[San Juan Silver Stage | May 2020| Kathryn R. Burke]
Image, JEShoots, Unsplash
First, the Pencil
Long ago, in a time forgotten by many and unknown by most of us today, business bookkeeping was done with a ledger, a clothbound book of lined pages where the day’s sales were noted and totaled by hand. You used a pencil with a sharp point and sturdy eraser.
Then Came the Calculator
This handy little gadget powered by electricity (or a battery) that did the totaling for you. But you still needed the pencil.
Enter the Computer
Designed to make things “easier,” this complicated machine actually made them extremely complex. And using it required a long learning curve. It was hard to understand how something you couldn’t see could think for you. (A lot of people took them apart to see how they worked, and found, like Humpty Dumpty, they coldn’t put them back together again!)
The spreadsheet and bookkeeping systems like Lotus appeared. You learned something called DOS (disk operating system) and Windows—not your front window displaying your merchandise, but a computer operating system that kept track of all that you computed (or didn’t).
That curve kept evolving as the machines and the software that ran them improved in how they could manage your business. Unfortunately, that software was developed by programmers, generally “geeks” who had no knowledge of your actual business practices but were whizzes at developing programs. Frustrated, you were inclined to snap that sharp point on your pencil as you struggled to master the newest technology. Many gave up, putting their attention back on sales (all business depends on sales) and hired a technologically savvy bookkeeper.
Arrival of the Internet
The Internet, known as “The World Wide Web” in its heyday—yeah, that’s where the “www” in web addresses originated—let computers “talk” to one another. The first connections were dial-up over a telephone line, notoriously slow and often cutting transmission at a crucial point. Dial-up was replaced with cable, then fiber, a magical system that shared your information through some invisible thread out there in the ether…and stored all your bookkeeping numbers in a “cloud.”
Really? A cloud? Where did your stuff go? How did it get there? Can you still get to it, or will that cloud disburse and your sales records along with it? Bookkeepers now needed IT (Information Technology) specialists to help them keep track of their business records, from ordering to recording sales and tracking profit and loss and balance sheets.
With the arrival of the Internet you, the business owner, had no choice but to move from pencil pushing to keyboard clicking and, in some cases, finger punching on the tiny keys on your phone. Your “smart” phone, right? It’s a whole new digital world! But you still did your selling in person, face-to-face with your customer.
Then Came Covid
And communication as you knew it came to a halt. You were forced to shut your doors. All that lovely new merchandise you just bought sat unsold. Food spoiled in restaurant kitchens. Theaters went dark. People started cutting their own hair. Those services you provided, unless classified as “necessary” or “essential” went unused. The phone did not ring. Your sales force—and you—were laid off. The bills kept piling up and went into the “pay later” (or pay never) pile.
What’s a business person to do? Sure, you could wait for government handouts like the PPP (Payroll Protection Program), EDL (Economic Disaster Loan), and the dinky little stimulus check that might never arrive, thanks to that nebulous Internet that should (but might not) transfer money from the government into your banking account. (The government runs on outdated equipment using software programs developed over 50 years ago. Their systems simply can’t handle the overload of panicked people filing for financial assistance.)
So while you waited for your government handout, and scrambled to take care of your now-furloughed workers, you hung a sign on your door that said Closed Until Further Notice.
Survival of the (digitally) fittest
To survive, and hopefully prosper, you turned to high-speed Internet to help you stay connected with clients and customers. Doing business digitally is our new business model today. Even as stores open their doors, they will likely continue to sell merchandise online as well. Even when restaurants open again, they may maintain curbside service and delivery as options. Personal services even have a new face—online exercise classes, for example. Medical, legal, and business consulting will have a bigger online presence and less waiting in waiting rooms.
Whether we embrace the new technology or not, approve or not, Covid has brought us a new norm. Business survival requires that we master it. How we communicate from this point forward will forever be “different.” Welcome to the wacky world of the web. You might as well learn to love it, ’cause you won’t be able to leave it.