My father ran his own business for most of his professional life. I always admired that he was able to venture out on his own and not take the easier route of working for someone else. I grew up knowing that running a small business was not easy, to say the least. Not only did he have to worry about having enough business on the day to day, but he also had to deal with taxes and payroll, managing people, keeping up with industry demands and making sure that he had enough stock to keep the activity going. It was a lot, and it showed. My father always worked on Saturdays, sometimes Sundays, and during the week we would see him during meals and not much more. He struggled with time management and was tired and overwhelmed most of the time. But it was his passion and he never gave up.

Recently Automattic conducted a customer study targeting small business owners form the US to understand more about their day to day life. Time management surfaced as a top concern for different types of small business owners.

I have four clients. That’s all I can handle, really. If I take on more than that, time becomes too much of a factor. Things get spread too thin. I’m not good for my clients or good for me. Too stressed. And those four clients, that’s before any of the other work I have. So everything else has to fit around that…book keeping, planning.
I juggle.

Managing all the work that supports a business activity is hard work itself. It may even be harder than the actual activity that leads to creating the business. But fortunately, we live in a time where those supporting activities can be transferred to online services.

My father never had a website for his business, he didn’t need one as his business was mostly supported by recurring customers and walk-ins. But if he was starting his business today, he would need a web presence, up-to-date social activity, he would have to promote his business in multiple avenues and have some sort of strategy to keep customers coming back. He’d have to do that because of how people find businesses these days and the fact that loyalty has been replaced by convenience. People only care about whatever is closer, if they can quickly determine if the service has good reviews and if there’s some advantage in coming back.

So I could see my father being overwhelmed for different reasons, not by the old tasks that had to perform to keep the business running, but by all of the work that is now attached to being present and relevant online.

It seems as we grow as a society we find solutions to automate whenever possible to make room for meaningful activities but maybe the free time we were able to obtain isn’t being used for activities that fulfill our interests or make us grow as business owners. You may love the work that you do, but writing about it or replying to potential customers on social media may not be on the top of the things you enjoy doing.

It seems these days business owners spend a lot of time looking for formulas to be able to reach their customers more successfully. There’s a constant hunt for the best blog post title format, the best time of the day to post on Facebook, finding the appropriate and optimal amount of keywords to reach the top of the results page on Google, testing copy on ads to get more clicks. These are just examples of things that feel like they could be replaced by systems in a near future.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of that new work could be transferred to something/somewhere else? What if we could have bots posting at the optimal time and replying to customers on social media? What if blog post titles were automatically created based the content? What if customer support could be done using artificial intelligence that didn’t cost a ton?

Is the future a package that solves all online necessities for a business so that people can continue going on working on their passions and not worry about dealing with it? Will something like that dehumanize an online presence? Will customers care or even notice?

The web moves very quickly (who would think Instagram could replace websites for small businesses selling physical goods?), and new things show up and vanish quicker than the busy small business owner can keep up, so it’s hard to imagine a solution that can fill the technology and knowledge gap that’s preventing us from helping them where they need the most.

The future is exciting, not knowing what comes next and figuring out solutions for the current problems is what motivates us, so let’s keep pushing. 🚀

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Posted by Zé Marques

Designer and front-end developer, loves indie things, far away places and non-fancy gin & tonics. Jammin' @Automattic.

One Comment

  1. >So I could see my father being overwhelmed for different reasons, not by the old tasks that had to perform to keep the business running, but by all of the work that is now attached to being present and relevant online.

    Me too — I can’t imagine my parents’ business in the digital age. They wouldn’t be able to do all the things we think are normal and necessary online.

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