goodies that will distinguish exciting and savvy Business A from boring old Business B.
Modern business travel is expensive and taxing on time and spirit. Skype lets you stay connected with employees, customers and other stakeholders while offering about 10 times the intimacy of an old-style conference call. Seeing someone’s face when they’re speaking is powerful. Seeing someone’s face from the comfort of your own office for free is positively glee inducing. Plus it feels really 21st century, doesn’t it?
4. A diverse workforce
At the end of the day, we are all the same. But the avenues we travel to end up being all the same can take some very divergent routes depending on culture, geography, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and age, to name just six potential variables. The diverse workforce allows entrepreneurs to better understand customers outside their personal frame of reference. That’s not only good for business, but also good for living.
5. A mobile workforce
And by mobile, we’re not talking about employees working in a satellite capacity from home, though that’s certainly a bonus. The possibility of an employee relocating for work is vastly more likely now that electronic tools make staying in touch with family back home easier. That goes double if your business isn’t located in an urban hotbed.
6. The rise of entrepreneurialism
Thanks to reality TV shows like Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank, entrepreneurs today are perceived as fearless trailblazers willing to put everything on the line for a chance to pitch to a panel that knows a thing or two about blazing success and crushing failure in the business world. Comically stupid concepts still exist – that’s part of what makes these shows so fun. But seeing the proverbial better-built mousetrap gain backing from real-world venture capitalists is thrilling, confirming that great ideas can rise above the clatter. Well, most of the time.
Like most items on our list, outsourcing has a potentially negative flipside, mainly in the larger public/private realm. But for small business operators, the opportunity to look beyond traditional borders to third-party or foreign-based subcontractors can be a win, especially in the digital space where borders are less clearly defined. Customer service calls routed through India only seem counterintuitive until you consider that VOIP technology has created heretofore non-existent IT jobs in Canada and beyond. Usually, it all works out in the end.
8. Widespread buy-in on the importance of work-life balance
You may be prepared to ferociously toil through weekends and evenings but your husband will be well within his rights to object and he’ll have science on his side. Multiple studies conclude that taking time to relax, reflect and regroup eases stress that can be debilitating over the long term. A refreshed businessperson is a sharp businessperson. If that doesn’t sway you, then allow me to share a piece of advice my dear grandma once gave to me: “You can love a job, Kimberly, but a job will never love you back. You need a man for that, so put on some lipstick and go get one!” Old-fashioned yes, but weirdly on the money, no?
True, all those condos in the downtown core put increased pressure on city infrastructure. But they house a vast pool of talent just a subway ride or cab fare away from your office. An urban workforce is a more agile and spontaneous workforce.
10. Technology in general
At the risk of sounding glib, technology really has changed everything and not just because we can now work from anywhere across multiple channels, reaching more people with less effort and smaller delivery costs (huge monthly Blackberry bills notwithstanding).
If you want to gauge just how far we’ve come, and how quickly, try explaining a fax machine to an intern. Or locating a colleague at a sprawling convention site without the use of text. Even the lack of demarcation between work and non-work hours fostered by constant connectivity seems like a small price to pay for the rewards – especially now that we also have widespread buy-in on the importance of work-life balance. That’s something everyone can be grateful for.