I’ve never run a business of my own —since I started working for a living, I’ve always done it for other people. Of course I’ve had personal projects, but it never got to the point that I had to deal with the difficulties and challenges of running a business, an actual company.
Probably because of that, I’ve always believed that the best way I could help a small business owner —from my position in tech—was to provide them with the best tools to do whatever they do, but online. If they sell things, allow them to open an online store to sell those items across the whole world. If they sell services, give them tools to reach as many people as possible.
Reading the fantastic research on small business owners that has been conducted in Automattic in the last months has been eye-opening, though. My assumptions were not strictly incorrect, but they were definitely short-sighted. There is a huge amount of small business owners (mostly the ones just starting, or those going through difficult times) that actually dread having to deal with a website, not because they don’t understand its value, but because in many cases it’s only a time-consuming aspect among the other thousand things they have to wrangle.
And this makes me think, what can we offer to these people to really help them succeed? Our own success depends on this. Is “just” a website (even if it’s the most beautiful, easiest to build website there is) all we can do to help them?
Of course running a business is an incredibly complex and unique thing to do and we can’t expect to be able to help in most of its aspects. But I wonder if there are things that are not necessarily linked with their site that we may be able to help them with. Things that we know how to do as a company, or that our other customers may already know. Maybe help and mentoring around marketing and communication, provide tools to better keep in touch with their own customers, enable ways to network and collaborate with other similar business owners that we already work with… In summary, tools to learn and better manage their time and effort in a ways that offer profound utility, so they feel secure and supported beyond “just” their virtual presence.
>even if it’s the most beautiful, easiest to build website there is …
It’s this Q that comes after digital freedom that is indeed the most interesting: How does one turn their ownership of “property on the Internet” into something permanently valuable?