Jeff Kear, 46, knew the time had come to overhaul his marketing agency in Denver when he found himself turning down yet another project he and his partner couldn’t tackle. Meanwhile, their bread-and-butter work was dwindling.
“We were getting so many requests like `Do you know how to build a website?’ or `Can you build an app?’ We really needed to learn how to do this stuff. People were not calling us anymore for a print ad, a billboard or a radio spot,” says Kear. “We were referring a lot of work out and finding there weren’t that many people who did this stuff really well.” The few who did were booked solid.
To enhance their repertoire quickly, Kear and his partner Steven Feingertz, 43, used the divide-and-conquer approach. Kear dove into learning digital marketing, while Feingertz mastered coding. The pair got so proficient that they began creating productivity software in 2007 and now offer event-planning software that they sell through their firm, Planning Pod. Their three-person business projects revenue in the low to mid six figures for 2014.
Many professionals are coming to a similar realization: We’re at a tipping point where keeping a small business healthy depends on keeping your tech toolbox current. “If you don’t have the technology or tools to stay relevant and don’t overcome those barriers, at some point you will become obsolete,” says New York City career coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
Of course, many people procrastinate or let fear stand in their way. Shake these mindsets and you’ll find it’s a lot easier to get current on new technologies in your industry. Ask yourself: Are these four fears holding you back?
The Fear: “This is going to be hard.”
The Antidote: When it came time to learn new tech skills, Kear avoided creating onerous agenda items. Instead, he’d tell himself, “I’m going to play around with some of these tools and see what happens.” He gave himself permission to press buttons without fear he’d mess up his computer—acting the way children do. “They feel less afraid to break something and freer to go in there and play around,” he says. Changing his mindset sped the learning process.
The Fear: “I’m no good at technology.”
The Antidote: Many technologies are no more complicated than learning to use a new remote control. Remind yourself that if you get stuck, free help is available. “If have a question, a lot of time I will just Google it,” Kear says. “There is a forum somewhere where someone has asked that question and other people have answered it.” Other times Kear has asked a tech-savvy friend for guidance. When he found himself spending hours trying to change the background color on a blog, one pointed him to an inexpensive online tool that made it easy. “Within 10 minutes, it was done,” he says.
The Fear: “I can’t afford to go back to school”
The Antidote: Getting a new degree isn’t necessary to stay current in the tech needed for most fields, say career experts.“There are tutorials on anything we use,” says Steve Spires, a managing director with BPI Group, a global HR and consulting firm. “There is coaching at the Apple store.” You can save thousands of dollars by asking in-the-know colleagues to point you to less-expensive ways to learn or taking a free or very low cost online course.
Ask Debbie Mitchell. After 25 years as a TV producer at major networks, she started a new career in the world of social media four years ago. Instead of going back to school in a costly full-time program, she began attending conferences to get the lay of the land. Meanwhile, she learned how to apply what she was learning by taking a short course at a university near her New York City home; hiring a private tutor once or twice a week and doing an unpaid internship with a friend who had become a blogger. Today, she runs her own firm, Debbie Mitchell Media Associates, offering services ranging from TV production to social media promotion for bloggers. “I had to put my ego to the side and say,` You know what? This is a whole new ballgame. I have to embrace it.’”
The Fear: “It’s risky to promote yourself online.”
The Antidote: Cohen says that many of his midlife clients are hesitant to use LinkedIn because they don’t like the exposure that comes with publishing information about themselves online or they are uncomfortable with self-promotion. Surprisingly, even otherwise savvy business owners may have this Achilles heel, which can lead to a tragic loss of opportunities. “Using a site like LinkedIn allows you to be out in the marketplace. If someone happens to be looking for an individual with your skill set and experience, you’re there.”
Diane Eschenbach, 57, embraces social networking at seven-year-old consultancy in New York City, where she advises startup businesses. She has found that tweeting about news relevant to her target clientele has raised her profile. She even connected with her two young business partners for M-Recruit, a new recruiting software, after connecting with them on Twitter.
Maze photo: Wavebreak/Vetta/Getty Images
Man at computer: Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images