Leading a Small Business in the Digital Era

I travel the country speaking with business owners and the resounding message that I hear time and time again is: “business is not getting any easier”. Finding customers, keeping customers, and creating a thriving workplace in the digital age is becoming more challenging; nothing is set and forget.
With increased accessibility to potential global markets, we equally see an increase in competition to attract attention to a business. To stand out and find customers and your unique place in the world can seem like a relentless task.
To be a business owner is to be a leader. However many don’t really consider the role of business leadership, which differs from the functional tasks of a manager.

Leadership vs. Management

Leaders set the vision, create the strategy, determine the values (and culture) of an enterprise as well as align people to the plan. In other words, a leader unites everyone to the ‘cause’.
Leadership StylesLeadership is about personal responsibility, asking powerful questions and bringing people with you on your journey, whether that be customers, suppliers, employees or any other stakeholder.
Management also has a critical role to play, but it is different. Management is about finding, nurturing and evaluating the various pieces of the puzzle to manoeuvre together to create an optimal outcome. That is, a manager ‘nurtures’ the best from each individual for the good of the ‘cause’.
My personal motto has always been “if it is meant to be it is up to me”, which means that I must lead by example — show the way. I must translate the ideas and the vision to make it real and tangible and to ensure people want to come with me on the journey. By leading by example and diving into the employee experience, living the values and reminding people of why we do what we do — I have a better chance of achieving this.
Leading in this fashion does not mean that I have to do all the work — that is not possible. What it means is that I am absolutely happy to lead from behind, to be in the trenches and to always stay connected to what our customers are telling us.

Data: your new best friend

My job as leader is to mobilise the business — and the business is made up of many, many individuals and hundreds if not thousands of moving parts. In addition to this I must also keep an eye to the future, looking at digital trends, opportunities and always reading data.
leadership stylesThe ability to cope with rapid change in your business is imperative in order to survive. Data has become central to everything we do — but as we know, data can tell any ‘story’ depending on the question you are asking. A leader has an ability to be curious and ask insightful and productive questions.
If I look at RedBalloon.com.au now, almost two decades into my entrepreneurial journey, consumers and the marketplace are very different than all those years ago when I started. What worked in 2001 is definitely not the answer now. For instance, we note that every year more people want to interact with us on a mobile device. We are living in an era when technology is embedded into our lives and it’s important to understand how to best work technology into your everyday life without becoming overwhelmed.
People want immediate access to every service via their mobile or tablet. Customers now demand and expect a mobile first approach and they will give you only a few seconds to fulfil on that expectation. Speed is everything when it comes to the mobile customer experience — if you’re too slow, they are off to the next site. Additionally, information is key — one great resource is the Telstra Smarter Business Blog which offers loads of great content for business owners.
We see that consumers are using mobile devices for education, entertainment and finding something to do. They’re also gifting online as well as researching ideas and products. In a time of digital business, many people don’t even use a laptop (or desktop) – the world now is about instant service, anywhere anytime.

Customer centric approach to leadership

Shifting one’s mindset and focus to see the world from the customer’s point of view is critical. I have heard that there are 11 million daily users of Facebook in Australia and that on average, people scroll/browse 100 metres of content each day between Instagram and Facebook. A third of all time spent on a mobile device is spent in social applications. The way people research and engage with businesses (all businesses) is forever changed — we see this in the spike in interest in video content.
A strategy needs to incorporate the change in customer behaviour — this takes consistent leadership and bringing your team along for the ride.
Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do I listen to what my customers are saying? Do you have regular ‘listening posts’ to hear the good as well as the bad in a qualitative sense?
  2. What job does my customer hire my product or service to do? This is another way of considering what problem you are solving for the customer?
  3. How many customers have that problem?
  4. Where do those customers hang out (and how do they want to interact with you)?\
  5. What will it cost to find them?

Leadership StylesThese questions will help you to determine a customer centric approach to leadership.
For years I have spoken about employees being the ‘new customer’. If we consider employees as customers, then there is a massive shift in the experience of work. Consequently, you will more than likely have a highly engaged team which in turn will deliver value through the customer loyalty mirror and be more commercially successful. Equally, you can apply the above five questions to your employees and if you do, you will gather insights that will provide the overall feedback loop in your business.
As a leader you must walk the talk, do the work and remain the voice of the customer every single day. It is customer stories that inspire those around you.

It all starts with leadership; it can be done, but it is never done.

I know my intention as a leader and I continually work at the craft. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t. The point is that you must keep going, and growing. Leaders learn; leaders listen.
If you’re a leader looking for peer to peer support, come across and join my business community.
Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by Telstra. It does not necessarily reflect the view of Telstra or its staff.

Grow & Scale Your Business by Naomi Simson

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